New Canadian Media
Monday, 29 October 2018 19:39

If you Prick Us, Do We Not Bleed?

Commentary by Mohamed Hammoud in London, ON

“All Jews must die.”

This was the shout of a lone gunman as he opened fire on a congregation of Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life Or L’Simcha synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Saturday morning.  11 people were killed, six injured, including four police officers. The incident has brought together the Jewish and Muslim communities through a reverberating message of responding to hate with love.

Some might wonder how two communities normally seen at odds over political differences can unite, but since the attacks, Muslims in both Canada and the United States have taken to various social media platforms to express their solidarity with their Jewish brethren and are speaking out against hate crimes and all related forms of vitriolic rhetoric. At least two organizations have undertaken crowdfunding activities to raise money for the families of the victims, already exceeding targets with over $110,000 in just two days. Other Muslim organizations have been active in helping the families with grocery shopping and organizing vigils.

Many have been quick to criticize U.S. President Donald Trump for his response; although he denounced the hate incident, when asked about gun control, he responded that the shooting has “little to do with it.” Again, not unlike his response to the Florida shooting earlier this year, Trump recommended using guns to solve the problem and use armed guards to protect churches and synagogues. He eschewed the real issues of curbing gun violence or striving to heal a country rent asunder by his vitriolic rhetoric. And with his unwavering support of neo-Nazis and the Ultra-right, his unapologetic “America First” rhetoric and xenophobic policies, few have any confidence in his ability to curb an alarming increase in antisemitic hate crimes.

In Canada, the wash over effect is a 60 per cent spike in online hate. According to the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and StatsCan, data shows that the Jewish community continues to be the most common target of hate crimes, closely followed by attacks on Muslims.  Understandably, members of the two Abrahamic faiths recognize the importance of finding common ground. The notion of turning faith sanctuaries into heavily-guarded fortresses is very disturbing. Places of worship represent safe havens where we can nurture a sense of belonging and community-building and members can draw on shared experiences to foster opportunities to build relationships with their neighbors through interfaith dialogue. Some fear that turning churches and synagogues into guarded fortresses might have the adverse effect of bolstering more horrific attacks.

When asked about the recent incident in Pittsburgh, Rabbi Debra Stahlberg Dressler of Temple Israel in London, Ontario, explained that “it’s time to acknowledge that rhetoric can and does kill. Maybe not in the moment, but when hatred and falsehoods are the currency of public discussion, violence seems to become inevitable.”  Speaking at the Interfaith Tree Planting held by Reforest London on Sunday, October 28, 2018, Rabbi Dressler expressed her gratitude for the show of support and solidarity from Muslims and Christians.  

What we need most now is not more guns, we don’t need more fear of the other. We need to foster climates of acceptance and open our doors and build bridges and adopt a “zero tolerance” policy against any expressions of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and any other sort of bigotry, as well as attitudes and ideologies that can breed acts of hate and rob us of our religious freedom, pluralism and liberties. As Rabbi Dressler reminds us, there is hope, after all, it is “relationships are what ultimately will keep us safe.”

Mohamed Hammoud has been involved in various public speaking engagements focusing on interfaith as well as training on leadership, diversity and inclusion. He is also an active contributor to New Canadian Media and a member of the NCM Collective.

Published in Commentary
Tuesday, 15 December 2015 14:01

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Saturday, 15 August 2015 10:00

Metro Vancouver Is The Hotbed Of Interfaith

Our Metro Vancouver has become the hotbed of interfaith activities. Recently on August  8,  the Pre-parliament of the World’s Religions Conference was organized by the Global Clergy Association of Canada, with support of faith and interfaith associations of Metro Vancouver, at Richmond Cultural Center, Richmond. The Parliament of the World’s Religions (PWR), which is the [...]

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Published in National

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Interfaith dialogue, as we have known it, that peaceful, sanguine and polite discourse, is dead.  Yes, dead.  The day of treating everyone like equals with equal truths in the marketplace of ideas is… over.  The day of fascination with the “exotica” of others’ faiths…is done.

This is a new era that calls for a new approach to interfaith engagement, before the whole field drowns in its genial earnestness. That means we will begin to address the 500-lb. gorillas and gore some sacred cows.  Everyone will walk away with more information.

However, we will need to come to an understanding of how to have an honest dialogue that is frank, yet respectful. In other words: how do I disagree with you, without making it confrontational?

In the course of engagement and encounter, we may call people of faith to account for some of their more controversial beliefs and practices. For example, what does it mean when a translation of the Qur’an says: “beat your wife lightly so that it will NOT inflict any pain"? Do Christians really believe that Eucharist turns into flesh?  And what about shatnez: the Torah prohibition against mixing linen and wool?

We need to be prepared to be asked difficult questions, and we need to respond without defensiveness. 

