Drawing the Circle Bigger: Update from Bridge Building

Drawing the Circle Bigger: Update from Bridge Building

On October 29, 2022, 60 of us representing the Muslim and Christian faith families gathered in-person at All Saints Anglican Cathedral and on zoom for this year’s Muslim Christian dialogue.  Scott Sharman (Anglican-Christian) and Naz Qureshi (Muslim) opened with a context for this year’s theme:
“Our theme for the dialogue today is ‘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. 
Our guest panelists this year were Christina Conroy, a professor of theology at Ambrose University in Calgary, and Outreach Imam Sadique Pathan from Al Rashid Mosque in Edmonton.  The organizing committee prepared four questions to guide the reflections of the panelists, as well as the table discussions where participants shared from their experiences and perspectives.

Discussion Questions for Panelists and table dialogues
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 also 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.

A few themes emerged:
Although our different scriptures did not all include teachings on collective guilt or collective sin, the concept of collective responsibility emerged as a guiding principle as we navigate harms from the past. As Settlers in this land, all who are not Indigenous inherit the social constructs that have emerged from this past. We reflected on the Christian concept of Jubilee, which is making things right economically, the Islamic concept of balance, which is about justice, in that our behaviours contribute either to God’s mercy or to God’s wrath.  Both concepts invite us to live actively into a spirit of recalibrating or rebalancing for justice to prevail.  
The Quran starts with ourselves, encouraging believers to be critical thinkers when it comes to judging others. It calls the faithful to stand firm for justice, even it if is against yourself. 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 harm and apology, but can’t stop there. We need to convey intent that “we are with you; what do you need?” 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 ensuring a healthy web of relationships with the natural world, our Christian panelist shared how Jesus was so often referencing nature and 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 animal world and the whole of the created world.  Our Muslim panelist talked about 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 was made that our governments seem to get stuck on apology, not able to move to action that brings about 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! “