This week, my Muslim friend Raheel Raza asked me to come to Toronto’s Pakistani Consulate with her to protest her faith’s violent extremism against Christianity. It was an unexpected reach of kindness from Islam to me, a Christian, in response to a horrific attack days earlier at All Saints Anglican in Peshawar, which saw 85 Christians die when obscurantist suicide bombers rushed church doors as worshippers left. Like many, I’m angry that a powerful religion cannot correct its jihadism, and I don’t trust its ethos.
Hamid Ghassemi-Shall is a Muslim-Canadian who this week was finally released from Iranian prison after both Muslims and Christians lobbied five years for his freedom. Interfaith high-fives and hugs occurred between those working behind the scenes for his safe return to Canada – and then wise words were exchanged on the need for discretion over just how deep the co-operation really went.
These are two small illustrations from the salient truth that “A Common Word,” a ground-breaking initiative by Muslim leaders, has been exporting: “The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.”
Canadians generally want religion to be quiet and invisible, the way it was for a few decades here before multiculturalism showed us neighbours whose tenets of belief require them to wear head scarves, turbans, and kirpans.
Meanwhile, we developed a penchant for “useless Christianity.” That’s the term the Anglican vicar of Baghdad, Andrew White, recently used to describe the church in the West, including Canadians. Quite a cheeky remark, I thought, when he made it to our audience shortly after negotiating a multimillion-dollar gift for peace-making from Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.
Canon White has seen more than 1,220 people in his congregation in Baghdad die as religious targets, and his current trip to Canada was to request provision from Canadian Christians for the persecuted church he oversees in Baghdad. The vicar’s barb about “useless Christianity” is a criticism from the trenches against the self-absorption that defines our lives and our media.
Consider the unknown story of how, earlier this month, Jordan’s Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad gathered Muslims and Christians to advance peace-making. Fresh from that meeting, Canada’s Geoff Tunnicliffe, who leads the World Evangelical Alliance, was asked to brief the U.S. National Security Council, where he urged against missile strikes in Syria.
Far from leading us to an impending Armageddon caused by religion, we’re seeing faith-based peace-making wrestling toward solutions at the highest levels. In the Christian tradition, this is “turning the other cheek.” Because secular solutions have proved insufficient, ideas and voices from “Common Word” are being rediscovered.
If allowed to flourish, this initiative would yank all suicide vests out of Islam. “Common Word” opens the Koran and the Bible side by side and declares: “The basis for this peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and love of the neighbour.”
To hear those words anew from the 138 senior Muslim clerics who coined them can still change the world. This is the voice of hope. It becomes reality, even a reality to trust, when all Muslim clerics bring such ideas that have formed their faith into practice.
Christian leaders responded to Common Word with agreement, and if we could take this ethos out of hiding, it should open new doors for peace and security. This was what former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright suggested can happen when the mighty encounter the Almighty.
Lorna Dueck is host of Context TV, seen Sundays on Global and Vision TV.