If we are to love our neighbours, getting to know them is a good place to start.
The United Church of Canada has long been involved in interfaith dialogue and action to build respectful, mutual relationships. The church has recognized Islam as a religion of peace, mercy, justice, and compassion and has affirmed that we want to journey towards reconciliation, understanding, and cooperation with our Muslim neighbours. For more information, see Interfaith Relations.
Eleven members of Grace United Church participated in a visit to the Outaouais Islamic Center in Gantineau, Quebec. That’s a sizeable group for a small pastoral charge! “I had met Muslims in Egypt and Palestine, but I didn’t know Canadian Muslims very well. That’s why I decided to take part in the visit,” explains Joanne Kosmack of Grace United.
The sun had already set when we arrived on a Friday evening. Although it was cold outside we were greeted warmly. After leading a tour of the mosque, Imam Ahmed Limame invited us to take a seat for a workshop on Islam and Christianity. Members of the Outaouais Islamic Center community had come to meet and speak with us. “Everyone did their best to make us to feel welcome and encouraged us to ask a lot of questions,” observes Joanne.
Here are some of the highlights of our visit.
We soon discovered that folks from our church and the Outaouais Islamic Center have something in common: a love of food! We were offered pita bread, delicious hummus, cheese, and fruit. Interreligious discussions are often about theology and theoretical ideas, which are obviously important. However, the experience of sharing a meal and conversing had an immediate impact on us.
The Role of Women
The media often portray Muslim women as oppressed, especially in the context of the debate over wearing religious symbols. The Muslim men and women we met answered our questions concerning this topic. We learned that five women sit on the board of directors of the Outaouais Islamic Center and that several committees are chaired by women. The Quran says that men and women are equal before God. While they have different roles, the men and women we met do not see this as a difference in status. It appears that the role of Muslim women is more complex and nuanced than is generally thought.
In our predominantly anglophone congregation, we are beginning to recognize the challenges and great joys of bilingualism. The Outaouais Islamic Center is trilingual! “All Muslims must learn Arabic to read the Quran,” Joanne notes with surprise. Muslims are, in fact, encouraged to read the Quran in its original language and to memorize it. This emphasis on learning Arabic in order to better understand a sacred text reminded us of the importance Protestants once placed on literacy so that everyone could read the Bible. Although prayers and readings from the Quran are in Arabic at the Outaouais Islamic Center, teaching and social conversations take place in French and English. Within the mosque, all three languages have an important role in building a community of teaching, prayer, hospitality, and friendship.
Christianity and Islam
Every Friday, the mosque holds an evening of teaching for newly converted Muslims as well as for longstanding Muslims seeking to deepen their faith. In honour of our visit, Imam Ahmed Limame spoke of the ties between Christianity and Islam. He believes that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, and God gave Jesus the power to perform miracles. While Muslims see the Quran alone as infallible, they acknowledge the Bible to be Holy Scripture. One essential difference is that Muslims do not believe Jesus to be divine. Nonetheless, whenever they speak the name of Jesus, Muslims add “may peace be with him”—a mark of respect reserved for prophets.
A Learning Experience
Our visit took place a few weeks after the Quebec provincial election was held in October 2018, during which the debate over the wearing of religious symbols had been prominent in the media. In this context, our visit to the mosque played a significant role in making us informed citizens of Quebec. It was also important to our main identity as citizens of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39 [NRSV]). If we are to love our neighbours, getting to know them is a good place to start. Our visit to the mosque also provided an opportunity to grow in our Christian faith. Learning more about another religion leads us to reflect on our own religious beliefs and practices.
Our congregation very much enjoyed the visit to the Outaouais Islamic Center. We are grateful to Imam Ahmed Limame and the members of the community for having welcomed us!
—Rev. Natalie Istead is serving in ministry with l’Église Unie de la Grâce United Church in the Gatineau Hills.
Originally published in French in Aujourd’hui Credo.
Canadian Muslim communities are still grieving the killing of six worshipers and injury of many others during evening prayer at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City on January 29, 2017. Together with partners, the United Church is urging the Canada to designate January 29 as a National Day of Action against Hate and Intolerance. Learn more here.