Christian-Muslim dialogue expanding

  • January 18, 2011
TORONTO - For most interfaith dialogues vast theological differences and hundreds of years of mutual suspicion and prejudice are quite enough to deal with. The National Liaison Committee of Muslims and Christians wants more.

The official dialogue between Christians and Muslims in Canada decided to take on poverty, climate change, the Millennium Development Goals, faith formation of the next generation and politics at its annual dinner on the campus of the University of Toronto Jan. 11.

Imam Abdul Hai Patel of the Islamic Council of Imams of Canada reminded his audience of the importance of dialogue by calling the room to a minute of silence in memory of Christian bombing victims in Alexandria, Egypt, on New Year’s Eve.

“We stand in solidarity with each other,” said Patel.

Solidarity with the world’s poor is a core responsibility of all people of faith, said Canadian Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton. As the world closes in on its 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals, rich nations have limited their commitments and the world has only managed to fulfill 51 per cent of the eight MDG targets, she said.

“This is about people’s lives,” said Hamilton.

Rob Oliphant was one of three Liberal Members of Parliament to accept an invitation to the dinner. The United Church Minister said the political world needs more from all faith communities.

“We need the faith communities to engage with more time, more numbers, more money and more passion,” he said.

Defining religion and analysing its philosophical implications is less important in Islam than the practice of justice and mercy, said McMaster University Muslim scholar Prof. Lyakat Takim.

“Faith is not only connected with justice, faith is also connected with how we deal with injustice,” he said.

You can’t talk about justice or poverty in our world without also talking about climate change, said the United Church’s climate change campaigner Joy Kennedy.

“In my mind it’s one issue,” she said.

The idea that faith communities can define the way forward on the big questions was the central theme for the evening, said Ishraq Alim of the University of Toronto’s Muslim Student Association.

“A lot of faith communities have similar goals,” he said.

When Muslims say that to save a life is to save the whole world, and to destroy a life is to destroy the whole world (Quran 5:32), Catholics discover that theological concepts in Chrsitianity and Islam are not terribly different, said Josephine Lombardi, St. Augustine’s Seminary professor of systematic theology.

“We’re all members of one body of Christ,” she said. “It’s very compatible with Christian teaching.”

Lombardi is a Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops representative on the National Liaison Committee of Muslims and Christians who believes the experience of interfaith dialogue should be more widely shared among Catholics.

“We have to encourage people to read widely. We need to raise some awareness,” she said.

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