Last year, Rev. Chris New at my home Church -- Southminster-Steinhauer United (SSUC), invited me for a joint Christian-Muslim reflection in the wake of the Paris tragedy and the Syrian refugee crisis. I shared the following words with the beautiful congregation.
video from SSUC, starts around the 25:00 time mark
My mother in Pakistan asked me if I was safe. She was concerned about news of backlash against Muslim communities in the wake of yet another terrorist attack. The Paris tragedy led to hateful incidents in Ontario. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of terrorist attacks, Muslims of all stripes find themselves on the defensive. This includes those in interfaith relationships who are raising their children in multi-faith traditions.
I told my mother that I was in the safest place on Earth. So many blasts have taken place in my home city of Lahore in Pakistan, that I have lost count. In fact, my sister witnessed one from a distance. Due to my work on Islamic law and same-sex unions, I am cautious of Muslim majority countries. Given the hysteria related to Muslims, I do not go to Conferences in the U.S. either.
Canada is my sanctuary. I fell in love with her people the day I set foot at the Calgary International Airport in the summer of 2000. I had missed my connecting flight to Edmonton and was quite concerned about additional expenses given my limited funds. Yet, with a smile on her face, an older lady with a cowboy hat told me I needn't worry about that. Since that day I did not have to worry about much.
I have been protected by the love of the wonderful people, who have become my family and friends in this city. I live next to an amazing neighbour, Rob Wells, who has been there for me in some of my most difficult of times. He brought me to SSUC. My late grandmother would often tell me to attend this Church, for Jesus also belongs to Muslims and that prayers are heard in the different houses of Allah.
At SSUC, Anne McCracken nudged me to write. Along with Rev. Nancy Steeves, I welcomed a baby boy in an interfaith Muslim-Christian ceremony. I have even performed a Muslim funeral at this Church when conservative Muslim doors were shut. Like the work of our ministers, Rev. Nancy Steeves and Rev. Chris New, I have tried very hard to offer an expansive vision of Islam.
I fully acknowledge that the Qur'an like any ancient religious text is imbued with contradictions of its own. As in the Star Wars movie, it can be wielded for the light side or the dark side of the force. There are texts that condone violence and those which condemn it. The Qur'an can be used to stoke supremacism or promote pluralism. Indeed, as the Prophet's cousin Imam Ali asserted, "The Book is Silent for it is us who speak."
Canadians refuse to give into hysteria, as they do in other countries.
In the present trying times, one extremist group after another rears its ugly head. This includes the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, and the most recent incarnation ISIS. Yet, my colleagues at Universalist Muslims and I refuse to let go of Islam. We cannot in good conscience leave religion to the hands of hateful ideologues, of which there is no dearth in this world.
We choose to stay to offer hope and inspiration, to facilitate ease and comfort and to show a path of an all-inclusive Islam. For us faith is not about mindless religious rituals or rigid laws. For us the uncompromising concept of Tawhid (Oneness) is about being at peace with ourselves and about embracing our unity in diversity.
We believe that all of us, gay and straight, religious and atheist, white and beautifully coloured, are all part of one body. If one part of this body aches, the rest of the body suffers. We fully embrace the Prophet's teaching that echoes Matthew 25 that Allah is within the sick, the hungry and the thirsty and that we find Allah by caring for the vulnerable and the poor.
I know Pakistanis gave into fear and so poorly treated Hindus, Christians, Ahmadis and Shiis. When the army bombed the Taliban, Pakistani provinces refused internally displaced refugees out of fear that that the Taliban would come in. Pakistan surely has a large army and even nukes but Canada is strong where Pakistan is weak, for we refuse to give into hate.
Canadians refuse to give into hysteria, as they do in other countries. We rose up for a woman who wasn't even a citizen for a niqab, which is even discouraged in Muslim rituals like the daily prayer and the Hajj -pilgrimage to Mecca. Cold Lake citizens came out to remove the mosque graffiti. Similarly, Canadian communities galvanized against the recent hateful attacks in Ontario. Indeed, the way we put hate mongors and self-serving politicians in their place speaks of the immense reservoirs of Canadian strength.
All of this makes me proud and safe to say, Mamma, do not worry for I live in a place where my people follow that ancient piece of wisdom echoed by Muhammad and uttered by Jesus over 2000 years ago in Aramaic -- Hivu lkum (Love One Another).
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