What remains a mystery to me still is why the Hutu extremists passed these Muslims by, while slaughtering others who were neither Hutu, Tutsi nor Muslim. Pygmies, for example, are a very distinct and ancient people throughout sub-Saharan Africa. They are only about 1% of the Rwanda’s population, with little political or economic power. Pygmies were hardly a threat to anyone, and yet, they were slaughtered at least as thoroughly as the rest of Rwanda’s population. (Diamond, 2005, p. 318)
What then saved the Muslims in Biryogo (and elsewhere) in Rwanda? I can’t say. Perhaps luck. But perhaps they were spared as a natural consequence of practicing true religion. Perhaps God protected the Muslims of Biryogo simply because they were practicing true Islam.
Meanwhile, not long after the genocides, a group of Islamic fundamentalists (funded by few wealthy Pakistanis) tried to establish themselves in Rwanda. They organized themselves to the extent that they had gained control of at least one Mosque. However, when there could no longer be any doubt about their philosophies and jihadist intentions, these Islamic fundamentalists were kicked out of the country by official Muslim organizations of Rwanda.(Ngowi 2002)
So, whether the danger is massive genocide by Christians or the mere threat of imported Islamic fundamentalism, we now know that the Muslims in Rwanda not only practiced a “religion of peace” but they were also proactive by sheltering and protecting many others, whether Hutu or Tutsi, Christian or non-believer. Had there been any Jews in need of protection, they would have found it in Biryogo. I have no doubt about that. Why? Because this protective behavior has precedent throughout the Muslim world.
Muslims Who Saved Jews from Nazis
For example, most people are completely unaware that Muslims protected Jews against Nazi occupied Europe during the period up to and during World War II, as told in a recent issue Emel–The Muslim Lifestyle Magazine:
During that time of systematic persecution, it is nearly impossible to accept that there was one country in Europe that saw its Jewish population grow. But that is exactly what happened in Albania and Kosovo-Jews were safe there. Muslims ignored the grave risks to themselves and sheltered not only their Jewish neighbors, but also thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi terror. “During the Nazi occupation of Albania,” states Johanna Neumann of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, “there is not one confirmed instance of a Jew being handed over to the Nazis by a Muslim Albanian.”
The Albanian government actively defied Nazi rule. In 1938 King Zog, the first and only Muslim King of Europe, issued four hundred passports to refugee Jews, granting them safe entry into Albania. After learning of the Nazi campaign elsewhere in Europe, the Mayor of Tirane issued documents to Jewish families, protecting them by stating they were Muslims. When the Germans occupied Albania and demanded lists of Jews from the authorities, the Albanians answered, “We don’t know any Jews, we only know Albanians.” Everybody knew, but nobody told.
The Albanians’ resistance is a hidden period in history, emerging now only after the fall of an isolationist communist regime. American photographer Norman H. Gershman has been exploring that tale. He is a long-time supporter of Yad Vashem (the Jerusalem-based Holocaust memorial), an organization that has honored more than 22,000 non-Jewish Holocaust-era rescuers. Gershman became fascinated by the little-known fact that Muslims had saved Jews, and decided to document their stories.(Emel Magazine 2010)
By all means, buy Gershman’s book, Besa: Muslims who saved Jews in World War II. It’s filled with beautiful black and white photos of the heroic Muslims themselves and/or their children or grandchildren. Each photograph of these people is accompanied by their own story, told in their own words.(Gershman 2008)
It’s the perfect coffee table book since nothing beats a subtitle like Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II.
The Variety of Muslims
Islam is a large and varied faith. Muslims reside in a variety of countries, speaking a variety of languages. Most Muslims are not Arabs and do not reside in Arab countries or in the Middle East. In fact, the country in which the greatest number of Muslims resides is… Indonesia. Now, there may certainly be a “crisis of Islam” going on right now. I don’t know enough about Islam to agree or to disagree with such a statement.
Were the Rwandan genocides a “crisis of Christianity” or the results of countless other factors at that time and place? I might add that, although many Christians in Rwanda obviously failed to live Christian virtues during the genocides, many individuals did practice the best of what Christianity had to offer. In fact, there have been miracles in Rwanda since the genocides that not only exemplify Christianity in its purest form, but also clarify Christianity itself. Read about one of these experiences in the final chapter of this book.
While more capable and educated people debate the merits and meanings of “the crisis of Islam”, I believe that we Latter-day Saints should be particularly cautious about judging any religion and that’s even when basing our judgments on the behavior of its practitioners. Much of what any given Muslim thinks, feels or practices may indeed be from Qur’an. And yet many of these attitudes may be the result of their native culture. There is variety in the beliefs and attitudes of Muslims from such diverse places as Indonesia, Albania, Saudi Arabia and Rwanda.
Which one teaches the most genuine form of Islam? I’m too unfamiliar with Islam to answer that question. What I do know is some of the good news about Islam and its adherents. By showing the best of Islam, I hope to illustrate its potential. By sharing these positive stories, I hope to have shown how good Islam can be.
Diamond, Jared M. 2005. Collapse:How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. 1st ed. Penguin (Non-Classics).
Emel Magazine. 2010. “When Muslims Saved Jews.” Emel -The Muslim Lifestyle Magazine (64).www.emel.com/article?id=67&a_id=1788
Gershman, Norman. 2008. Besa: Muslims who saved Jewsin World War II. 1st ed. Syracuse N.Y.: Syracuse University Press.
Lacey, Marc. 2006. “Rwandan Priest Sentenced to 15 Years for Allowing Deaths of Tutsi in Church.” The New York Times. www.nytimes.com/2006/12/14/world/africa/14rwanda.html
Ngowi, Rodrique. 2002. “Rwanda Turns To Islam After Genocide.” The Herald Tribune. http://muslimvillage.com/story.php?id=705
Sowell, Thomas. 2006. Black Rednecks and WhiteLiberals. Paperback. Encounter Books.