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.
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.”