Norway's Muslims and Jews link up in peace vigil
22 February 2015, 07:25
Oslo - Norwegian Muslims organised a peace vigil in Oslo on Saturday
in a show of solidarity with Jews a week after fatal shootings in Denmark
targeted a synagogue and free speech seminar.
As the small mainly elderly Jewish congregation filed out of
the synagogue after Shabbat prayers, a group of young Muslims, many of them
teenage girls wearing headscarves, formed a symbolic ring outside the building
to roaring applause from a crowd of more than 1 000 people.
"This shows that there are many more peacemakers than
war-makers," 37-year-old Zeeshan Abdullah, one of the organisers told the
"There is still hope for humanity, for peace and love
across religious differences and background," he added, before a
traditional Shabbat ceremony was held in the open air with many demonstrators
adding their voices to the Hebrew chants.
Norway's chief rabbi appeared visibly moved when he said it
was the first time the ceremony had taken place outdoors with so many people.
'Look to Norway'
"It is unique that Muslims stand to this degree against
anti-Semitism and that fills us with hope... particularly as it's a grassroots
movement of young Muslims," said Norway's Jewish community leader Ervin
Kohn, adding that the rest of the world should "look to Norway".
"Working against fear alone is difficult and it is good
that we are so many here together today."
There was a heavy police presence at the event and sharp
shooters placed on surrounding buildings but no incidents were reported.
"It has been calm as we expected. We had no reason to
expect any trouble but we were prepared," said police superintendent
Steiner Hausvik, adding that about 1 300 attended the vigil.
Several Muslim speakers said that Islam was a religion of
peace and that "it's true face" had nothing to do with terrorism -
despite what they said was unfair reporting in certain Nordic media which
portrayed Muslims "as a problem".
The initiative by Norway's Muslim youth to link arms with
Norwegian Jews in a circle around Oslo's synagogue was an effort to denounce
recent violence by jihadists striking Jewish communities in France and Denmark.
"We want to show our support to the Jews after what
happened in Copenhagen," Hibaq Farah, a young Muslim student of Somali
origin told AFP.
'We stand with the Jewish people'
Impetus for the vigil came from some young people in
Norway's Muslim community, which represents roughly three percent of the
nation's 5.3 million population. They wanted to demonstrate support for the
country's estimated 1 300 Jews, following one of the attacks in Copenhagen last
weekend that killed a 37-year-old volunteer security guard outside the city's
The gunman, named by police as 22-year-old Omar El-Hussein -
a Dane of Palestinian origin - was reportedly radicalised by Islamists during a
two-year jail term.
Youssef Bartho Assidiq, a Muslim youth leader, told AFP the
Oslo event showed that Muslims "stand up for freedom of speech, stand up
for freedom of religion and stand up for each other".
"This is the best possible response we can give to the
polarisation we've seen in debates after the attacks in France and
Denmark," he said, referring also to the killings last month targeting
Jews at a kosher supermarket in Paris.
A Norwegian Islamist was convicted in 2008 for a shooting
attack on Oslo's synagogue two years earlier which damaged the building but
claimed no casualties.
In 2011, extreme-right mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik
shocked Norway by going on a killing spree directed at proponents of
multiculturalism that left 77 people dead.