By Thandiwe Konguavi
Staff Writer

Archbishop Richard Smith formally began his historic visit to Edmonton’s largest and oldest mosque with a traditional Arabic greeting of peace: “As Salaam Alaikum, peace be with you all.”

His reception at the Al-Rashid Mosque on Aug. 28 — his first visit to a mosque as Archbishop of Edmonton — underscored the Church’s aim to deepen the relationship between Muslims and Catholics.

“The best way to deepen any relationship is through personal encounter, and that’s what (the Al-Rashid Mosque leadership) have made possible here by inviting us to the mosque,” said Smith.

“Harmony, mutual respect, and working together is not only possible, it’s also happening, and it’s happening here.”

Catholics and Muslims share many beliefs:

  • We worship one God, although we do not relate to God in the same way; we acknowledge God as merciful and almighty.
  • We believe that God created heaven and earth.
  • We believe that God has spoken to humankind, although our understanding of revelation is not the same.
  • We await the Day of Judgment.
  • We believe in the resurrection of the dead.
  • We try to live lives that are morally upright.
  • We pray, give alms and fast.

Some differences in Catholic and Muslim beliefs:

  • Catholics believe in the Trinity: one God in Three Divine Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Muslims do not accept this doctrine.
  • Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet. Catholics worship Jesus as the Son of God.
  • Catholics believe that Jesus is fully divine and fully human. Muslims do not believe that God became incarnate in Jesus.
  • Catholics believe that Jesus redeemed our sins through his death on the cross. Muslims do not share this belief.
  • Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is God’s final revelation to humankind. Muslims believe the Qur’an to be God’s final revelation.

Smith was warmly received outside the modern north Edmonton mosque by imams and lay leadership before the Muslim faithful met for sunset prayers. The original Al-Rashid building, built in 1938, was the first mosque in Canada and is now part of the Fort Edmonton historic park.

“When you understand what (pure) religion is, we all meet in one point,” said Imam Nasser Ibrahim, the head imam of the Al-Rashid Mosque.

Ibrahim emphasized that Christians are held in high esteem in the Qur’an, and both faiths revere many of the same prophets and share many of the same beliefs. Historical ties between Christians and Muslims date back to the seventh century.

Smith and a group of his staff from the Archdiocese of Edmonton toured the sprawling facilities of the mosque, including the men’s and women’s prayer rooms, recreation hall, and gym.

Children, men, and women wearing hijabs gathered in the mosque, some socializing, some praying.

Al-Rashid serves about about 45,000 people. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Muslims live in Edmonton.

Muslim leaders say the mosque is not only a place of worship, but it is the cornerstone of the community.

“The mosque is the heart of the body of the Muslim,” said Ibrahim. 

In April, Pope Francis visited Cairo's Al-Azhar Mosque as part of the Church’s commitment to building relationships between Catholics and Muslims. Those efforts began in the 1960s with the Second Vatican Council, the worldwide meeting of bishops that produced new teachings on a variety of subjects, including ecumenical and interfaith relations.

“It symbolically signalled very, very clearly—certainly on the part of the Pope, we believe also on the part of the Muslim community—a commitment to overcome these differences and to work together in spite of them,” Archbishop Smith said.

There’s no turning back when it comes to the Catholic Church’s outreach to the Muslim community and other faiths, he said.

“We must continue to reach out to one another, to understand one another, to grow in mutual respect, and to look always for ways in which we can be working together for the promotion of the common good.”

In Edmonton, the commitment to work together includes the Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative, a collaboration between Muslim, Catholic and other religious and spiritual communities to end homelessness.

“We have a lot to celebrate, we have a lot to honour on the basis of the good that has unfolded over the past number of years, and we have an abiding incentive to continue,” said Smith.

Leaders of the mosque and the Archdiocese say they welcome more dialogue and outreach.

In January, the Archbishop invited Muslim leaders in Edmonton to his residence to express his personal solidarity following the Quebec mosque shooting, in which six people were killed and 19 were injured.

Leadership from the the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton, including Archbishop
Richard Smith, Auxiliary Bishop Greg Bittman, and Chancellor Adam Lech, were
welcomed by their Muslim counterparts at Al-Rashid mosque on August 28, 2017.

“I think at a moment where we’re living and seeing so many visible tensions, the faith communities in Edmonton have an opportunity to stand forth as a beacon; that light that shines forth and says, ‘When it comes to separation, when it comes to hatred, we will have no part of it,’” said Smith.

Both Smith and Sadique Pathan, the outreach imam at the Al-Rashid Mosque, denounced movements that lift up hatred and anger, rather than mutual respect.

“God is greater than anger, God is greater than vengeance,” said Imam Pathan.

Faith leaders note that Christianity and Islam together constitute half of the world’s population. About half of Christianity’s 2.3 billion followers are Catholic, while there are an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide.

“If two or nearly three billion people could find ways of collaborating and working together on those things we hold in common, even if we stopped fighting, it could change the world and maybe bring about some semblance of the Kingdom of God,” said Julien Hammond, interreligious relations officer for the Archdiocese, who helped organize the visit.

Hammond predicted that the Archbishop’s visit will have long-lasting implications for relations between Catholics and Muslims.

“When you get the whole upper brass here going to meet with another community like that, that’s very significant,” he said. “This is one visit, this is a significant visit, and this can have ramifications for quite some years to come in terms of implementation.”

Archbishop Smith is warmly greeted by Outreach Imam Sadique Pathan outside Al-Rashid mosque.