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Christian and Muslim campers paddle a raft last July at an interfaith camp put on by Islington United and the Arab Community Centre of Toronto. Photo by Daniel Ousta Jabbour

Toronto church builds interfaith friendship

By Vivien Fellegi

The spirit of interfaith collaboration can be summarized by a prayer, says Barbara Sheffield, co-chair of the Interfaith Circle at Islington United in Toronto: “Holy One, Creator, be with us as we learn to see one another with new eyes . . . and trust one another in a new way.”

These sentiments are echoed in the Qur’an, says Huda Bukhari, executive director of the Arab Community Centre of Toronto (ACCT): “We have created you so you may meet and know each other.”

The collaboration between the two groups began in November 2015, when Islington United reached out to the ACCT for advice on helping the Syrian refugees it was sponsoring. The ACCT organized workshops on employment strategies, mental health concerns and other topics.

Then the two groups leaned on each other in January 2017 when a xenophobic gunman shot and killed six Muslims praying at a Quebec mosque. “It was a shock — this was not the Canada we knew,” says Zeena Al Hamdan, the ACCT’s program director. A joint candlelit vigil was held at the church, where over 200 mourners, led by the minister of Islington United, prayed for peace and justice.

The shared service strengthened their bond, says Sheffield. In June 2017, the ACCT invited the church to share an iftar, the evening meal that ends the daily Ramadan fast. Islington United donated its space, and the ACCT cooked and served the meal. “By introducing religious traditions and rites [to United Church members], they get to know who we are,” says Bukhari.

In July, the two organizations pooled their resources to create a four-day camp where Christian and Muslim children learned about each other’s beliefs. “The youth need to respect different religious practices,” says Sheffield, “so that when they’re older, we may not have some of the issues the world has now.”

The interfaith collaboration has helped both groups recognize their shared humanity. “I’ve learned we’re all the same,” says Bukhari. “We all pray to the same God; we just use different languages.” Sheffield agrees: “We’re family.”

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