Oakville is a community of tolerance and inclusivity, as evidenced by those who attended the Interfaith Council of Halton’s (IFCH) workshop on Wednesday (March 11).
The IFCH’s seminar, Combating Terrorism From An Interfaith Perspective, was organized to address stereotypes and intolerance in faith, open dialogue among religious leaders and empower participants with the tools to lead similar conversations in other houses of worship, workplaces or homes.
The meeting at Oakville’s Shaarei-Beth El Congregation, which drew approximately 100 people, included a half-hour open forum with Rabbi Stephen Wise, Dr. Hamid Slimi, president and founder of the Faith of Life Network (FLN), Rev. Dr. Morar Murray Hayes, Maple Grove United Church minister and founding co-chair and executive secretary of IFCH, and Dr. Aliya Khan, professor of clinical medicine at McMaster University.
Following the main discussion, attendees were divided into small groups to converse intimately about concerns they have on certain issues.
Wise said the objective of the near two-hour workshop was to “foster dialogue between a Jew, Christian and Muslim who are strong in their faith and willing to have a conversation about really difficult topics.”
“After the murders in Paris, France, Copenhagen, Denmark and Ottawa, we (saw) so much violence in these specific hot points. They’re kind of ratcheting up the level of intensity, fear, Islamophobia and stereotypes,” said Wise.
“We said, ‘Couldn’t we bring people together and show them that doesn’t have to be the way?’ We could have dialogue in a more peaceful way.”
The rabbi said when people of different faiths meet face-to-face with each other, “it breaks down those walls of stereotypes.”
“(Khan) is a Muslim of good faith, so as soon as you meet with someone like that and talk to them, look at them face-to-face, ask each other questions and have dialogue, then you break down this sense of us versus them. You go from other to brother,” said Wise.
Fears and stereotypes of certain faiths can increase when terror-related incidents, such as the recent Ottawa shootings, are covered by the media, Wise said, and “you associate one event or one person with an entire faith and that’s just simply not fair.”
“I don’t want to live in a world where we go to that extreme. That’s why you have an event like tonight (March 11) where you cut it off before it gets going like that. You say, ‘No, no, that is one isolated event of one person who does not speak in the name of Islam, who does not speak for all Muslims,’” said Wise.
When asked about the classification of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) as a religious or terrorist group, Khan said the organization has “nothing to do with Islam. (It is) forcing people to convert. There is no compulsion in religion.”
“They are hurting people. They are killing Muslims, Christians, Jews. They are killing everybody. These are abnormal, organized terrorists. They’re not human beings in my mind,” said Khan. “They need to be addressed in a global response. Just like we fought wars for justice and peace, we fought with (Adolf) Hitler and the Nazis and fought to eliminate individuals who have a violent, hateful ideology. This is the same type of ideology.”
She said all religious teachings have been “perverted throughout the time of man” to justify violence and hate.
North Americans and Europeans are facing issues with “youth who are being courted and groomed” to join ISIS, Murray Hayes said, noting they will venture through Turkey to reach Syria or other countries where the group is prevalent.
She compared the terrorist organization’s persuasion of youth to tactics used by cults.
“What our youth need in general, in order to be resilient — whether they’re Muslim, Hindu, Jew — they need to know their faith well. They need a strong community that teaches and loves them and they need to know that they’re accepted,” said Murray Hayes.
Slimi called ISIS the first-ever apocalyptic movement, as it uses prophecies as part of its methods because it “tends to go to the extreme.”
“The Qur’an repeats it many times. It tells us that nobody knows the end of the world. There was this idea of the hour is near, there were movements even recently in England with 2012. We’re not allowed to see when the hour is,” said Slimi.
The FLN founder said we need to work together, as “these are times of hardship for Muslims, for everybody. We need to see some friends here.”
The Interfaith Council of Halton, which includes representatives from several faith groups, was formed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.