More than 1,000 people formed a “ring of peace” Saturday outside Oslo’s main synagogue at the initiative of a group of young Muslims.
The event in the Norwegian capital follows a series of attacks against Jews in Europe, including murderous terror attacks in Paris in January and in neighboring Denmark last week.
One of the eight independent organizers of Saturday’s event in Oslo, 17-year-old Hajrah Arshad, said the gathering shows “that Islam is about love and unity.”
“We want to demonstrate that Jews and Muslims do not hate each other,” co-organizer Zeeshan Abdullah told the crowd, standing in a half-circle before the white synagogue. “We do not want individuals to define what Islam is for the rest of us.”
“There are many more peace-mongers than warmongers,” he added.
Norway’s Chief Rabbi Michael Melchior sang the traditional Jewish end of Sabbath song outside the synagogue before the large crowd holding hands.
Co-organizer Hassan Raja said it was the first time he heard the song.
Ervin Kohn, head of Oslo’s Jewish community, called the gathering in sub-zero temperatures “unique.”
Several European countries have seen an increase in anti-Semitic incidents recently, starting when the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza intensified last year.
In Paris, three Muslim gunmen killed 17 people at a kosher grocery, the offices of weekly Charlie Hebdo and elsewhere in early January. Last week a single assailant in Copenhagen killed a Jewish security guard outside a synagogue and a Danish filmmaker attending a free speech event.
Arshad explained last week that the intention was to make a clear statement that Muslims don’t support anti-Semitism.
“We think that after the terrorist attacks in Copenhagen, it is the perfect time for us Muslims to distance ourselves from the harassment of Jews that is happening,” Arshad told the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation NRK in an interview cited by The Local News website on Tuesday.
She noted that the group aimed to “extinguish the prejudices people have against Jews and against Muslims.”
Arshad promoted the initiative as an event on Facebook.
“Islam is about protecting our brothers and sisters, regardless of which religion they belong to,” the event page explains. “Islam is about rising above hate and never sinking to the same level as the haters. Islam is about defending each other.”
Another of the activists behind the drive wrote in an English-language comment on the event’s page that “if anyone wants to commit violence in the name of Islam you will have to go through us Muslims first.”