ACWAB Interfaith Dialogue  "Why Faith?"

October 30, 2021

Al Rashid Mosque:  

“Interfaith Goes Past Tolerance and Straight to Love”  

--Reverend Heather Liddell, ACWAB Dialogues 2021

One week after our 9th ACWAB Muslim Christian Interfaith Dialogue, I am still reflecting on many of the insights that came together for me that day.  This year’s event was a hybrid event – in person graciously hosted by Al Rashid Mosque in their banquet room --- replete with coffee/tea Middle Eastern meat/cheese/spinach pies, donuts and muffins and fruit.  Thirty-five of us gathered in this setting.  At the same time 22 people from across Alberta and even Canada joined by zoom – a benefit we all now enjoy thanks to COVID.  I am aware of at least 13 Mennonites from Alberta and Winnipeg who joined the Dialogue.  

The traditional opening gave us comfort with the familiar:  a Quranic recitation offered by one of the Imams of Al Rashid, a reflection on the land we live on, the Treaty promises broken, and the Indigenous teachings of wisdom, love, respect, courage, honesty, humility, truth – wonderful guideposts for our Interfaith Dialoguing.

Our dialoguing actually began in the foyer of All Saints Anglican Cathedral in August when nine of us gathered in person with four additional voices on zoom to explore what our communities might want to discuss in October 2021.  Our fruitful brainstorming led to the topic of “Why does Faith Matter?” with the goal of ensuring we would be hearing younger voices.  What can we learn from our younger voices that can nurture all of us?  Below are some quotes and paraphrases of what was shared both from the panelists (2 Christian and 2 Muslims) and from the table I was part of.

  • Faith allows us to admit that we don’t know everything – faith humbles us
  • Faith offers us an antidote to assumptions [about others] – where we can acknowledge the mystery that we are all made in the image of God
  • Faith gives meaning to life AND suffering.  Death and suffering don’t have the last word
  • Faith is a means of transformation of the challenges and complexities in the world
  • Rules keep us safe and are an antidote to the greed of “getting whatever you want”.  Faith reminds us that it is not about our individual needs -- we are made to live in community – we are part of something bigger

The highlight of our dialogues has always been the opportunity to build relationships around tables, where facilitated conversation allows for all to engage with the same questions posed to the panelists. We used beautiful talking sticks made by ACWAB members and Indigenous friends to support respectful listening.  I will share a few perspectives gleaned from my table:

  • There is a difference between faith and belief.  Belief=doctrine or consensus of understanding of religious writings.  Faith is a conceptual framework where we explore doubt and certainty through intellectual scrutiny
  • We choose faith – it is a choice to want something, and faith is choosing that which is good for all of us.  Faith allows us to build on our innate altruism.  It shapes how I act with other people.  Faith allows me to choose hope.
  • Young people ask powerful questions, and leaders do not always have answers for the 21st century.  For Muslims, answers are still coming from 4 sources of scholarship that emerged 200 years ago.

Given that we were gathered to reflect on and, more importantly practice Interfaith dialogue, many of us were eager to get to the second question of the day:  “Why does Interfaith Matter”  The enthusiasm reflects a thirst for coming together in our diversity – to celebrate our commonality and build harmony.  Here is what we heard from the panelists

  • We are a diverse and multi-faith society.  We should be open to learning from people of other faiths, and take wisdom from each others’ traditions.  But there are invisible lines dividing us. We don’t want to cross that line – and offend.  There is the problem of the extremists who taint our traditions.  And yet, by using caution, we ignore a huge part of who we are.  
  • When we look at history and context of faith tradition, what people have gone through, we face obstacles with more empathy.
  • Interfaith allows us to feel connected, we recognize how our actions impact others

My table had a diversity of ages and faith traditions.  We were blessed with a father-daughter duo from the Muslim faith tradition who modeled for all of us, relationships of trust with complete freedom of expression.  This father and daughter were not in unity of belief, but were in unity of faith exploration.  Below are the reflections on the topic of “Why Interfaith?” from my table.  

  • It’s important because it makes us more of what we’re called to be.
  • It clears up misconceptions so that we are able to live on one earth and take care of it and of each other
  • It relieves isolation from each other and removes the issues of needing to “fit in.”
  • There is no loss in interfaith – only new gifts.  
  • A young person expressed a desire to have the freedom to borrow from the best of all traditions
  • When things are about winning we are always going to be in trouble.  We need grace with each other.

A story that was shared to me second-hand connects with the panelist comment “There is the problem of the extremists who taint our traditions.”    A Canadian of European descent approached a Muslim of Somali descent and asked, “Are you with ISIS?”  This person was not afraid of crossing the line!  The response from the Somali-born was, “Good question!  What does ISIS mean to you?”  This beautiful and non-threatening way of engaging lead to a conversation where the man was encouraged to be more skeptical of images that he sees on the news.  And yet, the burden of explaining and educating others rests on the visible minority.  The current reality perhaps requires minorities to navigate such opportunities – hopefully with grace and honesty – but understandably with frustration and even anger.  But it is also an opportunity for someone like me to become a vocal bystander, hopefully with equal grace and honesty.  

This day of dialoguing brought us together in beautiful ways.  I believe we all left renewed with a commitment to create spaces where all of us can share and navigate our faith journeys with freedom and mutual respect.