French imams visit Yad Vashem, say life is more important than holy books

‘No religion justifies killing,’ Drancy’s Muslim community head writes in visitors’ book at Holocaust memorial

French Imams lay a wreath at the Holocaust memorial site in Yad Vashem, Tuesday (photo credit:  Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)
French Imams lay a wreath at the Holocaust memorial site in Yad Vashem, Tuesday (photo credit: Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)

A group of 20 French imams visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem on Tuesday as part of a five-day trip to Israel.

Drancy’s imam, Hassen Chalghoumi, said during the visit that human lives are more important than holy books.

“If I lived during the time [of the Holocaust] I’d be on the side of those saving Jews. No religion justifies killing,” Chalghoumi wrote in the visitors book.

The delegation held a memorial ceremony at the Yad Vashem remembrance tent and viewed the museum section dedicated to the million and a half children who were killed.

After their trip to the Holocaust memorial, the religious leaders visited the graves of those shot by a terrorist in Toulouse in March 2012.

The group is in Israel for a visit designed to dispel the belief that France’s Muslim community is anti-Semitic, Maariv reported last week.

“Unfortunately French Muslims are seen as being anti-Semitic,” said Chalghoumi, who has been to Israel three times in the past. During his last visit, the Imam told the Times of Israel the Holocaust was “not [only] the history of the Jewish people, it is our history as well.” He spoke about the importance of education and learning. “By protecting this history, we protect the history of minorities,” he said.

According to Chalghoumi, he repeatedly receives threats over his interfaith work and had to prevent news of the planned visit from getting out, fearing extremists would try to prevent it.

During the visit, which is being aided by the French Foreign Ministry, the imams are meeting with President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The clergymen are also visiting Jerusalem’s holy Muslim sites and hold meetings with Jewish, Muslim and Christian spiritual leaders, intellectuals and youth.

“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.”

On November 2, French President Francois Hollande accompanied Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Toulouse, where the two leaders participated in a memorial ceremony for the three children and a rabbi who were murdered by radical Islamist Mohammed Merah in March.

In his speech, Hollande said that he would promote new legislation against hate speech.

“We will tear off all the masks, all the pretexts, of anti-Semitic hate,” Hollande said. Addressing Netanyahu, he added: “I would like to remind you of the determination with which the French Republic has confronted anti-Semitism, not only with words, but with actions.”

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