Originally published on Issue 55, January 2018
In the name of God the Beneficent the Merciful
About two years ago I received a joint invitation from a group of Mennonite Christians and some Shi‘a Muslims from the city of Edmonton in Alberta – Canada, who had invited me and Professor Harry Huebner from the Canadian Mennonite University of Winnipeg, to go there and deliver a series of lectures. I quickly accepted because the invitation came from Christian friends and a Shi‘a Muslim organisation – to me, this was a sign of unity and I thought I should support it. Unfortunately for some reasons the event didn’t materialise. About a year ago Professor Huebner and I received again their invitation for a serious of events and we started working on them. The main invitation came from the ‘A Common Word Alberta’ initiative.
The ACW is a worldwide enterprise launched in Alberta Canada in 2007 as ‘a letter signed by 138 leading Muslims to the leaders of the Christian churches and denominations of the entire world. It proposed, based on verses from the Holy Qur’an and the Holy Bible that Islam and Christianity share the commandments of the paramount importance of loving God and loving one’s neighbour. It is an extended global handshake of inter-religious goodwill, friendship, and fellowship and consequently of world peace’.
The event was the 5th annual Christian – Muslim Dialogue, organised for the last week of October which coincides with the interfaith week when universities, Christian and Muslim communities all get involved. The planned event was to take place in different locations between the city of Edmonton and Camrose. Professor Harry Huebner and I were supposed to be the main speakers. Unfortunately Professor Huebner fell ill and could not make it; however, he was substituted by three Mennonites: Professor Huebner’s son Chris Huebner, Dr Urma Fast Dueck both from the University of Winnipeg and Pastor Doug Klassen from Calgary.
I arrived in Edmonton on the 25th of October. The opening event with Pastor Doug Klassen and I was held at Islamic Shi‘a Ithna Asheri Associaton (ISIA). The theme of the discussion was: ‘The concept of self-sacrifice for faith communities as embodied by Imam Husayn(a) and Prophet Jesus(a)’. This was followed by a Q&A session. The whole event was excellent and attended by many Christians and Muslims.
The following day our dialogue programme was held at Kings University. This was originally a Biblical college but was later turned into a university. Dr Fast Dueck and I had a session on Dialogue on Muslim-Christian Relations in which we talked about the history of our engagement and presented our reflections on the topic. This was followed by a Q&A session.
In the evening we had a regular Thursday programme in the Islamic Shi‘a Ithna Asheri mosque. As it was also the anniversary of Imam Hasan’s(a) martyrdom, I talked about Imam Hasan(a), his advice and spirituality.
On Friday I led Jum‘ah prayers, attended also by some Christians. In the afternoon we continued our dialogue programme at the University of Alberta. The theme was ‘Contemporary Challenges; Islamic and Christian Responses – The Value of Life’. This was led by Dr Chris Huebner and I. It was a well-attended event and was followed by a Q&A.
On Saturday we had the main programme for ‘The Common World’, titled ‘Christian – Muslim Dialogue more important now than ever’. Dr Urma Fast Dueck and I gave presentations on the topic. The programme was followed by group discussions with the participants engaging with the topics we had presented. This session was also very well attended with Christian leaders, activists, politicians and some members of the Legislative Assembly. In fact, it was so popular that at one stage they had to close the registration. The event was held in St Mathias Anglican Church. In the evening we had a programme at the First Mennonite Church. This programme was led by Dr Urma Fast Dueck and myself and was about sharing our personal accounts on dialogue for the youths.
On Sunday we had a programme in the Trinity Lutheran Church in Edmonton. As it was the 500th anniversary of the Reformation a special service was held. Dr Fast Dueck and I were invited to address the congregation during the service. It was a very significant invitation because Dr Fast Dueck is a Mennonite Christian and Lutherans have some history with Mennonites. Moreover, I was a Muslim. We also had prayers by Catholics, Mennonites, Orthodox, Lutherans and Muslims. The church was packed and there was a very nice atmosphere. My talk was about ‘Seeing the face of God in other religions’. Praise be to God, people were very enthusiastic and afterwards many came to talk and shake hands with me.
In the evening we had another programme in the First Mennonite church but this one was for the community. The speakers were both Chris Huebner and I with David Goa, formerly of Chester Ronning Centre, serving as moderator. The theme was ‘Peace Expressions in Islam and Christianity’.
On Monday morning we had another programme under the title of ‘Dialogue / Peace Resources in Islam and Christianity / Christian/ Muslim relations-building & understanding’. This was hosted by the Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life and held at the University of Alberta in Camrose, about an hour’s drive from Edmonton.
Our talk was followed by a Q&A session. This was more of a class but also open to the public. It was attended by around 50 participants who stayed for a two and a half hour session.
My trip to Canada continued to Vancouver. There we had a meeting with our Kawthar Learning Circle students. I talked about the reaction between our deeds and rewards and punishment in the Hereafter. On the way back from Edmonton to the UK, I stopped in Toronto where we had a joint meeting with some of the KLC students and four of our Focolare friends.
Islam Today issue 65 (Special Issue) is dedicated to the interfaith work undertaken by the Islamic Centre of England over the past few years. Download the full pdf here: