Just two and a half weeks ago, I received an invitation to be part of an interfaith dialogue on fasting and peace from Rizwan Peerzada, who is the President of the local Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’ in Abbotsford. “As people of faith, I feel we should have some kind of relationship,” he explained. What better way than to talk together about fasting and peace which are common concerns for both Christians and Muslims? What’s more, he offered to arrange the venue, we would both invite people to come, and his group would provide a meal for us to share together.
I’m honoured to participate, excited about this opportunity, and yes, also a bit nervous since this is a new experience for me. I’d love for you to join us, so please feel free to register by calling [or texting] 604 767 1965 as there are still spots available for this free event, which happens tonight, July 6, 2015, 7:30pm at Garden Park Tower, 2855 Clearbrook Road, Abbotsford, B.C.
In the meantime, and as part of my own preparation, here are a few thoughts on interfaith dialogue and how I’m getting ready for tonight. Please feel free to share your own interfaith experiences or links in the comments along with any recommendations. I’m eager to learn more!
A Journey Together: A Resource for Christian Muslim Dialogue offers this helpful definition (page 7):
Interreligious dialogue, also referred to as interfaith dialogue, is about people of different faiths coming to a mutual understanding and respect that allows them to live and cooperate with each other in spite of their differences. The term refers to cooperative and positive interaction between people of different religious traditions, (i.e. “faiths”) at both the individual and institutional level. Each party remains true to their own beliefs while respecting the right of the other to practise their faith freely.
So interfaith dialogue does not at all mean giving up my Christian faith. In fact, according to the Religion Communicators Council, “good dialogue should result in the deepening of the faith of every participant” (Guidelines for Interfaith Dialogue). At the same time, dialogue is also different from debate. “In debate winning is the goal. In dialogue finding common ground is the goal.” (Scarboro Missions, Principles and Guidelines for Interfaith Dialogue).
So how best to prepare for this kind of interfaith dialogue? As I reflect on my process so far, here’s what I recommend both for myself and others:
Rizwan’s invitation came to me completely unexpected, so I had a lot of questions. What would be the format? Who else would be speaking? How would my church respond? I hoped to get together with him in person, but given the short time frame of just a couple of weeks, that proved unworkable. Instead, we planned together by phone, text, and email, and I let the church know as well.
Be prepared for things to move quickly.
I confirmed my participation in the event, and two days later I received a draft of the poster:
Have an attitude of respect and humility.
Again from A Journey Together, page 15:
Without dialogue between people of faith, the vacuum in communication and understanding can quickly and easily be filled by gossip, mistrust, prejudice, bigotry and racism. Bigotry is fed by fear and ignorance. Without dialogue and mutual respect, extremism and hatred can grow.
Learn from others.
I called a fellow pastor in a nearby community who has engaged in interfaith dialogue with members of the Muslim community, and he encouraged me to focus on Jesus, to share the good news of God’s grace in “a winsome manner.” A college professor offered to share his lecture notes on fasting. Some friends who recently led a workshop on fasting sent me their handout. Thank you, Tim, Gareth, Frank and Riad for your support and for sharing your experience and expertise with me.
On Friday I learned that I was also invited to have a book table to display or sell literature. Again, the time seemed short to pull everything together, but my church has New Testaments at our Welcome Centre to give away, as well as pamphlets on What Makes a Mennonite? and Making Peace with Enemies that related to our topic. Although this event is not a church event, I was quite sure they would be willing to share these. I could also bring copies of my book, Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal since it has a chapter on fasting.
Listen to those with concerns and build bridges of peace with them as well.
I received a phone call from someone in our wider Christian community concerned that interfaith dialogue might somehow represent a watering down of Christian faith. I explained that whenever we talk with someone who doesn’t share our faith, we’re actually having a form of interfaith dialogue–whether that person is a neighbour, a co-worker, or someone even in our own family. This event is an opportunity to have interfaith dialogue in a more deliberate and formal way around the topic of fasting and peace, in an atmosphere of respect and listening to others. “Will you be attending?” I asked her. “Oh no,” she said, “I’ll be on my knees praying.” I assured her that I am also praying for clarity and mutual understanding, and that our discussion of fasting and peace might itself be a step of peace building in our community.
Thank you to Rizwan for modelling this even in our planning. I was not available on the July dates that he first proposed. My suggestion of fall was too late as he wanted our topic of fasting and peace to take place during Ramadan which would be over by then. We finally settled on July 6 as a mutually agreeable time. As host, he was also responsible for the venue, but there too he asked my opinion before confirming the booking at the Garden Park Towers.
Thank you, Twitter and Facebook friends and others who are joining me in prayer – some in Abbotsford, some in the USA and around the world, some who are active in interfaith dialogue and others for whom this is new. I so appreciate your support!
Your turn: Do you have a question, concern, or suggestion for engaging in interfaith dialogue? Can you help me refine and expand my list of how to prepare? I’d love to learn from you.