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Rabbi Michael Melchior speaks to those assembled in front of the Oslo Synagogue during the Ring of Peace vigil. (Ryan Rodrick Beiler)

A week after a volunteer guard was shot and killed at a synagogue in Denmark, members of Norway’s Muslim community formed a symbolic human chain in front of an Oslo Synagogue to protest recent anti-Jewish violence in Europe. On Saturday evening, more than 1,000 Norwegians of all faiths flooded Bergstien Street. The number had special symbolic resonance: It is roughly equal to that of Norway’s small Jewish community.

“The majority of us want to live in peace with each other,” said Mudassar Muddi Mehmood, one of the organizers of the vigil. “A small minority of haters on each side should not be allowed to set the agenda and define us as a community.”

“I am surprised that so many media outlets are choosing to cover an event where Muslims are finally doing something good,” said Qeaam Ibn Malik at the event. “Because the only thing you read these days is that everywhere in the world Muslims have lost their minds.”

Though some were surprised by the coverage and turnout, Waqas Sarwar felt that such an event was firmly rooted in Islamic tradition: “I’m not surprised at all. Our predecessors have a long history in protecting Jews,” he said. “Our Prophet and His Companions also had a history of initiating and keeping peace treaties with both Jews and Christians.”

“The distance from Oslo to Copenhagen is quite short,” said Marty Bashevkin, vice president of Oslo’s Jewish Community. “Any attack on Jews is felt strongly here. Our communities are closely intertwined, with many close friendships and family connections.”

Some saw the event as an opportunity to think back on Norway’s World War II history. “I think all of us Europeans need to recognize the horrible treatment of Jews in our lands. Norway is no exception,” organizer Thomas Holgersen Daher Naustdal commented on the event’s Facebook page. “The treason government of Quisling was a horrible stain on our history.”

“As Muslims, we do also feel the stigma these days and this is partially why we are hosting this event,” added Naustdal. “To take a strong stance against all types of hatred, violence and particularly in this case anti-Semitism, both within our own ranks and from society as a whole. And that is what this human ring of peace is about. To show that if you want to commit violence in the name of Islam you will have to go through us Muslims first.”

The event’s page was also flooded with supportive comments from around the globe: “I am a Jew from New Hampshire, USA,” wrote Julie Stevens Alexenberg. “When I heard about your ‘Peace Ring’ I cried. They were tears of hope and gratitude. This Shabbat I will be lighting an extra candle to honor this brave and beautiful gesture. I pray that going forward we of all faiths and creeds together are able to hold hands and move towards a more peaceful coexistence on our amazing planet.”

Flowers placed in front of the Oslo Synagogue in memory of Dan Uzan, who was shot and killed on February 14 while guarding a synagogue in Copenhagen.
Oslo mayor Fabian Stang speaks with members of the Jewish community prior to the Ring of Peace vigil, February 21, 2015. The vigil was organized by Muslim youth in solidarity with Norway’s Jewish community following anti-Jewish attacks in Denmark and other parts of Europe.
Muslim youth say evening prayers in the street outside of the Oslo Synagogue as police look on.
Hajrah Arshad, 17, was the vigil’s primary organizer.
Ervin Kohn, President of The Jewish Community in Oslo (left), and Rabbi Michael Melchior of the Oslo Synagogue confer before the vigil.
More than 1,000 Norwegians of all faiths surround the Oslo Synagogue during Saturday’s Ring of Peace vigil.
“Yes to solidarity, unity and inclusion; no to hatred and stigmatization”
A Kurdish-Norwegian man in traditional garb stands among others surrounding the Oslo Synagogue during the vigil.
A member of the Oslo Jewish community and a young Muslim greet each other following the Ring of Peace vigil.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler is a freelance photojournalist and member of the Activestills collective. He lives in Oslo, Norway.





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