Reasonable Accommodation

Perhaps, this is why the entire notion of “reasonable accommodation” has gained traction.  With increased immigration to the developed nations, there has arisen the question about what is "reasonable accommodation,” and what is not?  Often this has become a discussion about what is an "obligation" or compulsory activity for a given religion.  If Muslims are obligated to pray five times a day, and if Sikhs are compelled to wear a kirpan, how do our offices and schools accommodate that?  Can we?

After all, the pre-existing Christian culture is not one that includes instruction about dietary requirements, frequency of prayer, etc.  But other faiths have a range of specific obligatory and compulsory activities.  As such, they appear to be receiving more accommodation, while Christianity, with its few obligations, doesn’t ask for much accommodation. For example, in Islam, there are specific obligations around prayer, fasting, alms giving (tithing), pilgrimage, and declaring one’s faith.  In Judaism, there are 613 separate commandments governing every aspect of life.  The predominant Christian culture does not have such a range of obligatory practices.

How do we differentiate that which is compulsory from that which is desired by the adherents of a given faith?  We have had such discussions in the developed world around sharia law.  Some Muslim women have taken to covering themselves entirely.  Some believe that to be an extreme interpretation of the Prophet’s admonishment to dress modestly. Should a society at large be compelled to accommodate such a practice that runs counter to everything we hold as social? 

Reasonable accommodation must, after all, be reasonable.

On occasion, some members of a faith group will claim that some activities are compulsory and accommodation must be made. Yet, that faith group’s scriptures will not support the claim.  In fact, even in Muslim nations like Tunisia, Turkey and Iran, there have been periods in history when women were not permitted to cover their heads in public.  Often enough, a cultural practice is interpreted as religious.  Some older Mediterranean Christian women dress in black, but there is no scriptural basis for what is essentially a cultural practice. 

In other words, we need to understand whether a claim for accommodation is based upon faith, a specific culture or simply an aberrant interpretation.  We also need to ask ourselves whether accommodating a given practice will or will not have broader social implications.  Arguably, if someone wants to dress in black, it’s not quite the same as someone who covers their face in a society that is given to making eye contact.

Guests & Hosts 

Those of us who inhabit societies that are receiving immigrant populations must learn what it means to be good hosts.  We must be welcoming, accepting and encouraging.  We must furnish our guests with every opportunity to become contributing citizens who love our nations and uphold our laws and institutions. 

And yet, while we are being good hosts, those who arrive need help and instruction in how to be good guests, and good citizens. What do I mean?  Well, when I am a guest, say at the first meeting of a committee or group I have been invited to join, I’m demure.  I observe.  I respect the others who have done all the prior work.  In subsequent meetings and as I gradually find my feet in that group, I may contribute more.  But for now, I am something of a guest.

Put another way, if you are a guest in my home, there are certain rules of courtesy.  You won’t simply open my refrigerator or wander into my bedroom.  Until you know me well enough, you need to return my hospitality to you, with courteous respect for me. 

We need to ask those who come to our land to be good guests to respect our land, the predominant cultures and our beliefs.  That does not mean that the guest is forever a guest.  There is a gradual process of acculturation.  My family came to Canada 50 years ago and I consider myself as Canadian as the next person.  However, when I meet Canadians who can trace their roots on this continent back to the early nineteenth century and whose families fought at Vimy or Normandy or Kapyong in the Korean Conflict, I honour them and I respect them.

We may be equals, but I venerate what the generations of their families have given to this nation.

Now, when it comes to the practicalities of religious accommodation, some of the challenges have ended up before the courts. One hopes that the courts will publicly consult legitimate faith communities and interfaith organizations when hearing cases that involve matters of faith.  Those of us who work in faith can be very helpful to the courts in distinguishing what is truly a religious obligation that the society needs to accommodate under Section 2 of the Charter…and those that are not.

 

Just because an individual or group demands accommodation and equality, citing religious freedoms enshrined in the Charter, doesn’t immediately accord those rights to them.  This nation has given birth to fringe cults in Quebec and in Bountiful, BC – some of which will be seeking accommodation.  Without a solid and working definition of religion, the courts may not know how to rule, without diminishing the legitimacy of the vast majority of faith communities.

 

Richard M. Landau has been responsible for adjudicating disputes and enforcing a television network code of ethics in a religious broadcasting setting since 1992.  He is a graduate of Carleton University and the University of Ottawa.  A leader in interfaith dialogue, Mr. Landau has consulted with the UK Home Office, and the White House Office of Community- and Faith-Based Initiatives.  He works closely with leadership in all of the major world religions.  He is author of  What the World Needs to Know about Interfaith Dialogue.

 This commentary was adapted from his keynote speech at the Parliamentary Interfaith Breakfast in Ottawa on November 27.

Published in Policy

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