Meet the Muslim activist who educates about the Shoah and Israel in Urdu
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Meet the Muslim activist who educates about the Shoah and Israel in Urdu

Shaheen Chishti is building bridges between Muslims and Jews by reaching people in a language spoken by 600 million - inspired by his uncle who lived in Golders Green

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

An influential Islamic mystic has revealed that he was inspired by an uncle who lived in Golders Green to publish the first Urdu websites to educate about the Holocaust and the state of Israel.

Shaheen Chishti, who was born in Ajmer, in the Indian state of Rajasthan, is revered by millions on the subcontinent as a direct descendant of the revered Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti.

Now, in a project directed at 600 million Urdu-speaking Muslims in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and elsewhere, Chishti is aiming through his website to alter opinion about both the Holocaust and about Israel among those who follow his thinking.

“I was inspired by my uncle, my father’s brother who lived a lot of his life in Golders Green,” he tells Jewish News. “He lived his life alongside Jewish people, from 1951 up until 1985.

“I learned a lot from him about the Jewish faith. What he emphasised to me was that belief in God. The central tree for both Muslims and for Jews is this same belief. The Jewish people were persecuted for thousands of years for this belief in one God.”

Chishti, who moved to London at the age of 15, completing a degree before training as an accountant, speaks with great enthusiasm about his Urdu website projects on the Shoah and on Israel.

Technology, he says, means that the sites will be accessible to 240 million Bangladeshi Muslims, 180 million Indian Muslims, 210 million people in Indonesia, and of course further huge numbers in counties such as Pakistan and Malaysia.

“I want to make all of the 600 million and more Urdu people in the world aware of what actually happened in the Holocaust,” he says of the site, holocaustinurdu.com, which is also in English and on its home page has images of Jewish prisoners in the Nazi death camps along with an image of the gas chambers themselves.

Website in Urdu educating about the Shoah

“The Holocaust was the most barbaric act carried out by mankind ever but there is nothing out there for these people in terms of Holocaust history. I thought this was a good opportunity to explain to them what really did happen to the Jewish community in Europe. Why they were persecuted, and the very, very stupid arguments around the Aryan race.

“I wanted to highlight the true extent of the atrocities. I also wanted to bring the Jewish people closer to the Muslim faith.”

Chishti says that because of his lineage his audience trusts what he says. A founder of the Jewish Islamic International Peace Society, he says he also plans to finance and stage an exhibition on the Holocaust from a Muslim perspective in order to continue the process of “bringing our people together”.

“When we pray as Muslims five times a day we bless the family of Abraham, which includes the Jewish people. So in a lifetime a Muslim person blesses the Jewish people thousands of times.”

I want to make all of the 600 million and more Urdu people in the world aware of what actually happened in the Holocaust

Chishti accepts that Muslim “hardliners” have criticised the content of his second website, welcometoisraelurdu.com, and called him a ‘Zionist’. Its home page attempts to calm the doubters, with images that show the significance of Jerusalem to all faiths.

Website in Urdu educating about Israel

“They have this phenomenon in their heads that Israel is there to take over all of the Middle East,” he says. “I have told them that is just nonsense. Its people has suffered for 2,000 years at the hands of the Europeans, not at the hands of Muslims.

“We should be welcoming them. Let us agree a viable two-state solution with a secure Palestine. And if the Palestinians break from the economic vows, punish them, so they will learn.”

He is convinced there is a shift in thinking across much of the Muslim world, particularly around acceptance of Israel. “My view is that we need to think of Israel in the long term. In Pakistan, Bangladesh and elsewhere we need to think about building partnerships, with the opportunities for business and for education.”

In June, Chishti’s novel The Granddaughter Project is being launched, which follows four women whose stories are connected by experiences of oppression at the hands of men.

Let us agree a viable two-state solution with a secure Palestine. And if the Palestinians break from the economic vows, punish them, so they will learn

Chishti says the novel is based on a series of fictionalised letters from different points in history, encompassing the Holocaust, apartheid South Africa and contemporary east Africa. “We need to listen to these stories, and learn the lessons,” he says. “We are all believers in the same God. Let’s listen and sort it out.”

https://welcometoisraelurdu.com

https://ur.holocaustinurdu.com

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