Last Friday, I had the privilege of taking part in a very special visit. TanenbaumCHAT, Toronto’s Jewish community high school, sent a delegation of grade twelve students to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Centre in Maple, Ontario. The Ahmadiyya Centre has a beautiful building, naturally lit with deep purple carpets, and boasts a large membership of mostly Pakistani Muslims.
Our visit was organized to show support for Canada’s Muslim community after the shooting attack at a Quebec City mosque last week. Six were killed and others were injured in a brutal massacre, one of the deadliest shooting attacks in Canadian history. The accused is Alexandre Bissonette, a Quebec university student.
This type of violence is uncharacteristic of Canada, a nation which is largely proud of and open to immigration across political lines. In fact, analysts suggest that in just a few years more than half of Canadians will be either immigrants themselves or the children of immigrants. At a time when many nations around the world are closing doors, Canada has touted its openness and promotes multiculturalism, diversity, and immigration.
Our school’s trip to the Ahmadiyya Centre was inspired by the Toronto religious community’s ‘Rings of Peace’ initiative, in which several synagogues and churches formed human chains around mosques to show solidarity. Carrying signs with messages like “love your neighbour as yourself,” dozens of community leaders gathered at Toronto mosques to show support. Our group, donning yarmulkes, stood outside the mosque to offer the sympathies of the Jewish community.
Perhaps more than any other religious denomination, the Jewish community understands the threat of religious hatred. The recent string of bomb threats at Jewish Community Centres across the United States is just the latest example of anti-Semitism in North America. Last week, New York City commuters found swastikas and anti-Semitic messages scrawled on a subway car. Muslims have faced strikingly similar acts of hatred. Not long ago, a severed pig head with a sign reading “bon appetit” was thrown outside the same Quebec City mosque. Mosques throughout North America have been vandalized with graffiti and have been burnt in arson attacks. Sadly, Islamophobic attacks have seen a dramatic rise over the past few years.
It is not surprising that the Jewish community has shown such strong support for our Muslim friends. Recent immigration bans in the United States have been condemned by the Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Jewish movements, and by nearly every major North American Jewish organization. Moreover, synagogues across Canada including my own, Beth Tzedec Congregation, have gathered groups to sponsor Muslim refugees fleeing the crisis in Syria.
Jews know what it is like to suffer religious hate. Futhermore, it is a value of our religion to treat others with love and compassion. This is why our community has been so steadfast in our support of tolerance and multiculturalism.
This support does not go unrecognized. I was struck by the gratitude of the Canadian Muslims when we entered mosque to hear the spiritual leader’s sermon. Praising Canada’s openness and welcoming attitude, the sermon referred to several events which give Muslims cause for hope. When interfaith solidarity was mentioned, no group was praised as much as the Jewish community. Indeed, no religious group has been as unequivocal in support for Muslims as North American Jewry.
After a mosque in Texas was burnt and vandalized, the Jewish community handed over the keys to their synagogue, offering the Muslim community use of its space. Similar events have happened here in Canada. In 2015, a Peterborough synagogue welcomed Muslims whose prayer space had been destroyed by flames. The Rings of Peace initiative, the brainchild of a Toronto rabbi, demonstrated loudly and clearly that Jewish Canadians stand together with our Muslim friends.
This is humanity at its finest. These actions of solidarity are the realization of the Jewish obligation to love our neighbours as ourselves. The warm welcome we received from the mosque was the realization of the Urdu motto written on the gates of the Ahmadiyya Mosque, “Love for all, hatred for none.” Our Canadian values of pluralism, mutual respect, and openness were on show for all to see.
How noble these shared ideals are. How special it was to see Jews and Muslims, two peoples with roots in the Middle East, standing together in solidarity and brotherhood in Canada, the furthest possible place from the land of Abraham and Muhammad. Whatever our differences, we must always remember the imperative of standing together against religious hatred. Judaism teaches compassion, respect, and understanding. Needless to say, Jews have seen and endured too much not to stand with others in their time of need.