By Naz Qureshi
If you have a sapling in your hand and the End of Times arrives upon you – continue planting it.”
This saying, attributed to the Prophet of Islam, is one that inspires me greatly. This statement begs the question, why go to all the effort for a tree that will not bear fruit in that moment when the world is ending? This hadith teaches that no matter what the circumstances may be, or how futile your efforts may seem, it is one’s responsibility to continue contributing.
I am not a scholar of religious study, nor am I a religious leader. Despite having a secular, corporate background, the unique heritage and sacred teachings of the Abrahamic faiths, especially the points where they converge, has always been of great interest to me. A Common Word Alberta (ACWAB) is an excellent forum that allows for interfaith discussion in Edmonton through its various initiatives. The annual dialogue hosted by ACWAB last October, educates members of Islam and Christianity of the complexities and challenges of the relationship between them. The outcome of these dialogues, is the realization that the Abrahamic faiths, commonly viewed as being eternally at odds with one another, have much more in common after all.
I became involved in the Scriptural Reasoning program, hosted by ACWAB, to further my understanding of Abrahamic scriptures. This program has truly deepened relationships between members of different faith groups as well as addresses the complexity of issues underlying the relationship. The variety of topics covered in these sessions reflects both commonalities and challenges between adherents of the three faiths.
Perhaps it is not the politicians, the academics, or the religious leaders who will invariably bring peace. From my involvement in interfaith work, I think perhaps it is the grassroots initiatives, the extraordinary, yet ordinary people who will turn out to be the Gideon’s of the Bible. A Common Word Alberta lays the groundwork that interfaith dialogue can lead to effective collaboration on contemporary issues. I recommend participating in these programs to anyone involved in interfaith work or simply wishing to know the ‘unknown other.’
The dialogue held last October, equips one with tools to ensure these two communities come together in the spirit of humanity, where differences can be respected, irrespective of political aims or aspirations. In other words, to contribute, regardless of whatever the outcome will be.
Any relationship requires trust and from my experience with ACWAB programs I can personally attest that the best way to build a relationship’s foundation is with a yearning to understand as well as be understood. In other words, simply getting to know each other. When relationships are strong enough to be sustained despite disagreements, then we can move past the niceties and similarities, and start exploring differences.
This step takes true courage. You must share your own narrative, while at the same time listening to understand and embrace the narrative of the other. Dialogue should not be a debating match of who is right or wrong. Dialogue, at the deepest level, transforms you: as your assumptions and generalizations are challenged and quickly broken down, you come to the realization that there is more than one truth.
In our discussions, we reach an empathic understanding of the other side’s narrative, and our own perspectives begin to be shaped by multiple truths seen through differing lenses and viewpoints. The collective religious identity begins to expand its borders to include the greater identity of humanity. Your own faith is often deepened as a result.
Finally, we learn to hold our own narrative as well as that of the other. We see that members of the other group are not a monolithic mass we may have believed them to be. In my own experience, I have seen that speaking with the other and getting to know that very other breaks down the stereotyping and dehumanization that happens so easily when we are not familiar with the other, or even fear them. So what should we –– as Muslims, Christians, or any multitude of identifiers we choose as human beings –– learn from ACWAB’s dialogue programs?
We should learn that the process of fostering connection across difference is both individually enriching and communally powerful. It is a vital tool we must all use to break through the divisive news stories, policies, and rhetoric we face every day. Sharing our stories and learning from someone you don’t necessarily agree with, lets us tap into the power of a shared conviction: that all of our voices, together, can enact peace in this world.