Rings of peace held outside Canadian mosques

From left, Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, spiritual leader of the City Shul, Imam Shabir Ally of the Islamic Information and Dawah Centre and Gary van der Meer of St. Anne’s Anglican Church. (Barbara Silverstein photo)

On Friday morning, about 150 people gathered outside the Masjid Toronto mosque in the city’s downtown core, to form a symbolic protective circle, or “ring of peace,” around it, as worshippers convened inside for midday prayers.

Many people outside held up signs with messages, such as: “Shalom Salaam”; “We stand with you against hate”; and “Jews standing with our Muslim brothers and sisters.”

The gathering was led by Rabbi Ed Elkin, the spiritual leader of the First Narayever Congregation, and Rev. Maggie Helwig, rector of St. Stephen-in-the-Fields church. They were among the various Jewish and Christian organizations that formed symbolic interfaith rings of peace around 15 mosques throughout the Greater Toronto Area on March 22.

This multi-faith show of solidarity with the Muslim community was in response to the mass murder of 50 Muslim worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, a week earlier.

The group outside the mosque was mainly comprised of congregants from Narayever, Beth Sholom Synagogue and St. Stephen’s.

They were greeted by El-Tantawy Attia, the manager of the mosque. “We appreciate your support,” he said. “It is imperative that we support each other.”

Rabbi Elkin said that religious groups need to support each other. “Here in Canada, we have a lot in common. There’s a lot we share,” he said. “We are natural allies in the face of white supremacy.”

Interfaith friendship was the message of another ring of peace held outside the Islamic Information and Dawah Centre. Rabbi Elyse Goldstein of City Shul and Rev. Gary van der Meer of St. Anne’s Anglican Church helped organize the event.

“Out of friendship, we are prepared to stand together in the face of violence,” said Rev. van der Meer.

“The reverend, the imam and I are in an ongoing relationship and we support each other,” Rabbi Goldstein said. “If something happens in the mosque, we are there for them.”

She pointed out that after the mass murder of 11 congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last November, members of the mosque and St. Anne’s came out to support City Shul. “They made a ring around our congregation. It’s an ongoing friendship,” she said.


More than 300 people gathered outside and across the street from the mosque. Participants included congregants from a number of nearby churches. Also in attendance were 41 students from the Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School.

“Jews and Christians united for Muslims, it’s a wonderful show of support for my community,” said Imam Shabir Ally, the spiritual leader and president of the Dawah Centre. “It restores our confidence in humanity to see this outpouring of sympathy.”

A little later that afternoon, another interfaith community heard words of appreciation expressed by Imam Abdullah Mangera, during a prayer service at the Madinah Masjid mosque in Toronto’s east end. “The faith communities are spreading peace and love throughout the world,” he said.

At that point, most the people who had been forming the ring outside the mosque had been invited inside to warm up. They included members of the Danforth Jewish Circle (DJC), the Pakistani Community Centre, the Neighbourhood Unitarian Universalist Church, as well as the Glen Rhodes and Eastminster United Churches.

About 250 people were seated quietly on the second-floor balcony, overlooking the sanctuary where they were able to watch the on-going prayer service.

Some 40 people holding signs with messages of tolerance braved the gusting wind and continued their ring-of-peace-vigil. Liat Ross, one of the last DJC members to remain standing outside, estimated that 300 to 400 participants showed up, including about 100 students from nearby high schools.

Rabbi Miriam Margles, the spiritual leader of the DJC, said members of the interfaith community are working together to end Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, racism and all ideologies of hate.

“We are doing this by building strong relationships with one another, between communities and across faiths,” said Rabbi Margles.

Similar rings of peace were held in Montreal, as well.