Standing with our neighbours in the Muslim community

Peterborough's Beth Israel Synagogue opens its doors for multi-faith prayer service in aftermath of Quebec mosque shooting

The Peace Cake (with "peace" written in Hebrew, English, and Arabic) served after the multi-faith service on February 8 at Peterborough's Beth Israel Synagogue (photo: Shegufa Shetranjiwalla-Merchant)
The Peace Cake (with "peace" written in Hebrew, English, and Arabic) served after the multi-faith service on February 8 at Peterborough's Beth Israel Synagogue (photo: Shegufa Shetranjiwalla-Merchant)

“In the end, what will hurt the most is not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”

In the midst of “a different battle for peace,” Reverend Martin Luther King gifted his profound wisdom to the discussion. On Wednesday night (February 8) at Peterborough’s Beth Israel Synagogue, followers of a number of faiths were again buoyed by Dr. King’s words — this time spoken with emphatic passion by Reverend Bill Peacock of Fairview United Church.

“Let us not be silent in our caring, our words or our actions,” urged Rev. Peacock, one of 10 people who spoke at “Standing With Our Neighbours”, a multi-faith prayer service held as a response to the January 29th killing of six people and the wounding of 19 others at the Centre culturel islamique de Québec in Quebec City. Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, has been charged in connection with the shooting rampage.

While the words offered by each speaker were different, the message was the same: acts of terror don’t remotely speak to who Canadians are and the values they hold but, to avoid complacency, Canadians must speak out, and speak out loudly, against intolerance and hatred of all people of all faiths.

“We are at a crossroads in the world today … the political environment is deteriorating and hatred is being allowed to grow,” lamented Dr. Dan Houpt, a spiritual leader at the synagogue.

“What happened in Quebec did not happen in a vacuum. It was a result of intolerance of the other. As a Jew, I’m acutely sensitive to this. My people lost six million souls while the world watched.”

Politicians and Quebecers stand in solidarity at a January 30th vigil for the victims of the terrorist attack at the Centre culturel islamique de Québec in Québec City. On February 8th, Beth Israel Synagogue in Peterborough hosted a multi-faith prayer service to show solidarity for Peterborough's Muslim community in the aftermath of the shooting. (Photo: Adam Scotti)
Politicians and Quebecers stand in solidarity at a January 30th vigil for the victims of the terrorist attack at the Centre culturel islamique de Québec in Québec City. On February 8th, Beth Israel Synagogue in Peterborough hosted a multi-faith prayer service to show solidarity for Peterborough’s Muslim community in the aftermath of the shooting. (Photo: Adam Scotti)

For those who think “this heinous event” is an isolated one, involving “some other people, some other community,” Dr. Houpt paraphrased the well-known words of German Protestant minister Martin Niemoller, an outspoken foe of Adolph Hitler.

“First, they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists but I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists but I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Well represented at the gathering was Peterborough’s Al Salaam Mosque, with Iman Shazim Khan reminding that “no religion teaches hate” before terming the prayer service “one of the many good things that have come out of this tragic event.”

Mosque president Magdy Kamar echoed that sentiment, saying “terrorism has no religion” but, having been “committed in the name of all religions, it’s not something new.” He concluded by saying “We must stand together and remind ourselves that we are united by our differences, not in spite of them.”

But words alone don’t represent the mosque’s reaction to the shooting tragedy. On Friday (February 10), a bus bound for Quebec City will depart at 4 a.m. from the Al Salaam Mosque at 784 Parkhill Road West. Besides bringing their condolences and support to the Muslim community in that city, its passengers will bring financial donations collected at Wednesday’s prayer service.

Seats are still available but Mr. Kamar urges those interested in making the trip act quickly. He can be reached at 705-760-0351.

“Actions speak louder than words and we’re trying to prove that by going there,” said Mr. Kamar, later noting, as part of an obligation to create more awareness of Islam, the mosque is looking at soon hosting an open house.

“The more people know about Muslims and Islam, the more acceptance. They don’t know anything about us and they believe only what they may hear.”

The Abraham Festival banners (representing Islam, Christianity, and Judaism) on display at the multi-faith service. The 14th annual Abraham Festival takes place on April 23, 2017 at The Mount Community Centre in Peterborough. (Photo: Shegufa Shetranjiwalla-Merchant)
The Abraham Festival banners (representing Islam, Christianity, and Judaism) on display at the multi-faith service. The 14th annual Abraham Festival takes place on April 23, 2017 at The Mount Community Centre in Peterborough. (Photo: Shegufa Shetranjiwalla-Merchant)

All three levels of government were all also front-and-centre at the prayer service in the form of Peterborough Mayor Daryl Bennett, MPP Jeff Leal, and Lauren Hunter, speaking on behalf of MP Maryam Monsef.

In his remarks, MP Leal decried the rise of Islamphobia — “This hatred of our fellow citizens” — and termed the mosque shooting “a wake-up call to all of us … love always conquers hate and we must pursue that every day.”

Reverend Julie Stoneburg of the Unitarian Fellowship of Peterborough spoke in a similar vein, admitting to having no immunity to fear but also possessing the realization that “the demonization of others and hatred don’t ever make things better.”

“It’s not enough for me to say what I believe. I must live it and challenge myself to do more to show love wherever I can and work to bring justice and peace into our world, beginning right here in Peterborough.”

Afterwards, synagogue president Larry Gilman, who organized the event and brought each speaker to the front, said it was put together as a “show of solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters…this is what Peterborough is all about.”

It’s not the first time the synagogue has opened its doors wide to the Muslim community. Following a November 2015 act of arson at the mosque — a hate crime, as determined by city police — the synagogue rolled out the welcome mat for local Muslims to pray.

“It (the prayer service) is very overwhelming and heartwarming but it’s not surprising,” said a grateful Mr. Kamar.

“I’ve lived in Peterborough for 26 years and I’ve had all the good experiences. Such generosity isn’t new. It’s something I experience every day.”

VIDEO: “The Masjid” – Matthew Hayes

Previous articlenightlifeNOW – February 9 to 15
Next articleA majestic Great Grey Owl near Lindsay
Paul Rellinger
Paul Rellinger a.k.a Relly is an award-winning journalist and longtime former newspaper editor still searching for the perfect lead. When he's not putting pen to paper, Paul is on a sincere but woefully futile quest to own every postage stamp ever issued. A rabid reader of history, Paul claims to know who killed JFK but can't say out of fear for the safety of his oh so supportive wife Mary, his three wonderful kids and his three spirited grandchildren. Paul counts among his passions Peterborough's rich live music scene, the Toronto Maple Leafs, slopitch and retrieving golf balls from the woods. You can follow Paul on Twitter at @rellywrites.

Comments