I’m writing to you today because I am deeply disturbed by what I have been hearing from Canadians around the question of the right of Muslim women in Canada to wear the niqab. The tone of the conversation, especially on social media, has bordered at times on hate-mongering.
Words are powerful, and they have consequences. In the past few weeks at least two attacks on Muslim women were reported in the media. It is no coincidence that these assaults took place at this time. As people of faith, we must speak and act in ways that challenge the ignorance and prejudice that fuel such hostility.
Jesus told his followers that what we do to the “least of these” we do to him (Matthew 25:34–46). As Christians, a fundamental principle of our faith is respect for the dignity and integrity of every person—including those who are different from us—for we are all created in God’s image. In our Creed we affirm that we are called “to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil.” These words are also powerful and can have a profound impact on our society if we allow them to shape our attitudes and our choices.
Our faith instructs us to love our neighbour as ourselves. When asked to define a neighbour, Jesus answered by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. Our neighbour, according to Jesus, may be someone of a different faith, a different culture—someone who doesn’t dress like us or pray like us, whose ways seem strange to us. What makes us neighbours is our shared humanity and our commitment to treat one another with compassion and dignity.
I urge all of you in our church, our political leaders, and all people of good will to challenge the prejudice and Islamophobia that are escalating in our country. And I encourage all of us to make an effort to get to know our Muslim sisters and brothers. Prejudice and fear thrive where there is ignorance and misunderstanding.
A good way to overcome our fear of someone who is different from us is to befriend them. When we truly know one another as people, not as stereotypes, we discover that there is much more that unites us than divides us. The preamble to the statement on United Church–Muslim relations, That We May Know Each Other, states: “Through creating such understanding it will be possible to sustain long-term mutual relationships of respect, trust, and common action for the sake of the world we all inhabit.”
Let this be the path we choose, for in doing so we bear witness to our faith in the God of justice, compassion, and right relationship.
Yours in Christ,
The Right Reverend Jordan Cantwell
The United Church of Canada