I Lead the Muslim World League. Here is Why I Broke Taboos To Acknowledge the Holocaust | Opinion

GettyImages-1125901877
A white rose lies on one of the hundreds of stellae at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also called the Holocaust Memorial, during a visit by German high school students on January 29, 2019 in Berlin, Germany. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

In 18 months as secretary general of the Muslim World League, I have traveled to the Vatican to elevate interfaith understanding with His Holiness, Pope Francis. I visited the Grand Synagogue of Paris and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I welcomed the highest-level delegation of U.S. evangelical Christian leaders ever to visit Saudi Arabia.

People ask me, what do these taboo-shattering acts signify? What do they all have in common?

I tell them: They reflect my sacred obligation to promote true Islam, a religion of moderation and peace. And they all stem from my solemn oath as an Islamic leader to demonstrate responsible leadership in everything I do.

What do I mean when I talk about responsible leadership?

For me, it is naturally about fulfilling my mandate as head of an international, non-governmental organization dedicated to presenting the unadulterated and tolerant principles of Islam, and extending bridges of dialogue and cooperation with all of Allah’s children—be they Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, or adherents of any other community.

But I speak of something far greater when I invoke the essential concept of leadership. Responsible leadership is about making decisions in the interests of all, and that includes future generations, not just the present. It means acting out of conviction, not convenience. It is about constructive decisions, not destructive, so we can build a new world without destroying the old.

Let me explain to you how I, a humble servant of Allah, try to apply these tenets.

As a responsible Islamic leader, it begins with acknowledgement that extremism and violence have existed in all religions, including Islam. It is every Muslim’s duty to reject the terrorist’s misinterpretation and misappropriation of our holy texts.

Take the example of Muslim-Jewish relations.

Extremists who purport to be spokesmen for my community sought to criticize me when I recognized the Holocaust as an incident that shook humanity to the core and constituted an event whose horrors no fair-minded or peace-loving person can ever deny or diminish.

I answer them thusly: True Muslims respect the Jewish religion. Muslims recognize the right of Jews to live in dignity. And that applies to all nations in the Middle East, whose existence is a fact and whose co-existence must be fostered. The alternative is not the peace Islam prophesizes. It is a war without end.

That is why I proposed an interfaith peace convoy to Jerusalem, comprised of the great men and women of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, representing our common Abrahamic heritage.

As a Muslim, but even more so as a responsible leader, the ideal approach for me is clear.

My outreach to the Jewish community concerns the interests of Muslim and Jew. It emanates from my conviction in a harmonious future, even as others find convenience in conflict. It focuses on the ambitious task of finding real, actionable and sustainable solutions, so future generations can continue our work.

Responsible leadership is not just about interfaith understanding.

It should color everything we do. It extends to how we conduct ourselves in politics, business, our communities and our homes.

Before my appointment to the Muslim World League, I served as justice minister in Saudi Arabia. Among my proudest achievements was licensing Saudi Arabia’s first women lawyers. I also reformed the Saudi judiciary system.

I realize these may seem like small steps in the grand sweep of humanity. Our over-politicized world is replete with zero sum standoffs, seemingly intractable disputes and unbridgeable chasms of misunderstanding dividing communities of all kind.

It is going to take leadership at all levels to change the world.

That is why I have helped conceive of a new institution, one whose mandate is as pure as it is paramount: The Centre for Responsible Leadership. This initiative will assemble global thought leaders to find sustainable solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.

No one of us has all the solutions, but together we just might.

The Holy Quran instructs us that had Allah willed, he would have made us a single community.  But he wanted to test us, to make us compete with each other in doing good, so that we might arrive at the same destination.

The scripture suggests no single path, but rather a common method. It is one fundamentally connected to responsible leadership.

Dr. Mohammad Al-Issa is secretary-general of the Muslim World League, chairman of the CRL Responsible Leaders Summit, and president of the International Organization of Muslim Scholars, based in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​

Join the Discussion