When a house of worship is attacked, the response often brings more than the usual outrage over such an act of hate. Sacred places, after all, whether a mosque, church, temple, or synagogue, are supposed to be free of fear and full of love. For Canadians, a Jan. 29 shooting at a mosque in Quebec City that killed six Muslims certainly provoked anger. But another response showed just how much places of worship have in common as lights against the dark.
Across Canada, churches and mosques reached out with vigils and prayers in a spirit of solidarity to protect their spiritual havens. An Anglican minister in Aylmer, Quebec, for example, organized a vigil outside a mosque that brought together hundreds of different faiths. In Winnipeg, the Manitoba Islamic Association opened its doors for visitors. In Gatineau, Quebec, people walked from the cathedral to the mosque.
In Sudbury, Ontario, the Islamic Association asked for solidarity with this statement: “The sanctity of all houses of God in Canada must be protected by every citizen committed to peaceful living from any form of violation, let alone the heinous crime of killing individuals during the act of prayer.” (Police who arrested a Laval University student after the mosque shooting said it was an act of terror.)
Such responses are hardly unique to Canada. In the United States, attacks on religious centers often bring a strong ecumenical reaction, such as after the killings at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, or a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., in 2012. When a mosque mysteriously burned down Jan. 28 in Victoria, Texas, thousands of people of different faiths quickly contributed nearly $1 million to rebuild it.
In Nigeria, after terrorist attacks by Boko Haram on churches and mosques, many Christians and Muslims began to guard each other’s places of worship. In Kenya, mosques and churches in the Kibera slum of Nairobi painted their walls yellow in solidarity and in defiance of attacks by the Islamist terror group Al Shabab.
In Iraq, a series of major attacks on both Sunni and Shiite mosques in 2006 led leaders of both groups to demand a halt to such terrorism. “All houses of worship are sacrosanct, including mosques and the non-Muslim houses of worship of all faiths and religions,” stated the group in what is called the Mecca Charter.
In every society, religious centers provide support and solace that many people cannot find in the home, at a workplace, or from government. A tragic attack on one house of worship is easily seen as an attack on all – as well as the spiritual resources they provide. The response in Canada to the mosque killings was yet another reminder that different faiths have a common purpose, especially to roll back hate.