Students lead way on interfaith dialogue

  • November 7, 2008
{mosimage}TORONTO - Nobody forced the 40 Catholic and Muslim university students to spend Nov. 1 touring a downtown Toronto church and then a nearby mosque, giving up most of a Saturday for the sake of interfaith dialogue. Students wanted to be there, said University of Toronto Innis College student Ali Shaikh.

“There are people who are willing to go beyond their prejudices,” he said. “They’re willing to be the change they want to see.”
Nobody understands the urgency of interfaith dialogue quite the way today’s students do, according to Shaikh.

“Globalization has forced it on us,” he said. “Our generation didn’t have a choice in the matter.”

The tour of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church on its 100th anniversary, followed by a tour of the Muslim Association of Canada’s Masjid Toronto, then capped off with an interfaith dialogue session at the University of Toronto’s Multi-Faith Centre, was organized by the Paris-based International Movement of Catholic Students under the auspices of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and the Scarboro Missions. It was the third of three meetings between young Muslims and Catholics. The first two were in Khartoum, Sudan, and Cairo, Egypt.

The Toronto encounter was the only one of the three meetings that included tours of a church and a mosque. In both Cairo and Khartoum there were worries about the safety of Muslim students seen entering a church and vice versa, said Christopher Malano of the International Movement of Catholic Students.

In Cairo students wondered why they need interfaith dialogue at all when Christians and Muslims have been living together in Egypt since the sixth century, said Malano. At the same time, students worried about Egypt’s secret police, the Amned Daula, following and reporting on the event.

Dialogue between Catholics and Muslims is just as relevant in comfortable and peaceful Canada as it is in parts of the world dominated by conflict, said Karlene Flemming-Fortune, an urban planning student at Ryerson University.

“Ignorance of differences are the things that bring fear, and fear brings conflict,” said the Catholic student from Trinidad.

Flemming-Fortune said the day of dialogue would be just the beginning of a continuing dialogue on her campus.

Nigerian university lecturer Tor Iorapuu was hoping he could prompt a similar dialogue among Catholic and Muslim students at the University of Jos. Nigeria is almost evenly divided between Christians and Muslims, and religion is frequently a political issue.

Neither Catholics nor Muslims live up to their own ideals when they harbour fear and prejudice against one another, said Iorapuu.

“We need to really understand each other,” he said.

“Our suspicions, our ignorance of each other, are stopping us from practising our religion.”

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