Disturbed by the aggressive nature of the pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian rallies on Calgary’s streets last summer, representatives of the local Muslim and Jewish faiths have created a forum for enabling a peaceful approach to addressing their concerns.
The primary intent of the new Calgary Jewish-Muslim Council is to build mutual understanding of one another’s faiths. “We have more in common than differences,” leaders of both faith communities highlight.
“I am so happy that what I dreamed is now coming to life,” says imam Syed Soharwardy, who first conceived of the council.
“As Muslims, we need to understand Judaism, and Jews need to understand what Islam is all about.
“We may disagree on many things, but we have to show respect and civility in our disagreements. We cannot, we will not take the path of violence and we will oppose everyone who incites violence and hate. That is not acceptable. We will fight anti-Semitism and we will fight Islamophobia.”
The Calgary Jewish community is drawn to join the council as an opportunity to live out its faith, particularly the call to Tikkun Olam, the “restoration of the world,” says rabbi Shaul Osadchey currently serving the Beth Tzedec congregation.
“(The council) is an opportunity to build some bridges of understanding and respect and to figure out some ways to collaborate in order to bring about peace and better relationships between our communities,” Shaul says.
“We come from a tradition in which dialogue is a very important component and where good relationships with people is what we seek to achieve.
“We have sincere and very open and interested members of the congregation who are looking forward to forging these relationships.”
Both the rabbi and imam point to the importance of engaging more than just the religious leaders in this building of mutual understanding.
The Al-Madinah Calgary Islamic Centre has been hosting the Jewish Hannukah celebration for about eight years – the only mosque in the world to do so.
Discussions are now underway on how groups from the two faiths might jointly engage in other religious gatherings and programs.
“My intention is to work at the grassroots level,” Syed says. “Not at a rabbi or imam level, but go down to ordinary people’s levels, children, women, and have them sit down and learn from each other and remove the misunderstanding that is being created because of the conflict.”
“We want to try to get people to talk to each other on a face-to-face basis, because when they do they’re going to see themselves in the person they’re talking to,” Shaul says.
“We all have families, we make a living, we have homes. So we’re going to discover the common humanity and then hopefully what we see as the differences we’ll come to appreciate and respect.”
Already the council has generated some positive outcomes, including clearing up a potentially highly inflammatory local issue through dialogue.
“Through conversation, we have had little epiphanies and moments of understanding as a group,” Shaul says. “And as we continue down this road I’m sure we’ll see many others as people develop relationships.”
The council is open to ultimately addressing the Israel/Palestine issue as well – once a solid foundation of real understanding and respect has been laid to undergird the complex and emotionally charged issue.
Shaul highlights the uniqueness of the Calgary Jewish-Muslim Council, crediting the religious leadership of both communities for exploring relationship building and modelling something different than the acrimony that generally exists between the two faith communities.
“Hopefully we’ll plant a seed of change,” he says.
Shaul and imam Muhammad Zubair Qadri of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada have been elected co-chairs of the Calgary Jewish-Muslim Council, according to an Oct. 24 statement. Members will meet monthly for dialogue and organizing programs and activities that will include a Jewish-Muslim Conference on mutual relations, visits to synagogues and mosques, family exchanges, educational classes and programs, and holiday celebrations.