By Madison Brewer
The Baha’i Chair for World Peace sponsored a talk called Muslims and the Holocaust: Reconciliation and Hope about lost stories of reconciliation, rescue and religious roots between Jews and Muslims on Tuesday, Oct. 24.
The event’s speaker, Dr. Mehnaz Afridi, is an associate professor of religious studies and the director of the Genocide, Holocaust and Interfaith Education Center at Manhattan College.
Afridi gave a speech addressing how little Americans know about the whereabouts of Muslims during the Holocaust.
Dr. Afridi began by speaking to the importance of accepting all religions and cultures, and emphasizing that if people started to view other people’s sufferings and injustices as their own, there would be hope for the future of interfaith relations between different religions like Judaism, Islam, Christianity and others, she said.
Afridi gave an example of her work to show how to integrate students of these religions: by having Muslim and Catholic students at Manhattan College work with Holocaust survivors throughout the year. The program strives to be an interfaith, intergenerational and socioeconomic program that allows the different groups of students to work together towards a common goal of helping survivors.
As the students work together on these projects, they start to realize their own prejudices against different religions and begin to understand that they are false assumptions, according to Afridi.
Regardless of these students facing their prejudices and re-evaluating their judgments, according to Afridi, it is still not enough. Attacks against Muslims have increased by 800 percent in the last eight months, and anti-Semitic attacks have increased by 230 percent, she said.
“As I listened to conversations between Muslims all over the world about Jews, Israel, and the Holocaust, including Pakistan where I was born, the perspective of the overreaching discourse and the perception of Jews is significant,” Afridi said.
She listed the factors that contributed to Muslims’ misunderstanding of Jews as interpretations of their own experiences after being colonized, the ongoing middle eastern conflict, the clear existence of Islamophobia today and fears of terrorism.
One of the ways Dr. Afridi offered to help abolish these misunderstandings was by creating a dialogue between different races, religions and cultures to help them see their similarities.
Some of the work Dr. Afridi is doing to help create that dialogue is taking students at Manhattan College to places like Venice, where they visit the world’s oldest ghetto and to talk to locals about how they feel about immigrants coming into their country.
“Yes, they played a role, but they didn’t create the Holocaust,” Afridi said, in reference to Muslims during the Holocaust.
Afridi said Muslims played a role because, at the time, the Vechi Government was in control of Africa and threatened Muslims to either cooperate or be the next victims.
Dr. Afridi further explained that her main goal in her work at Manhattan College is to provide an understanding of the many power structures that different religions face, define the challenges that many people face between Jews and Muslims and to address the boundaries that may or may not need to be put up around these different cultures.
She wants to create this dialogue between these often competing cultures so they can further understand each other and offered a story of her own personal experience to show how this can be beneficial.
Dr. Afridi went to visit a Holocaust survivor name Albert Rosa, an 85-year-old man who had been living in Greece before he was taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Rosa built parts of Auschwitz-Birkenau with his bare hands.
Rosa wanted to tell people about his life story so they would know what life was like inside the camps and then how a person adjusts to a normal life, but he did not feel comfortable putting it into words, so he asked Dr. Afridi to write it for him.
She hesitantly agreed, citing her inability to accurately express the true pains and horrors he experienced in his life, but he insisted and she finally agreed.
Dr. Afridi and Albert Rosa shared a hug at the end of their meeting.
“This is the first time in my life that I have ever hugged a Muslim woman,” Rosa said.
Dr. Afridi said that this should not be the last time and that by sharing this hug, they had shared the first step in dialogue to bridge their two cultures and religions together.