Muslims, Christians seek way of peace

About 250 Muslims and Christians had serious dialogue at a day-long event Sept. 13 at the Edmonton Islamic Academy.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

About 250 Muslims and Christians had serious dialogue at a day-long event Sept. 13 at the Edmonton Islamic Academy.

September 22, 2014
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Christians and Muslims agree that love, peace and hope are some of the most basic gifts they can offer as they practise their faith in Canada's secular society.

At their second dialogue in Edmonton, leaders of both major religions encouraged participants to live out their faith so others will see them as people of faith and agents of peace and love.

Almost 250 people, including Muslims of the Sunni and Shia sects and Christians of the Roman Catholic and Mennonite churches, attended the event at the Edmonton Islamic Academy Sept. 13.

"We Muslims consider ourselves fortunate to live in a country like Canada, which, while officially a secular state, allows freedom of worship and exchange of ideas," said Masood Peracha, chair of the Edmonton Council of Muslim Communities.

Nevertheless, he said, living in a secular society does have some challenges, one of which is the stereotyping of Muslims as oppressors of women and promoters of terrorism – both of which are untrue.

Usama Al-Atar

Usama Al-Atar

At the heart of both the Muslim and Christian faiths there is agreement that we are indeed God's offspring and that the God of the Holy Koran and the God of the Holy Bible is not unknown, said the Rev. Kevin Kraglund of the Edmonton and District Council of Churches.

"In both our faith traditions God is known as the Transcendent Creator, sovereign, omnipotent and has spoken to humanity through messengers or prophets through angels and the written word," Kraglund said.

"Through the written word we share most significantly in the commandment common to Muslim and Christian alike – to love both God and neighbour."

Kraglund said wherever we are, whether at the mall, at the local coffee shop or in foreign lands, we are called to be witnesses of God's love and of our love for one another.

Father Stefano Penna, vice-president of Newman Theological College, spoke about the role of Christians in the secular world, "which is the place in which the kingdom of God is still able to be encountered."

Christians, he said, are to dwell in the midst of this world contributing to it, showing what it means to be loved by God in Jesus Christ.

Jesus' kingdom is not a kingdom of this world but the kingdom of heaven, whose fulfillment awaits Christ's final return.

This, however, does not imply that the secular world is an evil or ungodly place. After all, "God so loved this world that he gave his only son," Penna said quoting St. John's Gospel.

"We believe Jesus continues to send his Church, its people, to heal the world out of love for it.

"A secular world is and always has been the place in which the Catholic must practise their faith."

Angela Veters, a Catholic chaplain at the Edmonton Remand Centre, spoke as a witness, saying her faith has been a rock for her and has sustained her.

"I think that the greatest gift we can give to the world is to be a genuine sign of hope, despite the trials of life.

"By doing this we can show the secular culture that faith can speak to modern issues and that each person is worthy of dignity and respect."

MISCONCEPTIONS

Usama Al-Atar, currently imam of the Islamic Shia Ithna-Asheri Association of Edmonton, said in today's society many people are saying "we don't need religion in our lives."

This secularization has been brought in part by misconceptions and misunderstandings, he said.

Angela Veters

Angela Veters

"Religion has been used for the wrong reasons and may still be used for the wrong reasons," he said, citing ISIS actions in Iraq and Syria, the actions of al-Qaeda, the Crusades and the Church's sex scandals. "People use such examples to say, 'Look religion is bad. We are better off not having it.'"

But Al-Atar said just because some people misrepresent religion, it does not mean religion should be demolished.

"We have to remind people of the essence of religion; the peaceful nature of religion," he said. "Religion is embracing one another, engaging one another, respecting one another.

"We are all brothers and sisters. We are all equal. Such teaching is what we need to embark on and pass on to the world."

ACTIONS MORE THAN WORDS

Al-Atar said we need to remind ourselves of what the great prophets taught us and how they lived their lives. "You can convert a lot of people through your actions, not through your words. You need to act the way that you preach."

Muslims are taught to be proud of their identity, to pray, to fast, to give to charity and to go on pilgrimages. "These things are important because they keep us connected, and they grant us comfort and peace."

Sherif Ayoup, Sunni imam of the Edmonton's Islamic Academy said Islam is a simple religion. "Islam comes from the word 'peace.' It calls for peace and for submission to your creator."

Whether one is in a secular society or not "at the end of the day you have this relationship with your God through your prayers, through your fasting, through your charity and through your pilgrimage to Mecca," Ayoup said.

Islam is about practising your beliefs. "The Koran tells us to not say something that you don't act upon," he stressed. "lslam is all about practice. It's all about showing Islam to people through your behaviour."

FOLLOWING JESUS

Mennonite leader Carol Penner said she takes her faith seriously. "It's the most important part of my life. As a Mennonite Christian, it is very important for me to live out my faith so that people, anyone that I meet, will know that I am a follower of Jesus."

Mennonites try to live as Jesus lived. They try not to accumulate material possessions or to get rich and wealthy. "Instead, like Jesus who lived and died a poor man, we try to live a simple lifestyle," Penner said.

Jesus taught us to love your neighbour as you love yourself. But, as Penner put it, your neighbours are not just the people in your own church. "Your neighbour is the stranger; your neighbour is anyone who is suffering who you meet."