MONTREAL — A local Muslim women’s group is reaching out to the Jewish community for greater dialogue through the screening of a documentary film that offers the perspective of those people of faith struggling against the hijacking of their religions by extremists.
The Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW) has teamed up with the Montreal Dialogue Group (MDG) and the Canadian Friends of Rabbis for Human Rights to bring Out of Cordoba: Averroes and Maimonides in Their Time and Ours and its New York-based director Jacob Bender to Montreal.
The award-winning film, released in 2010, will be shown at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts twice on May 12, at 4 and 7:30 p.m.
CCMW board member Shaheen Ashraf said she had been trying for a couple of years to find a partner in the Jewish community to help support this effort and to hold a public program about the issues the film raises.
“I think the film is a good medium to bring about better understanding and peace between the two communities,” said Ashraf, a native of Pakistan.
Founded 30 years ago in Winnipeg, the CCMW describes itself as a highly diverse organization in favour of women’s equality and dedicated “to empowering Muslim women to remain true to their Islamic heritage within the rights and responsibilities of the Canadian context.”
Ashraf said the CCMW has spoken out against so-called honour killings and, in Quebec, has taken the position that a women’s head or face coverings should be a matter of personal choice, although its membership includes both those who do and do not wear such attire.
Ashraf has been involved with the MDG, a group that brings together Jews and Arabs, since its founding 10 years ago. While the MDG’s intercultural activities are generally open to the public, the film screenings will be its first outreach program on the Jewish Community Campus, said MDG member Deena Roskies.
Roskies emphasized that the initiative came from the CCMW, and she is grateful that the Segal has agreed to be the venue. “The Segal, although connected to the Jewish community, is going to great lengths to make everyone feel welcome,” Roskies added.
“I think this will be a wonderful chance to broaden our dialogue from the personal or political. Religion can be sensitive, but I learned from living for a while in Singapore, where I had many Muslim friends and colleagues, that we have much in common and we can talk when there is good will.”
Out of Cordoba, she believes, will encourage openness among Montrealers today by recalling the common heritage of Jews and Muslims in the medieval Spanish city.
Bender, a Jewish filmmaker with more than 30 years experience, has been dedicated to interfaith dialogue throughout his life.
“Out of Cordoba is not only about Averroes and Maimonides, the two ‘wise men of Cordoba,’ one Muslim, one Jewish, but also the story of the remarkable Christians, Muslims and Jews I have met during the making of this film over nine years,” Bender said.
“These brave souls are living proof that religious faith can yet be a source and inspiration for compassion in today’s world.”
The film profiles contemporary people of faith, who, inspired by these two thinkers, are challenging the notion that there is an inevitable “clash of civilizations” between the West and the Muslim world, and an unsolvable conflict between Muslims and Jews.
Bender began his research after the 9/11 attacks, in an attempt to restore his belief in the possibility of interfaith reconciliation and co-existence. He started in Spain, exploring its history of harmony among the monotheistic religions.
“Additionally, the suicide bombings in the Middle East, and in Madrid and London, left those of us in the Jewish community committed to Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation feeling terribly outnumbered.”
As a Jew, Bender said he is honoured by the level of support he received from Muslims around the world. Jewish sponsors include the Jewish Communal Fund of New York and Hebrew Union College.
The film’s advisory board includes Muslim, Jewish and Christian scholars and community leaders.
Rabbi Michael Paley, of the Jewish Federation of New York, endorsed the film, saying: “In a time of continuing religious conflict, with the dangers of militant religious extremism all too apparent, Out of Cordoba will demonstrate not only the symbiotic relationship between Christianity, Judaism and Islam, but as well the possibility of a spirituality of tolerance.”
Since its release, the film has been screened more than 100 times at universities, film festivals, mosques, churches and synagogues around the world, including a special presentation at the United Nations headquarters.
For tickets to the Segal screenings, call 514-739-7944.