At the Seminar on Women and Religious and Cultural Debate
Canadian society considers the coexistence and integration of different cultural, religious and ethnic groups to be a fundamental issue, of huge importance. It therefore receives significant interest from institutions, centers and groups concerned about this question. Canadian society is founded on the idea of seeking ways to ensure a shared foundation for the life of all its inhabitants
Katherine Jippes is one of the women working in this field. Al-Thara interviewed her during the Seminar on Women and Religious and Cultural Debate, and she said the following:
- First of all . Would you Tell me about yourself?
I work in Canada as an assistant priest in an Anglican church. As well as this I am the Chaplain for a school in Toronto. The school I work at has a very multi cultural student body and, although it’s a Christian Protestant school, we are very committed to cultural integration. We strive to honor all faiths and their traditions within the school, promoting respect and acceptance. I became part of the team that put together this interfaith dynamics program as a result of my training in workshop facilitation through conflict mediation
I worked on the part of what is known as 'the Golden Rule' which is a role based in issues related to faith and religion. We looked at 13 of the world's sacred texts and discovered that the overall message of them all is to treat people how you would like to be treated. As we learnt, all the religious traditions have this in common and this was amongst the topics we discussed. We also talked about what this could mean for building peace through religion. In addition we looked at the principles of humanism and the work of Human rights activists who also share this belief. So there was something for everybody here in looking at how to be treated and how to treat each other and the way we understand the sacred and the holy in our lives, learning to appreciate that everyone is different. It was nice to acknowledge that wide similarity between the various faiths but we also had to admit the many differences between them.
As well as this I worked on facilitating the ladies in telling their own personal stories and experiences they may have had with discrimination, marginalization or prejudice for whatever reason. We all had stories to tell, even myself. This was all very exciting and we spent quite a bit of time listening to individual stories, in fact much more time than I had previously expected. 10 minutes soon became 20 and 30 and so on. This is telling of how passionate the women were about sharing their stories. For me personally it was a very moving experience as it made me feel that there are others that empathize with my situation. This experience taught us that if we wish change to occur we need to make it happen together as a community. Our shared experiences and similarities allow us to bond with one another. It was comforting to know that there are women who understand and relate to what we had experienced and that together we can help one another overcome difficulties.
•You spoke to us about the similarities between the Abrahamic faiths. Now can you talk to us about the differences between them and the problems caused by these differences?
I believe the differences that create the problems are ones of interpretation of the Sacred Texts. Scholars have poured over these books for generations and have written numerous commentaries. The problems arise when we think only one interpretation is the correct one and we are unable to honour the others. I think this says more about who we are as humans than it does about God or God’s word to us. We are not perfect.
• Do you thing that the key in bringing about peace among the religions has to be based on the similarities? Why?
The similarities are certainly more important but harder to find. It is so easy to focus on differences, however, these differences need to be acknowledged as well since they are a part of our faith. I would prefer if we could learn to focus on the goodness of each person and the wonderful gifts that God has given each of us. I believe that is only possible when we meet in community. We need to get to know each other, talk to each other, share a meal with each other. It is only through dialogue that we will come to know the other person.
• What do you think is a religious person's role in promoting peace and facilitating integration in Canada? And do religious people of the different religions work together to organize activities which help promote such ideals?
The city of Toronto and the province of Ontario both have interfaith councils where people of all faiths gather to talk, celebrate, and share our thoughts and feelings around the issues of equality and religion. I believe the religious people, in particular the moderate ones, need to be heard and need to be visible if there is going to be successful integration here in this province.
• Do you think that preserving one's religious and racial identity helps the process of integration into a new society or no?
It does not help. However, that is no reason to shed one’s beliefs, it just makes it harder.
• How did 9/11 affect how Muslims are viewed in Canada? And do you believe that the stereotypical image of Muslims will change in the near future?
I think 9/11 set us back years with respect to integration and acceptance. People became frightened and that fear continues to appear as suspicion. I think we have a long way to go to get back to where we were before 9/11.
• What are the steps that need to be taken to change this image?
As I have said before, the voices of the moderate Muslims need to be louder and the people more visible. I heard these voices many times while in Syria. It is the extremists found in all faiths that create dissention within the population.
• What were your impressions of the religious people and women that you met in Syria? And how will the workshop you participated in benefit the people?
I was very impressed with all the religious leaders I met. They were accepting and respectful of all faiths and were committed to a world of justice and peace. As for the women in the workshop, we have already created an e-mail list so that we can stay connected. This way, we can keep the energy flowing and create change where it is needed.
By: Yahya Al Aous