Undeterred by a cold drizzle, more than 100 people gathered in an expression of solidarity outside the El Markaz Islamic Centre in the Montreal borough of St-Laurent on March 22, as worshippers entered for Friday afternoon prayers.
Held one week after the killing of 50 Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, this message of peace and love at Quebec’s oldest mosque was initiated by Christian Jewish Dialogue of Montreal, the inter-denominational Montreal Board of Rabbis, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), the Canadian Muslim Alliance, and Peace Initiatives Canada which invited all Quebecers to join them.
Rabbi Lisa Grushcow of Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom, co-president of the Board of Rabbis, said, “The Muslim community supported us in our grief after the Pittsburgh synagogue attack. Now, sadly, it is our turn to stand in solidarity with them. None of us should ever have to be afraid in our places of prayer.”
Participants held hand-drawn signs conveying empathy with the victims and local Muslims, such as “I am my brother’s keeper” and “We are in this together.”
Famous quotes also provided inspiration, like “ Unconditional love will have the final say,” attributed to Martin Luther King Jr., and Albert Einstein’s words of wisdom: “Peace can only be achieved by understanding.”
Polly Storozum had heeded the urging of her rabbi, Anthony Knopf of Congregation Beth Ora, which is in St-Laurent, to come out and support their neighbours.
“It’s so tragic that innocent people who go to pray [were targeted]. It affects us all. It could happen to any community, at any time,” she said.
Temple member Glenna Uline, who held a sign reading “Salaam” (peace) in Arabic script, said she was concerned about the Muslim community feeling marginalized. “This is an opportunity to say that’s not all right.”
Brian Bronfman, founder of the Peace Network for Social Harmony, stressed the importance of everyone standing together, not only in a time of tragedy, but every day.
The police presence was strong and the block was closed off to traffic. In a symbolic touch, two mounted police stood sentinel at the entrance of the mosque, as members hurried past into the building.
Also on hand were St-Laurent borough Mayor Alan DeSousa and Sue Montgomery, borough mayor of Côte des Neiges-Notre Dame de Grâce.
The gesture was appreciated by mosque members. “Seeing that different communities care in such a lovely way shows that we are all human beings,” said Amar Ayesh. “It’s an act of good faith.”
Everyone was invited to come inside and observe the service, or just warm up. A mixed-seating section was set up on the mezzanine overlooking the sanctuary for the occasion.
Someone fetched for coffee for those who preferred to stay outside.
In his sermon, Imam Mohammed Bokhari emphasized to worshippers how significant it was that people from different backgrounds had come out to stand with them. “They care about us, and we have to care about them,” he said.
The mosque was filled to capacity with men for the service, who overflowed from the main prayer rooms into the foyer and corridors, listening to the service over a speaker.
Ayesh said congregants were not more apprehensive since the Christchurch massacre. On the contrary, he said, “It gives us the motive to stay as we are.”
Imam Bokhari continued, “Yes, what happened is very disturbing, very painful…but out of something difficult, something good has come,” referring to the outpouring of sympathy around the world.
“They are saying no to the evil we know as terrorism…Allah said that to kill one person is like killing the whole of humanity.
“I ask each of you to make sure this never happens to anyone.”
Acknowledging that a negative image of Islam persists, he urged people to learn “the real message of Islam.”
Similar events were held elsewhere. In Toronto, 150 people assembled outside the Masjid Toronto (Toronto Mosque) downtown. Many people outside held up signs with messages like, “Shalom Salaam; We stand with you against hate; Jews standing with our Muslim brothers and sisters.”
They were greeted by Dr. El-Tantawy Attia, manager of the mosque. “We appreciate your support,” he said. “It is imperative that we support each other.”
Another 300 people gathered outside the Islamic Information and Dawah Centre in Toronto.