How Quebec City Muslims and Anglicans found friendship through faith and grief

Boufeldja Benabdallah, co-founder of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec and Bruce Myers, Anglican Bishop of Quebec explain how a relationship can be built from simple gestures of kindness.

Interfaith service in honour of mosque shooting victims to be held Sunday at Expo Cité in Quebec City

Members of Quebec City's Muslim community will stand alongside those of the Huron-Wendat, Jewish, Catholic, Anglican and many other communities Sunday, as they honour the victims of last year's deadly attack on a mosque. (submitted by Daniel Abel)

Members of Quebec City's Muslim community will stand alongside those of the Huron-Wendat, Jewish, Catholic, Anglican and many other communities Sunday, as they honour the victims of last year's deadly attack on a mosque.

The interfaith ceremony, which starts at 7 p.m. at the Pavillion de Jeunesse at Expo Cité, will not be the first time different religious communities in the city will have come together since the shooting.

Bruce Myers, bishop of the Anglican diocese of Quebec and Boufeldja Benabdallah, co-founder of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City, spoke with Ainslie MacLellan on CBC Radio's All in a Weekend, about how their communities have built a friendship.

Here are excerpts from that interview, which has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Before last January, you had already started a conversation, a relationship with Quebec City's Muslim community. What brought you together?

Myers: I arrived back in Quebec City as the new Anglican bishop in May 2016. Just a few weeks later, there was an act of violence against the grand mosque. You may recall that there was a severed pig's head left in front of the Islamic Cultural Centre. When I read that in the newspaper one morning, I decided that I was just going to go there and express both my repugnance at the act and my solidarity with Quebec's Muslim community and to share my view that this act was not representative of most of the people in this city.

What did you think when you had this surprise visit from the Anglican bishop?

Benabdallah: Oh it was extraordinary! And it did not go unnoticed at the mosque: someone who shows up and who shows compassion.... He was really adopted by many of us as our brother, knowing that he felt the same pain as we did and he said, "I'm going to go see them. I'm not going to wait for the mountain to come to me, I'm going to go to the mountain."

And how did your relationship evolve in the wake of the shooting?

Myers: The Anglican cathedral here in Quebec City, Holy Trinity, organized what we call a solidarity evensong ... where Boufeldja was invited and offered some very touching and important words. We realized it couldn't stop there. So one form that it's taken is families, including children from both the Anglican and Muslim communities in Quebec City, coming together over food and fellowship and games to simply get to know each each other, as fellow citizens, as fellow people of faith, as fellow children of God and human beings.

The next one is planned for next month. We're hoping that this is going to be a regular occurrence.

How important are those types of events or the idea of getting together?

Benabdallah: It always starts with a gesture, you know? The first gesture was that mass where I had the pleasure and the responsibility to be present. I saw all of the people listening to Bishop Myers with immense attention and affection. When I was kindly called upon to speak, I felt such a great attention and respect. It was wonderful.

The second gesture was, of course, something that seems so simple: Muslim and Anglican families who came together and celebrated the friendship they shared. And the children were so happy! Everyone who was there was simply delighted. It was like their chance to decompress, after all of the stress they had felt.

I think this is the way that we find a way forward. Through this great sorrow, we are building a great friendship that will blossom and allow us to live together. All we have to do is cultivate it. I still have goosebumps thinking about it. It was a pivotal moment for our small Muslim community, alongside our Anglican brothers and sisters.

Where do you, as people of faith, see yourselves in Quebec society?

Myers: As a person of faith, I would always challenge the notion that it can be entirely individualistic. It's something that informs every aspect of our lives. I think to live in a pluralistic society such as Quebec means that we create space for people of faith, people of no faith and that we find a capacity to accommodate each other.

There was a very violent attack against that idea a year ago at the grand mosque. This is a peaceful community that's been in Quebec City for decades. We, as Anglicans, have been incredibly privileged as a religious minority over the centuries in Quebec. So I think we have a fundamental responsibility to stand by a newer expression of faith in this province, to ensure that they have the same space and right to exercise their religion as we have all this time.

Benabdallah: I came [to Quebec] toward the end of the Quiet revolution, in 1969. I understand that people who are from Quebec have gone through clashes with the Church. 

In our religion, it's not possible for us to live our faith alone. It's through other people that we commune, to transcend toward God. So that's what we try to explain, little by little. But we can't be aggressive about it, because people have been through crises with the church. The church did some marvellous things, such as building schools and hospitals, but there were also difficult things that led people to abandon religion.

If we reach out and explain now that religion can be public and still participate in the creation of a good, just and fair society, we can make small steps. We have to move gently to not upset the mentality of the majority, which is against religion in public. But I think it's a matter of time.

This story is part of CBC's in-depth look at the aftermath of the shooting at the mosque in Quebec City one year ago. CBC will also have special coverage of the commemorative events on Monday, Jan. 29, including live radio, TV and online broadcasts.