Wednesday was a great night for God’s work. It was the first of our interfaith discussions and was attended by over 100 people representing 13 different faith communities. Our speaker for the evening was Imam Achmat Salie from Oakland University. He was joined in our sanctuary by panellists Rabbi Jeffrey Ableser, Dr. Martha Lee, and Dr. Abdelkader Tayebi. It was impressive indeed to have so many people come together seeking a common understanding of how we live together.

Imam Salie spoke eloquently about the need to remove ignorance and to turn away from bigotry and hatred and embrace the Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have then do unto you. All of our religions teach this in some way,” the Imam said. I was impressed with his ability to speak to the positive and underline the fact that “most people are not bigots.”  He gave the clear impression that we cannot give too much time or energy to those who are bigoted. He took time to remind us of how important our common humanity is.  “It is important that we stand up for each other,” he said. Adding that “During this time when Muslims are the subjects of hate and discrimination, we need the Christians and the Jews to come to our defence. And at any time when Christians or Jews are suffering hatred or discrimination, we Muslims need to cone to your defence.”  I could not agree more. The fact is that the God that we follow, regardless of the name we use when we pray, calls us to be loving, compassionate, and kind. But more than that God calls us to be a people of justice. We are called to name hatred for what it is and stand in solidarity with those who are hurting.

I was impressed with the qualty questions that came from the panel and from the floor. Imam Salie was questioned about the role of women, about Sunni/Shia/Sufi Muslims, about the importance of sharing the story, about how to start interfaith groups, and about the meaning of jihad. A memorable moment for me was when Imam Salie was asked, “Does Al-Qaida follow the Qur’an?” The Imam responded by saying that he cannot speak for Al-Qaida as he does not know any members. But he did remark that “Al-Qaida follows the Qur’an the same way that The Ku Klux Klan follows the Bible.”

That was a particularly noteworthy moment in the whole night. It was a four-star reply to a question that is important in the context in which we live today.  It seems that the images that are presented with of Islam are always extreme and always violent. Yet when we find ourselves in a room with a new friend or a new colleague and we hear from our neighbours and friends who are Muslim we see a different picture altogether.  Why are we so quick to accept the negative and extreme images that get sold to us? Even more troubling is our ability to buy into the notion that the literalism, extremism, or fundamentalism that leads to episodes like 9-11 is particular to Islam. Imam Salie in a few brief words brought us all back to reality on Wednesday evening by reminding us that the Muslim world does not have a monopoly on fundamentalism or violence in the name of the Divine. Imam Salie’s answer to that question was a defining moment for me for our first evening.

At this point I also believe that a couple of notes of thanks are in order;

Getting the word out for an event like this is so important. Tony Doucette of the CBC’s Early Shift provided a great interview (which is playing in the media player above) on Tuesday which garnered interest and boosted interest. We are also grateful to Kelly Roach of A-Channel news for covering our first evening on Wednesday 11 Pm news hour.    

I was also fortunate to have guidance and support from Dr. Martha Lee and her assistnat Remy Sirls in making connections and networking with so many faith groups. This gathering was born out of a course from McCormick Theological Seminary entitled The Church in the World Today. I am so grateful to McCormick and professor Anna Case-Winters for urging the students in that class to take on a project in our ministry contexts that would be meaningful and relevant to how the church lives and moves and has its being in the fabric of the diverse communities that we live in. In its original manifestation, this interfaith group was a book group that I would have been pleased had we found 15 people who were interested. The overwhelming response is an indication of the need and desire in our community to engage in conversation. There is a practical reality to the added numbers and the changed format to meet the larger crowds. To do this right meant that we would need partners to make all of this possible. Mark Gouin of Greenlawn Memorial Gardens and Mile Kelleher of Victoria Memorial Gardens stepped up early with a very generous gift to ensure that we could move forward with this event and provide a quality programme. As our group grew so did the need. Yesterday the Mo Poupard, Grand Knight of Tecumseh Council #4375 of the Knights of Columbus and John Rocheleau, President of the Nicholas Point Club presented me with a gift from their Council ensuring that each evening that we host will be the best that in can be. Because of Greenlawn and Victoria Memorial Gardens and The K of C we have first class speakers and panellists, great promotion and advertising, and a wonderful reception for our next two sessions at which we can break bread together and get better acquainted.  We give thanks for our reception this past Wednesday which was provided by Rob Agnew of Manor Reality. The opportunity given to us to get to know each other better is most appreciated and is an important element of each evening.      

I look forward to seeing what the next two evenings have in store for us. Plan on joining us.