Few people notice when a delegation of visitors comes to Yad Vashem, when the members lay wreaths and stand silently and view the photographs of Nazi atrocity during the Holocaust. One delegation that visited Yad Vashem the other day drew notice — a group of French imams, leaders of their country’s Islamic community.
Dressed in traditional Muslim robes, they came on a self-declared mission of peace. One member of the group, above, views a Yad Vashem exhibit.
During a five-day trip to Israel, which was aided by the French Foreign Ministry, the imams met with President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, went to Jerusalem’s Muslim, and made statements designed to show their solidarity with the Jewish community.
“If I lived during the time [of the Holocaust] I’d be on the side of those saving Jews. No religion justifies killing,” Hassen Chalghoumi, imam of the Drancy mosque, near Paris, wrote in the Yad Vashem visitors book. Human lives are more important than holy books, he said at the Holocaust memorial, according to the Times of Israel.
Chalghoumi conceived of the trip visiting Israel earlier this year for the French Embassy’s Religion and Democracy Forum. He said the trip inspired him to show the country to his colleagues. Many of them, said Olivier Rubenstein, who organized the trip for the French Embassy, “are very criticized by Muslims in France because they decided to come to Israel. To France, it’s very important to have mutual respect between the communities. French Islam is not the terrorist way.”
Relations between French Jews and Muslims have been tense for several decades because of anti-Semitic acts, occasionally fatal, which usually are committed by Muslims with roots in North Africa.
“Unfortunately, French Muslims are seen as being anti-Semitic,” said Chalghoumi, who has been to Israel three times in the past. “Our image in the world has been sullied and we must remedy it in the name of tolerance,” said the group’s members in a statement. “We are the true face of French Muslims.”