When Muslims saved Jews |
People across the world have gathered today to mark the 70 years since the Auschwitz camp was liberated. At this particular camp some 1 million Jews were killed. Often remarks are made of how one should heed lessons from the past; what initially seemed like peaceful protests grew into hatred and castigation of a minority leading to such devastating and traumatic consequences.
Habitually the narrative has been, and remains that a large number of Muslims are anti-Semitic - a quick perusal over newspapers will surely feed this narrative. It is as if it is part of our Muslim genetic make-up to hate and despise Jews, but this simply is not true. Ultimately the events surrounding Gaza and the Palestine issue as a whole are used to justify this. Some it seems are unable to separate issues of religion and politics. A plethora of information can be found online and elsewhere about the parallels between the two, many rightly raise the issue, but I thought I would share a story of positivity, at a time of deep distrust and darkness - some light.
Si Kaddour Benghabrit was an Algerian Muslim man, a graduate from the esteemed al-Qarawīīn University in Fes, where he studied and specialized in judiciary. He was well known in and around North Africa, facilitating others in their travels for Ḥajj. In 1926, The Great Mosque of Paris was built; a way of honouring and acknowledging the hundreds of thousands of Muslims that had died in the First World War fighting against Germany. Si Kaddour Benghabrit was a founding member and served as rector of the Mosque. Remember I said earlier about heeding lessons from the past? Well, turns out we don’t, World War II ensued and France fell in 1940 to the Germans, Paris itself was declared an ‘open city’ on June 13th when the French government fled to Bordeaux.
France was home to a large population of North African Muslims and thousands of Sephardic Jews. Both groups were similar in culture and tradition, many of them spoke Arabic, neither ate pork – they were very much a community. The Grand Mosque played an important role, the country was in turmoil, the mosque became an oasis – as well as a place of prayer it became a source of help to all. This was epitomised by when Muslims saved the Jews. Yes, you read that right, Muslims saved Jews, Benghabrit provided them with false Muslim identities thus saving them from persecution. The Mosque was built upon a labyrinth of subterranean tunnels and rooms, areas that had been excavated for building stones for the city of Paris. These underground passages and sepulchres served as a hiding place and escape routes for those hunted by the police and Gestapo. The Jewish community knew the Arabic language well, they too were circumcised – outwardly they appeared as Muslim as the rest of them. The Nazi’s were notorious and unscrupulous in their pursuit of Jewish people, they would leave no stone unturned, by providing them with cover many Jewish people were saved – if news had got out that a Mosque was harbouring Jews the outcome would surely have been death for all.
Si Kaddour Benghabrit was awarded highest possible honour: the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour, and lived out the rest of his life in Paris. Interestingly, he is also known as Abdelqader Ben Ghabrit, sharing his first name with ʿAbd al-Qādir Djezairi, another Algerian Muslim man who famously saved thousands of Christians from being killed a century earlier, he too was presented with the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour. It is quite possible that he inspired Benghabrit!
Our tradition is full of heroic men and women that gave their lives not just for Muslims, but for others, they stood for truth and justice, they portray what it is to be Muslim not just outwardly but inwardly too.
It is about time we shared their stories.
And Allāh alone knows best.