Torontonians of all faiths form rings of peace outside area mosques

People of all faiths held hands to create a symbolic ring of peace outside a Toronto mosque today as worshippers attended Friday prayer for the first time since the horrific attack against Muslims in New Zealand.

This scene was mirrored outside mosques across the country Friday, one week after 50 were killed and dozens were injured when a gunman opened fire in two Christchurch mosques.

A Toronto imam said he expected more people than usual to attend his sermon Friday afternoon, despite last week's attack — especially because he had protection from the wider community.

"We won't allow hate to deter us from what we need to do and how we pray or what we engage in doing in terms of our relationship with our religion," Yusuf Badat, the imam of the Islamic Foundation of Toronto, told CBC News. 

Amid spring flurries, community members and police officers held hands in both a physical and symbolic show of support for the local Muslim community as worshippers entered the Toronto mosque. Some attendees held signs displaying messages of hope, like: "Peace for all humanity."

Badat said Friday prayers at his mosque, in the Scarborough area of Toronto, typically attract 3,000 people.

Today, the city's mayor visited the mosque.

"There are people grieving in New Zealand, but I know there are people grieving in Toronto as well," Mayor John Tory told worshippers after the imam's sermon. 

He said it's important for Toronto to stand together in solidarity to show the thinking that leads to horrific acts like this will not be tolerated. 

Tory also spoke about a need for all people in the city to work to better understand what the Islamic faith is all about.

Shows of support

Meanwhile, allies — including members of Toronto's Christian and Jewish communities — formed human barriers outside other facilities to make those praying inside feel safe. 

"We need to work together because an attack on one community or one individual is actually an attack one every community and every individual," Badat said.

His Friday sermon focused on hope and lessons to take away from the tragedy in Christchurch.

Amanda Grant/CBC

He spoke about lessons of the value of unity and being persistent in practicing their faith despite hatred. 

The imam said it's a "sad reality" that places of worship, which should be sanctuaries of peace and tranquility, need to hire extra security for the protection of their communities.

"There should be open doors," he said, noting there will be guards outside the building's doors on Friday afternoon. 

The precautions have also extended to the mosque's neighbouring Islamic school, where Badat said outdoor recesses are taking place indoors for the next few weeks.

"We need to call out Islamophobia or hate or any form of racism or discrimination as soon as we see it," he said, adding that hateful rhetoric breeds Islamophobes.

Similar shows of support for local Muslims are expected to take place outside B.C. mosques on Friday.