It sounds like a joke – a Muslim and a Jew walk into a Tim Horton’s.
But there’s no ethnic punch-line in this story. As representatives of their congregations, Rehan Sadiq and Philippe Richer-Lafleche met over coffee several times to arrange a gathering between members of their communities. After decades of living in Kelowna, B.C., but seldom rubbing shoulders, members of the Muslim and Jewish faiths decided to learn about each other’s history and culture by visiting their respective places of worship.
Their latest encounter in Kelowna’s main synagogue included a briefing on the Jewish faith and a close-up look at the Torah. Sixty people, more than half of them members of the Kelowna Islamic Centre, listened to a Hebrew psalm, as they sat in the sanctuary of the Okanagan Jewish Community Centre (OJCC) in June.
Afterwards, Kelowna Islamic Centre board member Hassan Iqbal recited from the Qur’an and his teenage son, Musab Hassan, sang prayers in Arabic.
The gathering followed a similar event in February, when Muslim members hosted a contingent of Jewish visitors at their mosque. Members of both communities say they hope to forge a longstanding friendship.
“The last thing I want our children to learn (about our relations) is from the news,” Sadiq, the mosque’s interfaith director, told both congregations in June. “This kind of meeting is extremely important. We should talk about building bridges.”
Organizers circulated the visitors through three stations at the synagogue to inform them about the basics of Judaism. OJCC members showed them the Torah, explained the prayer books and elucidated the symbols and artifacts that were on display in the shul.
Once everyone sat down, lay leader Evan Orloff sang a psalm to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” OJCC president Steven Finkleman then discussed the importance of loving your neighbour as yourself. He was followed by Grant Waldman and Annik Moyal-Waldman singing Shalom Aleichem.
After Islamic Centre president Mostafa Shoranick made a few remarks, Finkleman said “let’s eat,” and everyone lined up for a lavish buffet of Middle Eastern dishes. People mingled as they ate and at least one group of Muslim and Jewish women agreed to meet again. Over dessert, Sadiq and Finkleman led a discussion about which charities both faith groups could jointly support.
“I really think peace in the world will come on a one-to-one basis. It’s not governments (that create peace),” Richer-Lafleche, whose Jewish and Muslim grandparents married in Morocco, said. “It’s within small communities that you actually get to know people.… We make choices. We can choose to be loving or otherwise.”
The Muslim community is trying to educate the public and its own members about what Islam is, said Shoranick, who used the name Steve when he moved to Canada from Lebanon, because of the discrimination he faced here.
Many in his Muslim community are new to Canada and want to assimilate, he said. “We come from different countries and different sects. We believe that in this country, we’re lucky that we’re able to do our religion.… The religion is for God, but the country is for everybody.”
When both groups sat down together, they discovered that they share many beliefs, such as regarding Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses as prophets. Neither religion proselytizes or compels anyone to adopt its beliefs, and both agree that it’s wrong to judge people.
“It’s not our differences that get in the way; it’s how we perceive our differences,” Orloff said.