TORONTO — Imam Hamid Slimi, RIGHT, made history on May 14 as the first imam to speak at a Neighbourhood Interfaith Group dinner.
The 22nd annual dinner, which was hosted by Yorkminster Park Baptist
Church, brought together members of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim
communities for a night of food, drinks and conversation.
“It’s good that [we] gathered together to break bread and listen to one another in the spirit of grace,” said Rev. Peter Holmes of the Yorkminster Church. “Gatherings like this are a sign of hope and a beacon of light to this world.”
Imam Slimi, who has been an imam for 11 years, is the founder of the Faith of Life Network; the imam of the International Muslims Organization of Toronto; and the chairman of the Canadian Council of Imams.
“We did extensive research,” said Bryan Beauchamp, one of the organizers of the event and the chairman of the Interfaith Group. “We wanted a moderate, progressive, well-educated and well- spoken person. [Imam Slimi] is the ideal guy.”
In his speech titled “The Golden Rule,” Imam Slimi spoke about Islam and its beliefs.
“Islam is very simple. There’s one God in heaven and God is merciful,” he said. “There is this unfavourable thinking of Islam and Muslims. I can’t deny that there are extreme thoughts – it happens in every religion.”
During his speech, Imam Slimi, who was born in Morocco, addressed the misconception that all Muslims are taught to hate the Jewish community.
“Everyone is loved by God,” he said. “I grew up in a district where we had Jews and Christians. We were never taught to hate [them.] The prophet said that [Muslims] can marry Jews and Christians, who are the people of the Book.”
The imam was invited to speak at the dinner because of a comment made by Rabbi Erwin Schild four years ago. While addressing the gathering at the 18th annual interfaith group dinner, the rabbi said that the group’s next challenge was to engage their Muslim neighbours.
During this year’s dinner, Rabbi Schild spoke about the first murder documented in the Torah.
“It was one brother killing another,” he said. “The murderer [thought], ‘I can’t be responsible for my brother.’ In the course of time, we’ve learned that we are our brother’s keeper – what we haven’t learned yet is who is my brother. We are responsible for all religions.”
This sense of responsibility led Beauchamp to become involved in the interfaith group, which was founded in 1986.
‘This is my calling,” he said, motioning around the room. “Our mission is to achieve respect and appreciation for the religious beliefs of others.”
The group includes 14 churches and synagogues, and one private school in midtown Toronto. There are no mosques in the community that the group serves, but Beauchamp plans to continue inviting Muslim speakers.
“We’ll have a three-year cycle,” he said. “Next year, we’ll have a Roman Catholic archbishop, and in 2010 we’ll start the cycle again.”
Beauchamp, who is an Anglican, tries to seat people of different religions at the same table to encourage a dialogue.
“We spread Muslim guests among the room. We try to put four Christians and four Jews at each table,” he said.
Beauchamp says the key to uniting different religions is to concentrate on similarities rather than differences.
“Rather than sitting together and discussing whether Jesus will return to Earth we focus on ‘love thy neighbour as yourself.’”
Through interfaith group events, Beauchamp hopes to remind the community of these similarities.
“Judeo-Christian traditions line up almost side by side. We respect Jewish belief – the more we can encourage this approach, the more we can stand up and speak about issues of peace.”
In his closing speech, Rabbi Schild reminded guests that they had something in common.
“We’re all citizens of Canada,” he said. “In Canada, people with different ethnicities and religions can live together in harmony.”