In good faith: New initiative promotes inclusion in religious spaces

CBC News

Dennis Kovtun · CBC News · Posted: Dec 16, 2022

The City of Edmonton has awarded a grant to an interfaith anti-racism initiative run by the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton and Islamic Family and Social Services Association.

The grant, valued at $23,125, will help the grassroots effort called Faith Spaces | Safe spaces, "host conversations and develop a call to action that encourages continued work to eliminate racism in faith communities," according to details announced by city officials on Dec. 8. 

Rev. Jordan Ware is the social justice and community connection archdeacon for the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton. The initiative had its origins around two years ago, Ware said in an interview on Wednesday.

"We had some of our members begin to experience some racially motivated hate crimes," she said.

"When the news began to report that hate crimes were rising among specifically Black hijabi women, we wanted to get into solidarity with our Muslim sisters and brothers."

Ware said the concern surrounding the incidents led to partnering with Islamic Family and Social Services Association.

Both groups had the opportunity to speak about their worries and desire for change during a digital conference held last February.

"We talked about our shared values as Christians and Muslims to work against racism - not only out in the world but within our own communities," Ware said. 

Omar Yaqub, executive director at Islamic Family and Social Services Association, said the roots for the partnership grew even deeper through other initiatives. 

He said the groups are working collectively to introduce more multicultural holidays into the school system. 

The anti-racism initiative may help combat the insularity and exclusion in some faith spaces, Yaqub said. He compared some faith spaces to country clubs. 

"People might have associations with faith spaces as being very judgmental," Yaqub said. "I think there's really active work that needs to happen to make faith spaces welcoming spaces for everybody."

Intersection between race and faith

Bella Asiri-Opiyo, a Good Shepherd Anglican Church member and the initiative's co-founder, agreed with Yaqub. 

"As a Black person, sometimes when you enter into a faith space, you don't feel safe because of some actions or some words that people may have said, or you see someone who has done some harm to you." 

The goal of offering a safe space within religious places is quite straightforward, Asiri-Opiyo said. 

"I would expect that if I go to a place of worship, I would feel safe to discuss with people where they will not judge me." 

The initiative allows people of different faiths to come together and share their experiences in settings like inner-city dinners, said Yaqub.

"Communities come together and serve food and there's interfaith engagement where we look at policies ... and identify common approaches to make and address the need for systemic change."

The grant will help the initiative expand into other faith communities in the future. 

Ware said she talked to a woman who has been teaching an anti-Semitism and anti-racism course through Jewish Family Services to see if what she's been doing could be incorporated into the initiative. 

Ware said the conversation was promising and she is hopeful they will be able to add the course as one of the initiative's events next year. 

The grant will also assist the initiative with staffing, Yaqub said.