Leaders from the Archdiocese of Edmonton, including Archbishop Richard Smith (centre), Auxiliary Bishop Greg Bittman and Chancellor Adam Lech, were welcomed by their Muslim counterparts. Photo by Lincoln Ho/Grandin Media

First visit to mosque sets the right tone

By  Thandiwe Konguavi, Catholic Register Special
  • September 9, 2017

EDMONTON - Archbishop Richard Smith formally began his historic visit to Edmonton’s largest and oldest mosque with a traditional Arabic greeting of peace: “As Salaam Alaikum, peace be with you all.”

His reception at the Al-Rashid Mosque on Aug. 28 — his first visit to a mosque as Archbishop of Edmonton — underscored the Church’s aim to deepen the relationship between Muslims and Catholics.

“The best way to deepen any relationship is through personal encounter, and that’s what (the Al-Rashid Mosque leadership) have made possible here by inviting us to the mosque,” said Smith.

“Harmony, mutual respect, and working together is not only possible, it’s also happening, and it’s happening here.”

Smith was warmly received outside the modern north Edmonton mosque by imams and lay leadership before the Muslim faithful met for sunset prayers. The original Al-Rashid building, built in 1938, was the first mosque in Canada and is now part of Fort Edmonton Park.

“When you understand what (pure) religion is, we all meet in one point,” said Imam Nasser Ibrahim, the head imam of the Al-Rashid Mosque.

Ibrahim emphasized that Christians are held in high esteem in the Quran, and both faiths revere many of the same prophets and share many of the same beliefs. Historical ties between Christians and Muslims date back to the seventh century.

Smith and a group of his staff from the Archdiocese of Edmonton toured the sprawling facilities of the mosque, including the men’s and women’s prayer rooms, recreation hall and gym. Women wearing hijabs, men and children gathered in the mosque, some socializing, some praying.

Al-Rashid serves 45,000 people. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Muslims live in Edmonton.

Muslim leaders say the mosque is not only a place of worship, but it is the cornerstone of the community.

“The mosque is the heart of the body of the Muslim,” said Ibrahim.

In April, Pope Francis visited Cairo’s Al-Azhar Mosque as part of the Church’s commitment to build relationships between Catholics and Muslims. Those efforts began in the 1960s with the Second Vatican Council, the worldwide meeting of bishops that produced new teachings on a variety of subjects, including ecumenical and interfaith relations.

“It symbolically signalled very, very clearly — certainly on the part of the Pope, we believe also on the part of the Muslim community — a commitment to overcome these differences and to work together in spite of them,” Smith said.

There’s no turning back when it comes to the Catholic Church’s outreach to other faiths, he said.

“We must continue to reach out to one another, to understand one another, to grow in mutual respect, and to look always for ways in which we can be working together for the promotion of the common good.”

In Edmonton, the commitment to work together includes the Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative, a collaboration between Muslim, Catholic and other religious and spiritual communities to end homelessness.

Leaders of the mosque and the archdiocese say they welcome more dialogue and outreach.

In January, the archbishop invited Muslim leaders in Edmonton to his residence to express his personal solidarity following the Quebec mosque shooting, in which six people were killed and 19 injured.

“I think at a moment where we’re living and seeing so many visible tensions, the faith communities in Edmonton have an opportunity to stand forth as a beacon; that light that shines forth and says, ‘When it comes to separation, when it comes to hatred, we will have no part of it,’ ” said Smith.

Both Smith and Sadique Pathan, the outreach imam at the Al-Rashid Mosque, denounced movements that lift up hatred and anger, rather than mutual respect.

“God is greater than anger, God is greater than vengeance,” said Pathan.

Faith leaders note that Christianity and Islam together constitute half of the world’s population. About half of Christianity’s 2.3 billion followers are Catholic, while there are an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide.

“If two or nearly three billion people could find ways of collaborating and working together on those things we hold in common, even if we stopped fighting, it could change the world and maybe bring about some semblance of the Kingdom of God,” said Julien Hammond, inter-religious relations officer for the archdiocese, who helped organize the visit.

(Konguavi is a writer for Grandin Media in Edmonton)

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