Religious leaders build bridges

 — July 15, 200715 juil. 2007

Calgary Muslims, Christians initiate monthly dialogue

by Graeme Morton, Calgary Herald, Sunday, July 15, 2007

A group of Calgary clergy and lay people are quietly building bridges between the city’s Christian and Muslim communities in the wake of fears of rising interfaith tensions.

In a recent report, the Association for Canadian Studies said 1,500 people polled believe friction between Christians and Muslims will overtake traditional French-English language differences as the leading source of tension in Canadian society by 2017. One-third of all Canadians surveyed said they were “pessimistic” about the future of Christian-Muslim relations in our country. That percentage jumped to 49 per cent in Quebec.

So is there room for local common ground between the world’s two largest faiths in an increasingly fractious global environment? Members of the Muslim-Christian Dialogue of Calgary think so. “One of the reasons people love Canada is our pluralism,” says David
Liepert, a member of the Muslim Council of Calgary. “We want to do everything we can to support that concept, to be able to live our faith in a pluralistic society,” adds Liepert.

The local group was formed two years ago in the wake of a visit by Stuart Brown, an expert in Christian-Muslim relations. “We were able to first get representatives from five Calgary Muslim traditions together in the same room, which was a first,” says Almoonir Dewji. “It took the Christians to get all the Muslims together,” he adds with a laugh.

Christian representatives were drawn from Roman Catholic and “mainline” Protestant denominations, including Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran and United, as well as “unattached” members. “The early meetings were spent getting to know one another and obtaining
a good grounding in each others’ faith, authority and scriptures,” says Rev. Jean Morris, a former moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Canada.

Since its birth, Calgary’s Muslim-Christian Dialogue group has met on a monthly basis. Together with the Jewish community, it issued a joint public statement encouraging respectful attitudes toward all identifiable groups in the wake of the infamous Danish cartoon portrayal
of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005. When Pope Benedict’s controversial use of quotes on Islam from a 14th-century Byzantine emperor made headlines last September, local Catholic leaders came together with their Muslim counterparts to discuss the context and diffuse the potential for anger.

“If tensions develop, it’s much easier to sit down and talk about it calmly if you know the other individual on a personal level,” says Antal Prokecz of the city’s Catholic community. “And if a difficult situation comes up somewhere in the world, we’re able to stand up for each other locally,” he adds.

Dewji believes any increase in interfaith tensions is part of a natural evolution in Canadian society. “We seemed to have worked through our linguistic and multicultural issues, so it’s not surprising the new focus is on matters of faith,” says Dewji. “We’re supposed to be in an increasingly secular time, but I think people are talking about their religion more than ever.”

While some valuable groundwork has been laid, group members are under no illusions that problems between Christians and Muslims will vanish in starry-eyed optimism and good works. They acknowledge that heated international political and theological feuds could migrate close to home. And they’d like to expand the group’s Christian complement to include more members from the evangelical wing of the faith.

But communication lines are open, friendships are in place and trust continues to grow. And that’s not bad. “People are realizing they need to get to know their neighbours,” says Liepert. “Neighbours don’t pick on neighbours, they pick on ‘the other.'”

Anna Tremblay, one of the group’s founders, would like to see the local organization become “a model for what’s possible between people of faith. “In a dialogue, you don’t always agree, but you can understand and respect the other person’s viewpoint,” she says.

For more information, call 403-262-3530 (extension 224), or 403-218-5521.

This article is copyright (c) 2007 by The Calgary Herald. It is reprinted here because it is now absent from the Herald archives.

Posted: July 15, 2007 • Permanent link: Transmis : 15 juil. 2007 • Lien permanente :

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