What is one to make of Al-Sahlani’s comments? Clearly, as he readily acknowledged, he has little knowledge of the basics of Holocaust scholarship; otherwise he would not have cited the thoroughly discredited David Irving. Indeed, is it fair to expect an Iraqi-born Shia cleric to be knowledgeable about the Holocaust? I myself know little about Shia history, doctrine and culture. Still, if Al-Sahlani admits to knowing next to nothing on the subject of the Holocaust, why does he offer opinions to the media affirming openness to the teachings of charlatans like Irving? Why does he lend credibility to the libel that Zionists are somehow to blame for Hitler’s genocidal anti-Semitism?

I am saddened that publication of this article may further deepen Al-Sahlani’s isolation from the American religious and political mainstream. Rather than shunning this pious and upright man, who is a source of spiritual inspiration for the nearly 3000 members of the Al-Khoei Islamic Center, would it not be preferable for Jewish and Christian leaders to reach out to Al-Sahlani in the hope that sustained communication will convince him of the moral squalor of belittling the genocide of six million Jews?

Al-Sahlani undoubtedly understands that Jewish and Christian religious leaders can be important allies in speaking out on behalf of the constitutional rights of hard-pressed American Muslims in the post-9/11 situation. I know of some, like Rabbi Arthur Schneier of the New York-based Appeal of Conscience Foundation, who have condemned needless provocations against deeply held Islamic beliefs, such as the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed published last year in a Danish newspaper, and subsequently in journals across Europe. Yet surely neither Al-Sahlani nor any other Muslim leader should expect success in cross-denominational alliance building as long as they make statements which leave the impression that the Holocaust may have been a less horrendous crime than it is purported to be, and that perhaps the Jews themselves were partly to blame for what happened. My interview with Al-Sahlani made clear that this important cleric has a considerable distance to go before assimilating that lesson.