soutenir la religion dans une société pluraliste et dans la vie publique canadienne

Religious Literacy

We take it for granted that we can freely and openly practice the diverse faiths that we represent in the Canadian Interfaith Conversation. One of the fundamental freedoms within the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is “freedom of religion.” For many of us, religion is not just something we do once a week when we might attend services in our various congregations. Religion is something much more essential to who we are.

As men and women of faith, our religions teach us essential values. These are not just about what it means to be Jewish or Hindu or Bahá’í or Sikh. These are also essential values that teach and remind us about what it means to be human. While the particularities of our religious traditions may be different, many of the values they espouse resonate very loudly with each other.

During times of great strife in the world, where wars rage, innocent people are killed and there is threat of global disease and epidemic, it is very easy to become insular: to not only look to faith to find answers about suffering and intolerance, but also to build mental and psychological walls around those that are different from us. 

Canada, fortunately, has a different history. Despite numerous challenges, it is a country that has always risen to the occasion to welcome people from around the world, to honour its indigenous as well as migrant populations and to allow them to express their beliefs and to practice their faith in an environment of stability and security. In its early years, diversity meant something very different from what it means today. Europeans flocked to Canadian soil for work and educational opportunities, to flee war and to escape famine. However, we must also remember that by the early 20th century, Canada also had significant communities from outside of Europe within its borders, including Punjabi Sikhs, Chinese and Arabs from the lands of the former Ottoman Empire.

However, while we look to our communities for support and solace, it is also important to remember that in increasing our own knowledge of ourselves, we must also remember to increase knowledge of others. One of the key skills that will help us continue our missions of compassion and understanding in our troubled world is that of Religious Literacy. Just as reading and writing are considered essential skills for us to survive and thrive in this world, our knowledge of each other’s religions is also key. When we aim to better understand each other’s faiths, something happens. We begin to stop essentializing each other’s religions.

Religious communities, by their very nature, are usually diverse entities. Within them lies a spectrum that stretches across economic, social, cultural and linguistic lines. Inherent in this are also differences of a theological nature. It is as imperative upon us to learn about the diversity of our own traditions as it is about the diversity of the traditions and practices of others. In building this religious literacy, we are also able to protect, share and amplify more responsibly the rights of others.

Contributed by Zul Kassamali, Association of Progressive Muslims of Canada