As Jews, Hindus and Muslims gathered last week to explore the concept of mysticism through word and song, representatives of all three faiths took the opportunity to condemn the Quebec City mosque massacre in a unified voice.
The Feb 2. event at Congregation Darchei Noam began with an introduction by John Voorpostel, chair of Toronto’s steering committee for World Interfaith Harmony Week, an annual event adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2010.
Voorpostel said the initiative seeks to “bring together all people of goodwill, regardless of faith.”
He said events like these are important to combat the xenophobia that has led to U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order to halt immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, and the shooting in Quebec City that resulted in the murder of six Muslim worshippers at a mosque on Jan. 29.
“Condemnation of this massacre of innocent, defenceless people in their mosque, in their place of worship, is appropriate. It goes against all we believe,” he said.
Toronto city councillor James Pasternak spoke briefly to the hundreds in attendance and reiterated Mayor John Tory’s message that Toronto remains a sanctuary city that condemns discrimination in all its forms.
“Council adopted a series of motions to strengthen Toronto’s role as a safe haven for those fleeing world conflict zones, prejudice, hate and genocide,” Pasternak said.
“We are all immigrants and we must remind ourselves of that… We learned 85 years ago as Jews tried to flee the Nazis, where great horrors occurred, and immigration was slowed or stopped, with horrifying consequences.”
Darchei Noam spiritual leader Rabbi Tina Grimberg introduced Jewish mysticism by attempting to define it in the simplest terms. “It is popularly known as becoming one with God. It can also refer to an altered state of consciousness which is given a religious or spiritual meaning,” she said.
“The knowledge we seek tonight, and the God we’re looking for, is reflected to us in the human face of the other who opened the same door… It is in the time of darkness that we seek light.”
Although she acknowledged the victims of the Quebec City shooting, she added, “We chose not to change the subject of the night. Tonight we will not mourn. We will celebrate what makes us so spirited and diverse.”
Azim Shamshiev, co-director of the Intercultural Dialogue Institute, who spoke about Sufism, or Islamic mysticism, also took a moment to address “the political climate we’re living in today.”
“It is all the more important that faith communities come together and work together to stand up against such ills as hatred, discrimination, xenophobia and racism. I think this gathering today is a great expression of interfaith collaboration and partnership that is much needed today,” he said.
Shamshiev then introduced the gathering to the history of Sufism, through which Muslims seek truth, divine love and knowledge, and said the tradition can help humanity as a whole develop a meaningful connection to God.
Budhendranauth Doobay, chairman and religious adviser of the Vishnu Mandir, Voice of the Vedas temple, spoke about mysticism from a Hindu perspective, saying that for a Hindu, “you must know God, God who is within you. You must transcend this ordinary consciousness… into transcendental meditation.”
“God lives in you. When you can find him, all the mysticism will come to you,” he added.
Between the short lectures by the Jewish, Hindu and Muslim speakers were musical performances representing each of the faiths.
The Vishnu Mandir choir, which has been singing with Vishnu Mandir at weekly services for 25 years, performed for the gathering.
Following that, The Band11, a three-piece band of traditional Sufi instrumentalists, performed classical Turkish and Sufi music while Farzad Attarjafari, a classically trained whirling dervish, showcased the physically active meditation during which a Sufi listens to music, focuses on God, and spins in a circle.
Aviva Chernick, the award-winning, Juno-nominated singer and musician, who recently launched a Jewish mindfulness meditation program in partnership with Makom: Creative Downtown Judaism, closed the program with a vocal performance.