Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi, founder of the Wasatia movement and Professor at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, has entered a storm of criticism after bringing Palestinians to a Nazi camp in Auschwitz. He wanted students to learn about the Holocaust. But many Palestinians thought that was a terrible idea.
Here are excerpts from an older interview between Dajani Daoudi and Talya Ezrahi regarding his efforts to educate Muslims on Nazi atrocities, following a trip to Poland in 2011.
Mohammed Dajani Daoudi: In the Muslim world, for example, the Holocaust is linked to the establishment of Israel – and the Palestinian Nakba, or catastrophe. As a result, there is a scarcity of literature that adequately describes the genocide of the Jews during World War II.
The Arab-Israeli conflict has shaped the way we Palestinians perceive and interpret historical events and I would like my students to arrive at a point where they can extricate their understanding of what happened during the Holocaust from the controversial context of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is a tragic chapter in human history that we cannot keep ignoring.
You have participated in many interfaith events over the years. Do you think religious dialogue should play an important role in efforts to resolve the Israeli-Arab conflict?
DajaniDaoudi: I certainly do. A big part of the problem is related to ignorance – about our own religion and that of the ”other”. So far, religion has played a big role in agitating the conflict and I believe it is time that religion becomes a catalyst in resolving it. Many Muslims don’t know very much about Judaism or Christianity, and what many of them know about Islam is distorted. These meetings help to dispel myths and misperceptions. In this conflict, religious peace is a prerequisite for a sustainable political peace.
This brings us to wasatia, an important concept in Islam and also the name of the movement you founded in 2007. Can you explain what it means?
DajaniDaoudi: The word wasatia, in Arabic means center and middle. In the Qur’an it means justice, moderation, balance and temperance. The word wasat appears in verse 143 of the second chapter, which is 286 verses long, so it appears exactly in the middle.
The verse says: “And We have created you a middle ground (moderate) nation” or “a centrist ummah (community)”. The passage demonstrates that the need to be moderate and temperate is a central message within Islam. Wasatia addresses all aspects of life: the way you eat, the way you dress, the way you spend money.
It is a value shared with Judaism and Christianity and therefore could become a fruitful foundation for interfaith dialogue.
How can wasatia be harnessed to promote a politics of peace?
DajaniDaoudi: By adopting the vision of wasatia as a peaceful alternative to violence. The Qur’an advocates achieving change through moderation. For example, jihad should be interpreted as the jihad of the soul – the struggle to purify the inner soul from evil rather than waging wars against the other. It doesn’t mean the jihad of the bomb or bullet or suicide. Here in Palestine, the Wasatia movement envisions a struggle that brings moderate Israelis together with moderate Palestinians in an effort to end the occupation. When I protest, I should include peace-loving Israelis in my camp who believe this is also their moral cause.
Just a few weeks ago, in March 2014, DajaniDaoudi once again went to Auschwitz with the same purpose. This time, however, the initiative, which was the first such organised trip, caused an uproar among Palestinians. The professor became traitor. In an interview with Haaretz, following his recent 2014 visit to Auschwitz, DajaniDaoudi says he has no regrets.
“I will go to Ramallah, I will go to the university, I will put my photos of the visit on Facebook, and I do not regret for one second what I did. As a matter of fact, I will do it again if given the opportunity. I will not hide, I will not deny. I will not be silent. I will not remain a bystander even if the victims of the suffering I show empathy for are my occupiers. And this is my final statement on this issue.”