Muslim and Catholic young adults learned about key female figures in Islam and Christianity. Photo courtesy of Vivian Kwok

Interfaith student dialogue tackles role of women

By  Alessia Loduca, Youth Speak News
  • October 7, 2016

TORONTO – The rain outside failed to dampen the liveliness of interfaith fellowship in a University of Toronto conference room in late September.

The Muslim-Catholic Student Dialogue met at U of T’s Multi-Faith Centre Sept. 29 to discuss the role of women in Islam and Catholicism. Men and women, Muslims and Christians, came together to share their knowledge, ask questions and learn more about their own and each others’ faiths.

Sumaiya Matin, one of two facilitators and a member of the dialogue since early 2016, brought a female Muslim perspective to the event. She began the evening with a surah from the Qur’an concerning God’s oneness and emphasized that this belief is found in both Muslim and Catholic traditions.

“Islam and Christianity have a lot in common and have really interesting common histories,” Matin said. “We can learn a lot from each other.”

Several matters concerning women in the two religions were discussed throughout the evening. Two important topics were women’s responsibilities in both religions and the importance of key female figures for women to emulate, such as Khadijah in Islam and Mother Mary in Catholicism.

Common misconceptions of women’s roles in both religions were also discussed. This was not only an opportunity for the Muslim-Catholic Student Dialogue members to share their knowledge of their religions, but also a chance for them to ask each other questions. The magic of this part of the evening lay in the fact that no one laced their questions with judgment; rather they inquired with respect and genuine interest.

Marc Alfred, who was attending his first Muslim-Catholic Student Dialogue event, expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to talk to and learn from those outside of his Catholic faith.

“I think the thing that I learned the most is both sides are willing to communicate with each other and they want to do that... in order to overcome differences,” said Alfred.

The Muslim-Catholic Student Dialogue is supported by the Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs at the Archdiocese of Toronto. Vivian Kwok, the office’s administrative assistant, is also the co-ordinator of the student dialogue. She said dialogue is a means of establishing understanding and friendship among members of different religions.

“(We go) from not knowing one another to developing a good conversation and starting a friendship,” Kwok said. “That’s what we really value in this dialogue: learning and living our faiths together.”

Dialogue topics change at every meeting and are chosen by a planning team that comes together to brainstorm issues that are both engaging and relevant.

“We’ll try to pick topics that apply to people’s everyday lives so it’s more interesting and it really matters,” said Kwok.

Underlying each of these topics is the importance of understanding God and who He wants His people to be, regardless of their religions. Kwok explains that it is not until misunderstandings of different faiths are cleared up that God’s voice can be heard and we can begin to love Him and one another.

“I think that there’s a great need for more dialogue like this,” said Matin. “I learned that it’s especially important considering that today’s youth are going to be shaping the future generations.”

(Loduca, 19, is a third-year education student with a major/minor in English and French at York University in Toronto.)

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