Yasmeen Quraishi Nizam

Yasmeen Quraishi Nizam

December 15, 2014

As war rages in the Middle East and racial tensions heighten in the United States, leaders of the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths condemned violence and spoke of peace at Edmonton City Hall Dec. 6.

The event, titled Voices of Peace from Abraham's Children, was sponsored by the Phoenix Multi-Faith Society for Harmony, an Edmonton group whose goal is to promote bridge-building and understanding among Christians, Muslims and Jews.

"I feel that Islam, the religion that defines me, has been unjustifiably hijacked by (extremists)," said Yasmeen Quraishi Nizam, presiding co-chair of the society and the event's emcee.

"Islam for me is comfort and a serene oasis to which I turn every day. I must express my repugnance to the violence and murderous acts of those who might have Muslim names or might identify themselves as Muslims."

Nizam said terrorists can never be Muslims as they cannot be Christians, Jews or followers of any other faith. "Therefore Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities unequivocally condemn any acts of terrorism wherever they occur."

The program for the fifth annual Phoenix celebration also included a recitation of a poem in Arabic, a reading from the Bible and presentations from two colourful children's choirs.

Representing Islam, Dr. Ameer Farook, a first-year resident in surgery at the Foothills Hospital in Calgary, said he is worried about the future of his unborn child in this violent society.

"I wonder about the wisdom of bringing a child in a world like ours," he said. "It seems like everywhere I turn there is violence."

Farook mentioned the racial events in Ferguson, Mo., and the choking death of a black man at the hands of a white policeman in New York City. "This tells us that while we overtly might have triumphed over racism, our society is not a post-racial society," he lamented.

"As I speak here at this beautiful City Hall of ours, toasty and warm, I remember my brothers and sisters of this city and other cities around the world who are desperately looking for a place where they can stay warm. These are just a few of the things that I worry about when I think about what those little eyes may witness."

What Farook worries about most for his unborn child is that as a Muslim growing up, he or she will be exposed to images and ideas that seemingly come from Islam but have no relationship to Islam.

The Prophet Mohammed never struck a woman or a child and forgave even his worst enemies, including the man who killed his own uncle, he said.

"The stories of the Prophet are filled with examples of love, gentleness and kindness," Farook said, calling on his audience to follow the Prophet's example. "There has never been a more important time than today to start a dialogue between ourselves and the broader community. Our responsibility is to help one another."

Rabbi Kliel Rose, spiritual leader of the Beth Shalom Synagogue, described Judaism as an action-oriented tradition and said "we just can't sit" and wait for peace. "You have to take action, you have to go out and make something happen."

Rose said each person has an opportunity and obligation to bring about peace, a concept central to the collective mission of the Jewish people.


"May we – Muslims, Jews and Christians – take an active part in bringing about peace," Rose said, stressing that bringing about peace is bringing about equity, equality and justice.

Dr. Earle Sharam, principal and dean of St. Stephen's College, said Christmas brings a message we desperately need to hear in this time of turmoil.

"The core of that message is the vision of shalom, the vision of a world in which love and justice reign, in which the whole of creation lives in peace and harmony, in which all the people of the earth are filled with the wonder of creation and the love of the creator."

Sharam said the vision of justice and peace deeply rooted in the Christian tradition is more than a human effort to build a better society through better politics or better economics.

"It's based on building better hearts – hearts that will be filled with the knowledge of God."

The Christmas message has always been about peace on earth and goodwill among people, but that message is born in Jesus' command that first and foremost we seek the kingdom of God, Sharam said.

"For Christians, of course, it is in Christ that our broken and troubled world catches a glimpse of that kingdom of shalom," he continued.


For Christians the very nature of God is love, Sharam observed. "The very foundation of our faith is love. Sometimes we discover it in the most unlikely places, like (in the shanty towns of) Calcutta or on the subway train in a large city.

"But that message, that final victory of love over hatred and of peace over war and of inclusion over exclusion and of life over death is God's greeting to each one of us this Christmastime; that's the message of Good News to our world in my tradition."