Alberta’s Christians and Muslims engage in dialogue

Alberta’s Christians and Muslims engage in dialogue

Edmonton’s Al Rashid Mosque hosted the eight annual interfaith gathering of ‘A Common World Alberta (ACWAB)’ on Saturday, October 30th and Christians and Muslims came together for a day of dialogue and building friendships.

A Common World Alberta (ACWAB) has played a quiet but impactful role in getting Christians and Muslims face-to-face in a non-threatening environment for conversation.

“In a time when it has come to our corporate attention that our communities are fragmented and we have a real problem with islamophobia, we have found face-to-face interactions between Muslims and Christians are effective in building peaceful, respectful and loving relationships between differing faiths,” noted the organizers.

Some participants met at the mosque while others joined online for the dialogue event to discuss the topic, “Does Faith Matter?

The proceedings got underway with a panel discussion with four individuals from both faith traditions that was followed by facilitated table discussions for in-person attendees  and breakout rooms for online attendees.

The participants addressed the questions - Why Faith? How do we utilize faith to overcome difficult times such as the pandemic and mental health?; How do you reconcile living your faith with the challenges/complexities of the modern world?; How do you reconcile faith with freedom of choice in modern society?

A Brief History of A Common Word Alberta

The first Muslims to come to Canada settled in Alberta. Because of that historical fact,  Christians and Muslims have been interacting in positive ways in Alberta for over 100 years.  There are some very solid friendships on which all later initiatives have been built.

Since the 1960’s Christian and Muslim groups have been partnering in health care, social service and educational ministries. Since 2002 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese has issued annual Ramadan greetings to the Edmonton Council of Muslim Communities and various leaders in the Muslim communities.  Muslim, Jewish and Roman Catholics leaders were founders of the Phoenix Multi-faith Society for Harmony in Edmonton.

This local endeavour is an extension of a global movement that began in 2007, when a letter inviting dialogue was composed by Muslim leaders and addressed to Christian leaders of the world. The letter, entitled “A Common Word,” affirmed the call in both the Bible and the Qur’an to love God and neighbour and got a positive response and continuing engagement from Christian leaders.

This present initiative was launched in Edmonton to build on and deepen some profound Muslim-Mennonite relationships of the past.   One of these ties is the 60-year-old connection of deep friendships between Somali Sunni Muslims and Christian Mennonites.  The second is a  ten-year series of every-two-year “Dialogues” that have taken place between Shia Muslim Scholars from Iran and Mennonite Christian Scholars based in North America. But the goal in reviving those was to celebrate and strengthen those ties right in present day Alberta so as to impact our religiously fractured world.  A dialogue was initiated by the Mennonite Christian and Shia Muslim communities in Edmonton that grew later to involve Sunni relationships and culminated into an official gathering.

First Mennonite Church in Edmonton hosted this first event on May 11, 2013 called “A Morning of Exchange Between Mennonite and Muslim Communities through Storytelling and Dialogue.”  As the stories of strong long-term relationships were told, the 75 participants were given opportunity to engage those of the other faith sitting right at their tables.  Participants had very positive experiences.

In the meantime, Roman Catholics and Mennonites were having their own dialogues and so since that first event, the former were invited into the circle.  Some Mennonites and Roman Catholics had become acquainted with ” A Common Word (ACW) ” Initiative, and this was a strong motivator for them to be interested in  facilitating new  Christian-Muslim encounters.

ACW as a world wide initiative was launched in 2007  as a Letter signed by 138 leading Muslims to the leaders of the Christian churches and denominations of the entire world.  It proposed, based on verses from the Holy Qur’an and the Holy Bible, that Islam and Christianity share the commandments of the paramount importance of loving God and loving one’s neighbour. It is an extended global handshake of inter-religious goodwill, friendship, and fellowship and consequently of world peace. (From the Fifth Anniversary “A Common Word Between Us and You”)

To continue in this spirit of ” A Common Word”, the emphasis in Alberta will be on local relational engagement all the while building awareness about the other’s faith.  Plans are continuing in the future for more Dialogues and  Christian-Muslim Book Clubs.