2022 Dialogue: “Drawing the Circle Bigger”

Written and edited by Suzanne Gross and Naz Qureshi

On October 29, 2022,  A Common Word Alberta hosted its 9th annual dialogue. Individuals representing the Muslim and Christian faith traditions gathered in-person and virtually at the All-Saints Anglican Cathedral to engage in dialogue. Scott Sharman and Naz Qureshi  opened with the following context for this year’s theme of ‘Drawing the Circle Bigger’:

“We are asking our speakers to help us understand how our call into dialogue as Muslims and Christians also calls us to broaden the dialogue further. In particular, the way that Christians and Muslims living in this land we call Canada each have a responsibility to pursue right relations with the First Peoples in whose traditional territories we live. 

This topic was chosen in part because of the recent visit of Pope Francis to Canada as part of a penitential pilgrimage among the First Peoples. It also has a special urgency because of the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that address religious communities. While some of these calls to action are directed in particular ways to Christian churches and institutions, there are also interfaith dimensions. “  

The guest panelists were Christina Conroy, a professor of theology at Ambrose University in Calgary, and Imam Sadique Pathan from Al Rashid Mosque in Edmonton. Four main questions were used to guide the reflections of the panelists, as well as the table discussions where participants shared insights from their experiences and perspectives:

1. What in your respective scriptures/stories from your faith traditions encourage us to take collective responsibility for “sins of the past”? 

2. Can you reflect on the overlap between the Truth and Reconciliation process in Canada and messages and examples of reconciliation from your faith traditions?

3. Are there scriptures/stories from your faith traditions that illustrate “drawing the circle bigger” to include everyone as worthy of the mercy or love of God?

4. Many Indigenous Peoples teach that all of us live in a wide web of relationships – to other humans, certainly, but also to lands, to waters, and to what are often called non-human relatives (which includes plant and animal life, and various kinds of spiritual beings). These relationships always come with mutual responsibilities. Please share a similar concept of relationship and responsibility from your own faith tradition and reflect on how it is relevant to dialogue and reconciliation.

The panel discussion from the two panelists was thought provoking and engaging. After each table discussion, a representative was asked to share key insights. Collectively, a few themes emerged that are summarized below.

Although our different scriptures do not all include a concept of collective guilt or collective sin, the concept of collective responsibility emerged as a guiding principle as we navigate oppression or injustice from the past. Having settled in this land, those who are not of Indigenous descent, inherit the social constructs and complexities that have arisen from the past.  Christina shared the Christian concept of Jubilee, which is striving to address inequity economically, including returning of land, and Sadique discussed the Islamic concept of justice, and being accountable for our actions. Both concepts invite us to lead lives with a spirit of recalibrating or rebalancing for justice to prevail.   

The Quran starts with us as individuals, encouraging believers to be critical thinkers when it comes to judging or discriminating against others. It calls the faithful to stand firm for justice, even it if is against yourself or your next of kin. The idea that reconciliation is the core work of a Christian can be found in writings of the apostle Paul, in Colossians.

Reconciliation starts with an acknowledgement of wrongdoing and apology but does not stop with simple validation. As Canadians, we need to convey intent that “we stand with you; what do you need or how can I help?” when it comes to reconciliation with our Indigenous brothers and sisters.  

On the topic of overlap with Indigenous teachings about care of and responsibility for the natural world, our Christina reflected on how Jesus often referred to nature using natural plants and phenomena in his parables.  Who was Jesus’ teacher in all of this?  Likely his mother Mary. Both traditions have stories of caring for the environment, nature, and all created beings. Sadique shared stories from the Islamic faith on the treatment of animals and how in the Quran, everything created praises God the creator – even the rocks – a concept echoed in the Hebrew and Christian Bible as well.  

An observation shared from a participant was that our governments seem to get stuck on apology and are unable to move to taking meaningful action that helps restore justice. One table participant commented: “If government is the obstacle to addressing the systemic issues that keep us from moving from apology to justice, maybe these interfaith dialogues are even more important! “

While a sensitive topic, it was one that needed to be broached, and it was done so in a beautiful manner.