Canadian Christians and Muslims recently engaged in an online dialogue on fostering inclusive and anti-racist faith communities in the country.

The forum, held on February 3rd, was the annual event of the National Muslim Christian Liaison Committee (NMCLC) to celebrate World Interfaith Harmony Week which, this year was themed, “Extending Our Embrace.”

A few hundred people from across the country, as well as a number of attendees from the U.S. and around the world, joined the conversation on several social media platforms.

Master of Ceremonies of the event was Rev. Daniel Cho, Past Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada and the panel discussion was moderated by the Most Rev. Wayne Kirkpatrick, Bishop – Roman Catholic Diocese of Antigonish. The panelists were Imam Michael Taylor, Regional Chaplain – Ontario of Correctional Service Canada; Sarah Guinta, Coordinator – Office of Justice and Peace, Roman Catholic Diocese of Hamilton; and Zarfishan Qureshi, Chaplaincy Intern – Multi-Faith Centre at the University of Toronto.

“Tonight’s virtual panel discussion is cosponsored by the Multi-Faith Centre at the University of Toronto and the Intercultural Dialogue Institute-GTA Chapter,” said Reverend Tuula Van Gaasbeek, Christian Co-Chair of NMCLC, in her welcoming remarks. “This event is also part of the annual World Interfaith Harmony Week.”

“The World Interfaith Harmony Week provides a platform—one week in a year—when all interfaith groups and other groups of goodwill around the world can show what a powerful movement they are,” she added. “It is hoped that this initiative will provide a focal point from which all people of goodwill can recognize that the common values they hold far outweigh the differences they have, and thus provide a strong dosage of peace and harmony to their communities.”

Muneeb Nasir, Muslim Co-Chair of NMCLC, in his remarks spoke of the mission of the long-standing interfaith committee.

“The National Muslim Christian Liaison Committee has been in existence for over 3 decades and brings representatives of Muslim and Christian denominations and organizations in Canada into a forum for respectful dialogue on themes of common interest, and for the exchange of faith-related concerns and areas of sensitivity between Muslims and Christians.”

“Member denominations and organizations of NMCLC share a vision that Christians and Muslims realize the full potential of our relationship – that we appreciate, respect, support and understand each other – leading to the betterment of our society,” he added.

Imam Michael Taylor, in his remarks, spoke of his faith journey and the milieu in which he grew up in the Carribean island of Barbados.

“Racism worldwide and the most difficult parts of racism is anti-Black racism. It seems that regardless of religion or race or the place you are in the world anti-Black racism is the most virulent form of this disease that possesses humans.”

He spoke of how religious believers often fail to live up to the teachings of their faith, especially around the issue of race.

“The fundamental teachings of Islam around race situates Islam as an anti-racist religion,” he said.

“However, the high expectations of my religion of Islam has somehow seemed to have escaped Muslims and the high expectations of all of our faith traditions about anti-racism seem to have proved hard for believers to live up to.”

Sarah Guinta, Coordinator of the Office of Justice and Peace at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hamilton, proposed that faith communities engage in reflection on the issues of race and their support of systems of oppression.

“Offerings and resources that centers and amplyfies Black and Indigenous voices are a way to dismantle oppression in our schools, places of work and our places of worship.”

“As a faith community offering intentional reflection and examination of conscience that touches  specifically on race and complicity is one pathway to consider – for example, how do I personally benefit from systems of oppression, have I been silent in moments when I should have been vocal, have I looked at others for the unique value and gifts that they possess or have I looked for deficiencies, have I stepped outside my comfort zone to serve my community, have i helped directly without the expectation of recognition.”

Zarfishan Qureshi, a Chaplaincy Intern at Multi-Faith Centre, University of Toronto eloquently articulated that structurally racism must be addressed in our society.

“It can be damaging if we continue to talk about racism as an individual struggle as opposed to an institutional force present within our society. Failing to recognise that structural racism instilled in our communities is harmful, especially because it comes at the cost of those who experience it. It removes all responsibility from the institutions that uphold it and it places the blame on the individual experiencing racism.”

“Treating racism as a case by case occurence builds the idea and adds to the narrative that our society is not at fault and it makes us complacent as to how racism manifests itself in our society as a whole but, at a personal level, in our own actions.”

Following the panel presentations, participants met in breakout rooms and discussed ways to strengthen the culture of mutual racial acceptance on both an individual and systemic level.