More than 1,000 Muslims form human shield around Oslo synagogue

Norwegian Muslims form a human shield around a synagogue in Oslo, offering symbolic protection after an attack on a synagogue in neighbouring Denmark.

OSLO, NORWAY (FEBRUARY 21, 2015) (REUTERS) – More than 1,000 Muslims formed a human shield around Oslo’s synagogue on Saturday (February 21), offering symbolic protection for the city’s Jewish community and condemning an attack on a synagogue in nearby Denmark last weekend.

The event was organised by Norwegian youth and 17-year-old organiser Hajrah Arshad said the impetus behind it was the prejudice faced by Jews and Muslims on a daily basis.

“It was the terror attack in Denmark that triggered us young people, and the prejudices people have against Jews and Muslims. It is a problem we encounter every day and it’s a problem we’ve had for a long time,” she said.

Arshad emphasised the significance that the event was organised by young people as it provided hope for the future.

“It’s very important that young people are the ones organising this rally, because we are the future and we have to take a stand to show the world how we want things to be,” Arshad said.

More people attended the event than expected, with young people, families and ordinary Norwegians saying they wanted to take a stand for freedom of religion.

“We are standing up for free religion. And I myself am a theological student and I want to be here to mark my solidarity for the Jewish, the Muslims for everyone to practice their religion,” said participant Leidulv Grimstad.

The event began after the Jewish Sabbath was marked at 1730 GMT and organisers and Jewish community leaders stood side by side.

“I’m here to promote inter-faith between Jewish people and Muslim people and show everybody that we get along, we live in peace, and this is what being human is all about. Getting along and being at peace with one another,” said participant Fatima Dugen.

The organisers said most Muslims in Norway stand up for the rights of Jews and hope other communities will also fight against radicalisation.

“Dear friends, your attendance today proves that we are one step closer to the future. Today we are letting go of the past, and together as a nation we shall kill the prejudices we have against each other. We as a nation will together write history. Thank you all so much for showing up here today,” said Hajrah Arshad.

Norway’s Jewish community is one of Europe’s smallest, numbering around 1,000.

Its Muslim population, which has been growing steadily through immigration, is between 150,000 and 200,000. Norway has an overall population of about 5.2 million.

The debate over immigration in the country came to the forefront in 2011 when Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people and accused the government and the then-ruling Labour party of facilitating Muslim immigration and adulterating pure Norwegian blood.

Support for immigration has been rising steadily since those attacks, however, and an opinion poll late last year found that 77 per cent of people thought immigrants made an important contribution to Norwegian society.