Muhamed Jusic was quiet throughout much of our journey and we only learned afterwards why. He had his own story to tell. From the Kenyan mall massacre and the Boston Marathon to renewed violence in Iraq, Muslim extremists capture the headlines. Yet between the grim captions, there are other stories and there is hope. We, a Reform Rabbi and an Orthodox Jew, know this firsthand.
We experienced an unprecedented, some even called it an historic trip, that involved 12 influential Muslim imams, professors, and business leaders from around the world. These Muslim leaders agreed to travel with us, some against the opinion of family and friends and with safety concerns back home. Why? Because the trip was to Nazi concentration camps in Germany and Poland and the Holocaust is commonly misunderstood and misused within the Muslim world to foment anti-Semitism and anti-West hate. These leaders felt obligated to bear witness to the truth. They then took home what they saw and condemned anti-Semitism in all forms.
Among them was Muhamed Jusic from Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country with its own atrocities and rise of evil. "I could not stop comparing horrors of Holocaust with my own experience and childhood memories of 'ethnic cleansing'. It was very hard to put into words all my overwhelming feelings and thoughts while visiting actual places where people became the victims of the biggest atrocity in European history. I feared I might sound pathetic, after all, what could I possibly say that was not said by so many before me? How can I possibly make some sense out of it all when the greatest minds in human history cannot explain to us what happened to humanity? My own story haunted me during trip. But I did not have courage, unlike many of the Holocaust survivors we met, to openly share my story with the others."
When his hometown of Kotor Varos was overrun by Serbian forces in 1993, he was just 13 years old and his little brother was 11. They witnessed the unimaginable, including the slaughter of their Muslim neighbors by Serbian soldiers. He grabbed his little brother and escaped into the forest where they lived for months in terrible conditions and constant fear before reaching free Bosnian territory.
But rather than become bitter or radicalized by a tragic past, Muhamed became a Muslim theologian and influential writer in the Bosnian region.
"Visiting concentration camps in Auschwitz and Dachau as well as the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw, for me, was by no means a visit to the past but somehow to our present and future." Returning to Bosnia his personal reflections and work grew more committed. "I kept thinking about that 'never again' we hear every time someone talks about the Holocaust. It made me wonder how sincere are we in that statement when we as humans and as an international community let atrocities happen every few years, be it in Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, Myanmar or these days in Syria."
He also knows that Muslims need to fight back against the headlines and show they are peace-loving members of the global community. Which is why he drew our attention to a renewed Declaration from the former Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina and current President of the influential World Bosniak Congress. Professor Dr. Mustafa Cerić is a global voice of the Bosniak nation in the aftermath of its genocide and an influential link between east and west. The Declaration is in response to the London and Boston terror attacks and is endorsed by the Islamic Forum of Europe.
In detail, it calls on scholars and intellectuals from all schools and denominations of Islam to unite against those who harm and destroy in the name of Allah and Islam. At the same time, he asks the West not to blame all Muslims and Islam for the crimes of the few. Muhamed asked us how to get this information out to the American people.
Do we Americans have the courage to accept Muslims as peaceful neighbors and friends? When Islamaphobia grabs headlines here, how many of us think, that's not my problem? How many secretly say, serves them right?
In the Jewish text, the Mishnah, it is written: "Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world." It is worth noting that Islam's Qu'ran shares the same essence: "The destruction of one innocent life is like the destruction of the whole of humanity and the saving of one life is like the saving of the whole of humanity." [Qu'ran 5:32]
Our Muslim neighbors are us and we are them: we are fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers; we all say we seek peace. Yet acts of violence and derision against "the Other" means Muhamed's question remains unanswered: "How sincere are we?
Mohamed is the father of two daughters. He's committed to "never again" because, with his jaw tightly set, he says never will he allow his children to experience the horrors he did as a child. "The Holocaust is not just our common history, it could, as my own Bosnian experience shows, easily become our present and future if we all do not learn the valuable lessons that it can teach us."
"When I was standing in the middle of Dachau`s gas chamber in which thousands of innocent victims were hopelessly trying to catch their last breath, it sent a shiver down my spine to think that through the streets of Europe and the world still walk young people who are prepared to deny this evil, defend it and repeat it on someone else."
He speaks in defense of all our children.
Full text of the Joint Statement signed by all Muslim leaders who participated in this trip can be found here
Full text of the Declaration of the World Bosniak Congress on Common Security and Global Citizenship can be uploaded here.