Muslims feel there is much misunderstanding of their religion and are reaching out to local communities with dinner, coffee and tea. Photo by Michael Swan

Local Muslims reaching out

By 
  • March 18, 2015

TORONTO - As of March 10 2,942 people had hit the “like” button on Pegida Canada’s Facebook page. Another 97 people had signed up to attend Pegida Quebec’s planned March 28 rally in Montreal.

That Pegida — the German acronym for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, a xenophobic, anti-Muslim European movement —  has found a foothold in Canada won’t surprise many Canadian Muslims. They face suspicion, contempt and prejudice every day.

“Muslims are really brow-beaten at the moment,” said Noor Cultural Centre president Samira Kanji. “Everybody dumps on Muslims. ISIS does something terrible, which it’s always doing, and the egg is all over us here.”

But some Muslims are fighting back — with home cooking, idle chit chat, smiles and coffee.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at of Canada wants your family to come over for dinner. At meetamuslimfamily.com you can sign up for a free meal. Your family will be matched with a nearby Muslim family on a mutually agreeable date for dinner.

“We feel the best way of removing this misunderstanding is to invite our fellow Canadians. Come see how we live, how we talk, how we teach our children. In a family setting, what do we like? How much do we love Canada?” said Lal Khan Malik, Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at of Canada national president.

The Ahmadiyya program is not the first of its kind. A mostly Turkish Muslim organization dedicated to dialogue has been organizing family dinners during Ramadan for 10 years. The Intercultural Dialogue Institute will offer family-to-family dinners in Muslim homes from June 18 to July 17 this year, and will also host Iftar dinners after sunset during Ramadan for larger groups at the organization’s Bay Street offices and at Muslim private schools.

“We strongly believe in the value of people-to-people dialogue,” said Fatih Yegul, IDI executive vice president.

Through the year the IDI sponsors lectures and events open to the public, but it all begins with the family dinners. Yegul never wants to see interfaith dialogue reduced to an academic dialogue between theologians and clergy.

“We invite people to have dinner at the home of someone they’ve never met before,” he said.

Not everybody is going to feel comfortable in a one-on-one situation in a stranger’s home, points out Imam Abdul Hai Patel of the Canadian Council of Imams. But the imams make themselves available to parishes, schools and workplaces for panel discussions, lectures and other programs.

“We get requests all the time,” Patel said.

A window into the Muslim world opens in a Catholic setting March 26 at Regis College, the Jesuit graduate faculty of theology on the campus of the University of Toronto. Scholar Nevin Reda will present this year’s Royackers Lecture in memory of murdered Canadian Jesuit Martin Royackers. Reda’s lecture explores “Islamic Feminism and Legal Theory: The Struggle for Political Equality.”

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