On Jan. 22, 2018, several days before International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27, Dr. Mohammad Al-‘Issa, secretary-general of the Saudi-based Muslim World League, sent a letter to Sara Bloomfield, director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., in which he condemned the Holocaust in extremely harsh terms, describing it as “an incident that shook humanity to the core, and created an event whose horrors could not be denied or underrated by any fair-minded or peace-loving person.”

He added that “this human tragedy perpetrated by evil Nazism won’t be forgotten by history, or meet the approval of anyone, except criminal Nazis or their genre.”

Al-‘Issa has garnered publicity lately for his activities to ease tensions between Muslims and the West, and his support for religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue. In May 2017, he enjoined Muslims living in the West to respect local laws banning the veil, if the country in which they live has such a law, or else move to some other country in which they can wear the veil freely. In November 2017, he met with the Chief Rabbi of France and the head of the Great Synagogue in Paris, and visited the synagogue, becoming the first senior Saudi cleric to do so.

In a February 2018 speech at the Alliance of Virtue for the Common Good conference in Washington, organized by the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Al-‘Issa called to respect the plurality of ideas, and warned against the activity of new Nazi supporters who encourage barbarity and against the support that religious leaders provide them, sometimes unwittingly. Recently, he also visited the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in the Vatican, and met with Douglas Padgett, Senior Advisor for Combating Violent Extremism at the U.S. State Department.

Al-‘Issa’s statements in his letter condemning the Holocaust, which are unusual for a member of the Saudi religious establishment, sparked harsh criticism on social media accusing him and the Muslim World League of ignoring the crimes perpetrated against Arabs, especially against the Palestinians. Conversely, articles in the local and international Saudi press defended Al-‘Issa, saying that he certainly recognizes the injustices perpetrated against Arabs and Palestinians in the past and the present.

Some of the articles also called on the Arab world to endorse the statements he made in his letter and follow his example.

For the full report and a sampling of the critical reactions to his letter on social media, and excerpts from some of the Saudi press articles that defended him, click here.