In­ter­faith groups form ‘rings of peace’ around mosques


A group of Toronto-based Jewish or­ga­ni­za­tions led an in­ter­faith ef­fort to ex­press sup­port for Canada’s Mus­lim com­mu­nity on Fri­day.

A lo­cal rabbi gal­va­nized syn­a­gogues and or­ga­nized groups through­out the city to form “rings of peace” around mosques dur­ing Is­lamic mid­day prayer ser­vices.

The peace rings were among many ral­lies and other com­mu­nity-based ef­forts to reach out to Cana­dian Mus­lims in the wake of Sun­day’s mas­sacre at a mosque in Que­bec City.

A 27-year-old Que­bec univer­sity stu­dent, Alexan­dre Bis­son­nette, al­legedly opened fire dur­ing evening prayers at the mosque, killing six men and trig­ger­ing height­ened anx­i­ety at re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions across the coun­try.

Yael Splan­sky, se­nior rabbi at Toronto’s Holy Blos­som Tem­ple, said she hopes the “rings of peace” may help dis­pel some of that fear.

“No Cana­dian should be afraid to go to their house of wor­ship to pray,” Splan­sky said in an in­ter­view. “It’s a ter­ri­fy­ing scene. Imag­ine peo­ple of faith go­ing to pray in peace, to pray for peace, and to be at risk. Houses of wor­ship are sa­cred and must be pro­tected.”

Splan­sky said the Toronto peace rings were in­spired by past events in Europe. At­tacks against Jewish re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions in France and Nor­way prompted Mus­lims to form a pro­tec­tive ring around an Oslo syn­a­gogue in 2015 and stand guard while Jews of­fered sab­bath prayers.

Splan­sky said she was hor­ri­fied by Sun­day’s at­tack on the Cen­tre Cul­turelle Is­lamique in Que­bec and im­me­di­ately sent a note of con­do­lence to the imam there, but felt the need to take more de­fin­i­tive ac­tion.

She said she reached out to other rab­bis who had ex­ist­ing re­la­tion­ships with city mosques to gauge in­ter­est in show­ing them sup­port. She said the re­sponse was over­whelm­ing, with syn­a­gogues not only draw­ing on ex­ist­ing part­ner­ships but reach­ing out to form new ones.

Splan­sky said she ex­pected hun­dreds of Jews, along with peo­ple of other re­li­gious per­sua­sions, to sur­round seven mosques across the city on Fri­day dur­ing mid-day prayer ser­vices.

An­other sim­i­lar ef­fort was planned at a mosque in St. John’s where par­tic­i­pants are plan­ning to form a “hu­man shield” as Mus­lims of­fer up prayers.

The event has won an en­dorse­ment from New­found­land and Labrador’s Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion, which said it plans to take part in the event.

“Let us act to chal­lenge the root causes of ha­tred, in­clud­ing ig­no­rance and prej­u­dice,” the com­mis­sion said in a state­ment. “This is a time to get to know our Mus­lim fam­ily and com­mu­nity mem­bers, friends, col­leagues and neigh­bours.”

One Is­lamic or­ga­ni­za­tion agreed, launch­ing a cam­paign to al­low Cana­di­ans to en­ter tra­di­tional sa­cred spa­ces to learn more about the re­li­gion that has been at the cen­tre of much global po­lit­i­cal rhetoric in re­cent months.

The Ah­madiyya Mus­lim Jama’at’s “visit a mosque” cam­paign in­vited Cana­di­ans to drop by one of the nearly 70 lo­ca­tions across the coun­try to con­nect with Mus­lims, ask ques­tions about the faith and show sol­i­dar­ity in the af­ter­math of the Que­bec at­tack.

Spokesman Jari Qu­drad said he knew of at least three Jewish high schools plan­ning to form a hu­man shield of their own around Ah­madiyya head­quar­ters north of Toronto.

He said the com­mu­nity has found com­fort and re­as­sur­ance in the out­pour­ing of sup­port since Sun­day’s shoot­ing.

“It just goes to show the true spirit of Cana­di­ans and how in­clu­sive and mul­ti­cul­tural they are,” Qu­drat said. “They’re al­ways will­ing to help out and stay united.”

Splan­sky said she hopes such sen­ti­ments will last be­yond Fri­day’s peace rings and prove to be a jump­ing-off point for more long-term co­op­er­a­tion be­tween faiths.

She said she’d love to see imams and rab­bis ex­chang­ing re­li­gious texts, or­ga­niz­ing joint poverty re­duc­tion ini­tia­tives, form­ing women’s groups or even just cre­at­ing book clubs or other so­cial groups.

“I’m hop­ing that to­day is not only about to­day, but about on­go­ing re­la­tion­ships,” she said.


Ha­roon Sher­iff Pres­i­dent of Im­dadul Is­lamic Cen­tre (cen­tre right) hugs Rabbi Yael Splan­sky at fri­day prayers as Mem­bers of the Holy Blos­som Syn­a­gogue and the Fair Lawn United Church form a peace ring around the Toronto mosque on Fri­day, Fe­bru­ary 3, 2017, in a show of sol­i­dar­ity fol­low­ing Sun­day’s shoot­ing at a Que­bec City mosque.

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