It was a cold morning, not as cold as some other mornings I’ve experienced during my last two years of residence in Edmonton, but I was too excited to feel the cold. I remember thinking about the possibility of experiencing the impossible. Even though it seemed pretty casual to most people in that great spacious auditorium of long walls and high ceiling, for me as a new immigrant, born Muslim, studied at Catholic school, always interested in finding out more about so called “our God” and “their God” and frankly, never appreciated by the religious studies teacher for asking too many questions, this interfaith dialogue was in fact experiencing what didn’t seem to be practical, or even possible, in my school years.
I entered the building reminding myself of the term “6th”, repeating in my head that no matter how impossible it may seem to me, this interfaith dialogue has been going on for 6 years now. I guess I wanted to calm my nerves whenever I thought of the reactions I might receive as a Muslim woman wearing a Hijab, or as I heard many times in the recent year; “as others, who are not much liked because of people’s fear from what they are not familiar with”.
Interestingly enough, this was also the sentence I heard from the speaker, after being repeated a couple of times at our table too. Around a table of 8, with me being the only Muslim, two lovely Christian sisters, one Catholic couple, both wearing a cross with the lady’s one being slightly smaller than her husband’s, a priest and his friend from Ontario, and a very nice young facilitator who tried hard to remain nice even when unintentionally interrupted by our comments. Our communication started with talking about certain topics of our personal life (icebreaker on the program), which I found rather too personal at first. But then again, I’m from a conservative culture, so I did my best to ignore the little voice crying not to talk about personal feelings with 7 total strangers.
The topics were printed on the cards which were already placed on our table. The little voice vanished after one of the lovely sisters shared her sad experience of losing her husband. The sorrow, the pain, the emptiness, the confusion and finally, reaching God for help. What a familiar story. I felt every part of it, so similar, so meaningful. So this was the whole point, I thought. Familiarizing with “others”, feeling the similarities, and believing how close we are in our faith. How we will all reach God for peace in the days of difficulty. How we can all find comfort in the warmth of his kindness.
The card I picked asked me to share my passion with the group. And so I did. Free from the little voice, feeling God’s love, stronger than ever, for putting my fears aside, sitting with his believers, trying to know them and be known by them. I talked about my passion, and they talked about theirs. Followed by commenting on the speakers’ speeches and the conversation topics our facilitator led (facilitated discussion on the program), mostly trying to get to know each other, our communities and our common beliefs about peace, war, justice, poverty, racism, love and God.
It was only an interfaith dialogue, successfully repeated for the 6th time, but for whatever reason, it felt like being part of a silent, ongoing social evolution that tends to make the impossible, possible.
By Donna Entz, Facilitator, A Common Word Alberta
In the last ten years I have attended Dialogue events in Canada and the USA. The usual format has been speakers being given equal time and then a Q & A for the audience to engage the speakers. Here in Edmonton we decided instead to make it a priority that the participants engage with each other and have therefore designated the time allotments accordingly. The Speakers are there to shape the theme of the event and to be a catalyst for the discussion. We certainly hope that people leave the event pleased with the speakers and how they were challenged. But even more we as a committee long to hear from participants that they had a positive time around the tables in the facilitated discussion period. We try, but don’t always accomplish two blocks of time, each 45 minutes in length.
As to opening ceremonies, we always start by a prayer or recitation of one faith community, and close the event with the other. The first is usually the host community. The last years we have had an Indigenous person doing a welcome and opening as well.
The icebreaker is done with a set of cards supplied by the Intercultural Dialogue Institute. The cards are distributed around each table and each person shares an experience in turn. The cards are topics that help us establish our common humanity before we address faith issues later in the program. Some examples would be: Describe a time that you were very afraid, tell about a favourite person as you were growing up, etc.
The speakers of each community are given two rounds of 15 minutes each. The core of the Dialogue happens in the two discussion periods after the speakers. Here is an example of a typical schedule for our event, based on our 2018 dialogue event.
But in summary, none of this is possible unless there is “a willingness of all faith communities to work together on a continuous basis to form a closer bond”. Let’s not lose sight of this as the beginning point for anything of good to happen through the logistics of the Dialogue event.
