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Is Christian-Muslim Dialogue Possible in a Post-911 World?

Immigrant groups have a tendency to isolate into communities where they find the familiar. The obligation falls to us to be inclusive and to engage.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend an evening promoted as "Dinner and Dialogue with a trusted Islamic scholar." EFC affiliateWorld Vision was introducing a discussion sized group to their recently appointed International Director of Inter-Faith Relations, Dr. Chawkat Moucarry.

Muslims who engage culturally, learn the culture and adapt to it…

Born into a Catholic family in Syria, Chawkat went to a Catholic school until encouraged by his father to attend a Muslim high school. As an adult he lived in France for nine years, becoming an Evangelical Christian, working with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) and graduating from the University of Sorbonne with a PhD in Islamic Studies. Moucarry, along with his wife and children, then moved to England where he taught at All Nations Christian College for twelve years.

Chawkat's humility was evident as he spoke without use of jargon, pretense or the words to which his education entitled him. And the topic, his life's work on which he has written a number of books, clearly excited him.

As the evening progressed, a variety of questions arose during discussion. Is it possible that Christians and Muslims might engage in healthy discussion in the post-911 world in which we live? Could we dialogue with one another in an atmosphere of trust? Can we trust them? Would they trust us? What could we possibly have in common? It occurred to me how little I knew about Muslims. (Yes, someone asked if he had ever seen "Little Mosque on the Prairie." No, he lives in England and had not. Although, apparently it is being adapted for a French—as in for France—version of the TV show.)

Asked to identify three keys to Islam, Chawkat noted the following. Islam is monotheistic, believing in one God, and displays great respect for the other monotheistic faiths of Abrahamic origin—Judaism and Christianity. Islam is holistic in nature, believing that faith encompasses every area of the believer's life and cannot be compartmentalized into a private belief and expression only. Islam is missionary, seeking to convert others to their faith. I found this quite interesting as Evangelical Christianity is also monotheistic, holistic and missionary—albeit with a key differentiator being our recognition of Jesus as the divine Son of God and our Saviour.

The to and fro continued. How then could Muslims do such horrible things as are ascribed to Islamic terrorists? How could Christians have engaged in the wholesale slaughter of Muslims that took place during the Crusades, or extremists claiming Christian faith engage in the murder and persecution of blacks, gays, Jews or abortionists? One answer to both questions is that endorsing or encouraging isolation creates an environment for extremists to emerge and engage young and/or easily influenced people as converts to their teachings.

Chawkat noted one of the real dangers of the fears that have emerged post-9/11 is that non-Muslims will disengage from Muslims and thus encourage Muslims to isolate themselves. Muslims who engage culturally, learn the culture and adapt to it do so in similar fashion to Evangelicals who engage culturally. But the Muslims in Canada are predominantly first and second generation immigrants. Immigrant groups have a tendency to isolate into communities where they find the familiar—whether the familiar be language, faith, skin colour or a mixture of these and more. Being the unfamiliar on our own familiar turf, so to speak, the obligation falls to us to be inclusive and to engage.

When I thought about that I realized, that's what Jesus did. Jesus remarked on the faith of the Roman centurion, the Samaritan woman, and the Jews who followed Him. Jesus challenged those who claimed their faith created separation or exclusion by engaging in dialogue, an expression of relationship while recognizing differences.

I was challenged that Thursday evening. Since then I have reflected on the dialogue that is taking place between Evangelicals and Muslims. Limited though it is at this time, the results are dramatic and powerful.

Several years ago, the Coalition for Religious Freedom in Education was a bold experiment in inter-faith co-operation. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada was one of several representative faith organizations that worked to assist parents in pursuit of the right to educate their children, meeting provincial curriculum standards while teaching from a faith perspective in a publicly funded school setting. This loose knit group has grown into Ontario's Multi-faith Coalition for Equal Funding of Faith-Based Schools, thankfully surviving the suspicions that grew out of 9/11. This organization of concerned parents continues to work together in pursuit of a common goal. The justness of their cause has been recognized by the United Nations Human Rights Committee but not by the Ontario government.

Late last year, Muslim groups including the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada and the Islamic Shiite Supreme Council in Canada—two national organizations of Muslims—joined with fifty faith communities, including the EFC, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, many denominations and other faith groups, in signing the Declaration on Marriage, a statement of common belief in regard to the union of one woman and one man in a loving, enduring and exclusive relationship. This Declaration has become a cornerstone of confirmation of the meaning of marriage for many in faith communities. Good things happen when we engage on common issues.

There are, without question, things that Christians and Muslims disagree about. But that does not preclude dialogue. Or, absolve us of the responsibility to reach out in love to our neighbours. The Evangelical community has been presented an important opportunity to engage in healthy dialogue with our Muslim neighbours. We can do so individually and through our representative ministries, denominations and organizations. We can watch for the occasions when the door to dialogue may open. We can also go to the door and knock.

Don Hutchinson is General Legal Counsel for The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.




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