Growing up, Dr. Mehnaz Afridi found there was a lot of antisemitism in her community. As a Muslim, she felt a desire to look into why there was a denial of the Holocaust within the Muslim community. …
Growing up, Dr. Mehnaz Afridi found there was a lot of antisemitism in her community. As a Muslim, she felt a desire to look into why there was a denial of the Holocaust within the Muslim community. This thinking eventually led to the publication of her book “Shoah through Muslim Eyes,” which Afridi shared with individuals at the Cranston Public Library on Sunday.
Afridi is the Director of the Holocaust, Genocide and Interfaith Education Center and Professor of Religious Studies at Manhattan College. She teaches courses on Islam, the Holocaust, genocide, comparative religion and feminism and received her PhD from the University of South Africa and her MA and BA from Syracuse University.
“Shoah through Muslim Eyes,” follows Afridi’s journey with Judaism as a Muslim. Her book is based on the struggle of antisemitism within Muslim communities and her interviews with survivors. In the book, she rejects polemical myths about the Holocaust and Jews and offers a new way of creating understanding of two communities through the acceptance and enormity of the Shoah.
Afridi began the presentation by addressing the religious and historical connections Muslims and Jews share. One is the importance of Abraham, Moses and God and the second is the spaces such as Israel and parts of Spain.
She told audience members that it’s important for Muslims and Arabs to stop denying the Holocaust and relativizing it and – in her writing – explored the role that Muslims played within the Holocaust. She found that Muslims found themselves in camps, however, there were wonderful stories of Muslims rescuing Jews.
While the Holocaust was concentrated in Europe, it did reach parts of North Africa. Afridi said the Nazis established 17 slave labor camps in North Africa: three in Morocco, three in Algeria, seven in Tunisia and four in Libya. These camps were reported to be more brutal than other camps due to the desert temperatures.
She added that Nazi propaganda traveled to the Muslim parts of the world to get individuals to align with the Nazis though it didn’t really work.
“There’s a lot of these little stories that we constantly forget that I think should come to the forefront in terms of understanding what this very complicated history was like in North Africa,” Afridi said.
She then added how the relevance of her work is apparent today.
“We have right now the increase of antisemitism by 36 percent. We have the rise of antisemitism in Western Europe, the rise of right wing governments pretty much all over the world. We have the rise of xenophobia, anti-immigration here in this country – including countries right now in Italy where there is no hope for the refugees sitting in the middle of the sea,” said Afridi.
Afridi said when she teaches the Holocaust of Muslims in her class, there is a transformation and understanding of what happened in terms of Jewish history. She said misperceptions in the Muslim and Arab communities are huge and vice versa.
She added that she was on the advisory board of the Jewish Heritage Museum which opened its permanent exhibit on what hate can do. Afridi was proud to be part of the nuances displayed about Tunisia, Albania, Libya, Morocco and Algeria.
Sunday’s presentation was completed in collaboration with the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center Baxt Lecture Series. Afridi obtained her Afridi’s book has been nominated for several awards and she is currently working on a book called “The Wounded Muslim.” “Shoah through Muslim Eyes” is 240 pages long can be found on Amazon.