Cans, Mosques and Faiths

This is the annual Canstruction week in our community. For those unfamiliar with it, Canstruction is an international event in which local groups – mostly businesses but it can be other groups as well – gather together enough cans to build giant structures. In our community, these are on display in one of the local malls, and at the end of the week the food is donated to the local food bank. Their goal this year is to raise 34, 000 lbs of food for the Waterloo region. This is the 6th year of Canstruction in our community. My wife Gwenanne organizes this event. She began it during her first year of working for the Food Bank of the Waterloo Region. She works countless hours with an army of dedicated volunteers to make this happen. You can learn more about Canstruction here.

I met one of the groups supporting Canstruction last Friday. I took students from my class “Trends in Modern and Contemporary Theology” to a local mosque, the Kitchener Masjid. This week we were discussing the phenomenon of inter-religious dialogue and comparative theology. We observed Friday prayers, and afterwards chatted with the Imam, Muhammad Abulezz . This is their first year of involvement with Canstruction, but not the first year a religious group has been involved. A few years ago the youth from St. George’s Anglican youth group also built a structure. The involvement of the mosque is important because it comes from their desire to be involved in work to alleviate the ravages of poverty in our community: it represents a desire by the local Muslim community to engage their context, a theme their Imam advanced in his Friday sermon, wherein he made mention of the imperative for people of faith to work together for the good of their common community.

While we were at Friday prayers, the Imam also talked quite specifically about the importance of inter-faith dialogue. He spoke about its grounding in their religious tradition. He spoke about its possibilities and limits. He also argued quite passionately for the need for both inter-faith dialogue and intra-faith dialogue, noting that great differences exist within the Islamic community in Canada. And most importantly, he distinguished between dialogue and debate, reminding us that those who dialogue do not have the conversion of the dialogue partner as the intention of their conversation, but instead, enter the conversation with a simple openness to learn about our neighbour and discover where we can work together. It was a very interesting sermon that gave us much to think about. I think one of the most important points he underscored was that God alone knows who is right and who is wrong when it comes to things religious. I thought he made a very good case for this, even while he challenged his hearers to remember that being faithful does not preclude a religious modesty committed to embracing our neighbourhood, working with our neighbours and doing all that is in our power to make the world a more welcoming and hopeful place.

Many community groups come together in Canstruction to make this happen. I hope your week gives you opportunity to celebrate our common humanity even while we struggle to ensure that every human has food on their plate.