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.