“So many of us involved in interfaith dialogue can testify to profound enrichment gained from dialogue with people of other faith traditions” – David Rosen
My experience with Christian-Muslim dialogue events has been largely positive. The attendees have a genuine concern to further their relationship and move forward in a practical way as a result of the dialogue.
A question came up at our table as to how to promote “trust” between the two faith communities and build a positive relationship that is constant and ongoing relationship instead of just once in a while. I believe the answer to this question is getting more and more people involved in dialogue, from ordinary people to religious leaders. Doing so, builds trust between the two faiths as we learn about one another and our shared values. Children and youths should also be encouraged to get involved in such activities early on.
All faith communities strive towards the end goal of removing human suffering, from the day to day survival problems to long term sustainability and viability of humans. If faith communities can come together and align themselves to work on shared goals, this would be beneficial for the two faiths and society.
Through facilitating the Muslim Christian Dialogue 2018 event hosted by A Common Word Alberta, I was greeted with a warm welcome from the multi-culturally diverse audience upon my arrival. Being unacquainted with the others at my table, we played an ice breaker card game to break through the barriers between us. We quickly warmed up to one another as we shared stories and laugher ensued. A humorous moment that I recall, was when a Muslim gentleman, seated next to me, got the ‘share a stressful moment card, but he could hardly recall any stressful moment in his life!
After the game and the fantastic remarks by the MCs, we had the chance to listen to two inspirational talks by the two guest speakers. The speakers would break to allow every table the opportunity to discuss the topics brought up by the speakers. I certainly enjoyed the mutually compelling discussions at my table, where a Christian lady shared her sad story about her father. Despite all her efforts in opening his eyes to and being more tolerant of different religions, he was still resistant to it. In contrast, everyone at my table was so willing to be open and transparent and coming together in dialogue to “walk the path together”. In addition, we had some detailed discussions on the practical aspects of the two faiths. Undoubtedly, a couple of Christian ladies at my table were somewhat astonished by the refusal of a hand shake by the Muslim gentleman and found it to be a challenging topic, which I tried to explain from the Muslim viewpoint. After an explanation, the ladies were satisfied with the rule and learned that it was by no means used to segregate or disrespect the other gender. It was simply a rule that both Shia women and men follow, due to the special reverence between the genders. Overall, the event was not only beneficial in teaching us to learn the differences between the religions, but also, to learn from and embrace each other’s faiths. To build onto the event, I am looking forward to more of these opportunities in the future.
By Joseph Abraham
The sixth Christian-Muslim Dialogue was held at the ARCA Banquet Hall in Edmonton on October 27, 2018. The theme of the Interfaith Dialogue was “Walking Together: Experiencing Peace In Our Midst.”
In a world that is constantly changing, where relationships between nations and neighbors are deteriorating, it is imperative that we constantly communicate with each other. Engaging in dialogue is very important to understand the view of others, especially in today’s world where we are no longer living in a situation where we are insulated from outside influences. As the saying goes the only constant in the world is change. Those people who are not willing to adapt to the changes that come, are left behind. Embracing change does not mean that we have to give up the values we stand for, but it is always beneficial to look for positives in the opposite parties whom we detest. Participating in the Interfaith Dialogue definitely helped to open the eyes of many in that regard.
After coming to Canada as a new immigrant myself, I faced many challenges to integrate with the Canadian psyche along with much discrimination and racism. The same discrimination exists in the country I originated from, in the form of the caste system where different groups are considered superior to others based on the caste they are born into. I could experience the feelings of the lower caste when I arrived in Canada and faced a similar type of discrimination.
These very same feelings of discrimination and hopelessness are currently being felt by the Muslim community and visible minorities in Canada which were clearly highlighted by the speaker Mr.Zaid al Rawni. The importance of loving your neighbor was highlighted by Dr.Wes Thiessen from Calgary.
The fundamentals of Christianity as explained by Jesus himself in Mark 12:30-31 as following:
30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
When we Christians follow the above two commandments of God it is possible to experience “peace in our midst.”
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.