Have you ever been part of something that has the potential to make a big difference?
I am still buzzing about a meeting I was invited to attend on Wednesday morning. Hosted by the Members of Parliament for Mississauga, I was one of 30 faith leaders who responded to a call to gather at a local community centre.
The group was diverse, friendly, respectful and open. Acknowledging first nations traditions, we sat in a circle so all were included. We heard from an Orthodox rabbi about the Jewish autumn celebration of Sukkot and the importance to faith of both study of scripture and acts of compassion and kindness.
We were given a chance to share our concerns about the multi-faith experience in Mississauga and the rest of Canada. The general feeling around the room was one of cooperation, naming and lifting up our shared values.
Some learnings for me:
- Our ecumenical partners feel misunderstood by the general public, often due to the messages in the media. For example, the Muslim word "Jihad" is almost always translated as "Holy War." It actually means "struggle" and usually refers to the internal struggles we all have - struggles which lead to personal growth.
- The greatest number of hate crimes against places of faith are directed toward Jewish Synagogues and learning centres. Almost every Synagogue in Canada pays for police protection during the High Holy Days. (Can you imagine having to hire protection for our people and our building every Christmas and Easter?) Muslim communities are most likely to be the first to respond in support when hate is directed at a Jewish congregation.
- Muslim children live constantly with the fear of being labelled as terrorists just because of their faith. Sikh and Hindu children are often mis-identified as Muslim, simply because of their appearance. This stress has a very negative effect on their self-esteem and ability to learn at school.
One of the politicians described the first 150 years of Confederation as "Canada 1.0", a time when people came from all over to build our country. He sees us now moving into Canada 2.0, the next 150 years of helping everyone find belonging in this place we call home.
One of the points we all could support was that education and dialogue are the keys to overcoming misunderstandings. We have to learn about other faiths, but just as important, we have to learn about our own faith first. This will make it easier to find common ground.
We will meet again, and I am very excited to be a part of this inter-faith journey on your behalf.