Muslims organize Ring of Peace in Oslo to protest anti-Semitism

In support of Oslo’s Jewish synagogue and community, a “ring of peace” rally protesting anti-Semitism and condemning violence following attacks which targeted Jews in Copenhagen and Paris was held on Feb. 21, 2015. In Paris, three Islamic extremists killed 17 people at a kosher grocery and the offices of Charlie Hebdo, and killed a policewoman. In Copenhagen, a Dane of Palestinian origin killed a Jewish security guard outside a synagogue and a Danish filmmaker attending a free speech event.  

The rally was organized by eight Muslims aged 17 to late 30s, and Minotenk, a minority political think tank. Minotek, founded in 2008 by a Pakistani-Norwegian lawyer and politician, concentrates on multicultural issues regarding minorities in Norway.  The rally to form a protective circle around the synagogue was organized on Facebook in four days and quickly gained support, including a second rally in Bergen, Norway’s second largest city.

Minotek’s Yousef Assidiq said, “An attack on Jews is an attack on me and on all Muslims. We really hope that this can start a peaceful movement against hatreds of all kinds and that we can arrange these Rings of Peace around everyone that needs support in society. We hope that this event will make it easier for Jews to be public and proud of their religion without fearing any consequences. Out of little Norway, maybe this movement can spread across the world. "

The Ring of Peace Facebook event page explained the purpose of the event:

“Islam is to protect our brothers and sisters, independently of what religion they belong to. Islam is to rise above hatred and never sink down on the same level as the haters.... Muslims want to show that we strongly condemn all types of anti-Semitism and hatred toward Jews. And that we are there to support them.”

Norway's Jewish community of 1,300 is one of Europe's smallest. The Muslim population of about 200,000 is growing steadily through immigration. Norway’s population is about 5.2 million.  

Norway has a history of anti-Semitism. There is more anti-Semitism there than in Denmark and Sweden, according to Ervin Kohn, the president of Norway’s Jewish community. He also expressed concern at the widespread use by Norwegian schoolchildren of “Jew” as an insult. A 2012 study found that 12 percent of Norwegians had "manifest prejudice" against the Jewish population.

The Oslo synagogue was hit by 11 bullets in September 2006 by a Norwegian Islamist who was convicted of vandalism. After the recent Copenhagen attack, Oslo decided to close the street in front of the synagogue to car traffic for at least two years, following years of requests by the Jewish community to do so.

The ring of peace began to form at dusk and lasted until after Shabbat, which allowed the Jewish community to join.  As the small, mainly elderly Jewish congregation left the synagogue after prayers, a group of young Muslims formed a symbolic ring outside the building to roaring applause from a crowd of more than 1,000.

"This shows that there are many more peacemakers than war-makers," 37-year-old Zeeshan Abdullah, one of the organizers, told the crowd. "There is still hope for humanity, for peace and love across religious differences and background," he said before a traditional Shabbat ceremony was held in the open air with many demonstrators adding their voices to the Hebrew chants.

Several Muslim speakers said that Islam was a religion of peace and that "it's true face" had nothing to do with terrorism. “The majority of us want to live in peace with each other,” said Mudassar Muddi Mehmood, one of the organizers.

“We Muslims face the same fear as you, and we will face it together with you,” organizer Hajrah Ashrad, 17, told the crowd. “We hope we can contribute to reduce radicalization in our own group by showing that the majority of young Muslims support Jewish rights.”

Chief Rabbi Kohn appeared visibly moved when he said it was the first time the ceremony had taken place outdoors with so many people. Norway’s Chief Rabbi Michael Melchior sang the traditional end of Sabbath song outside the synagogue before the large crowd of people holding hands.

“Allahu akbar, Allah is great! Our common God is everywhere in the world, but most of all God is where rings are formed and bridges are built between people,” Rabbi Melchior told the crowd. “That’s where God wants to be. That’s where the future of humanity is secured. Thank you all for coming here tonight.”

Rabbi Melchior told the crowd that he had visited the family of the man killed outside the Copenhagen synagogue and told them about the planned peace ring. “The father of Dan Uzan embraced me and began to cry. He said, ‘You must say to the young Muslims in Norway that they have given me hope. They have given me a reason to continue living. Maybe it was a meaning to my son’s death. Maybe it gives reason to life for the future.'”

The group chanted, “No to anti-Semitism, no to Islamophobia,” as they stood in solidarity.