Visits to mosque lead to Muslim friendshipsBy Julie Bell Mennonite Central Committee Canada
EDMONTON, Alta. — A young man at the Al Rashid Mosque warmly welcomed Donna Entz and Miriam Gross and thanked them for their work within his Muslim community.
“For a young Arabic man to say that to women he doesn’t know is quite amazing,” Entz said. “I was touched by that.”
Entz and Gross are with a project supported by Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite Church Alberta that seeks to build connections between Mennonite and Muslim communities in Edmonton.
The women work with newcomers to Canada. They find tutors from Mennonite schools to mentor immigrant students and organize small gatherings.
For Entz, it is a natural progression in a life-long commitment to learning about and working with Muslims. She returned to Canada in 2010 after 30 years in a Mennonite ministry in Burkina Faso.
“What they tell me as I get to know them here in Edmonton is they want to be part of this society,” she said. “They’re relieved when someone tries to move closer to them culturally and even religiously. They don’t have to make the entire effort.”
Gross, 21, grew up in a household where connecting with other cultures and faiths is valued.
“At the mosque I identify myself as Christian,” she said. “Then I say I don’t want to sit at home and listen to what the media are telling me about Islam. I want to hear about Islam from Muslims.”
Mana Ali said that by being open about their Christianity, and respecting Islam while learning about Muslim culture, Gross and Entz demonstrate a message of welcome to immigrants. Ali came to Edmonton from Somalia 20 years ago and works at the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers.
At the Al Rashid Mosque in Edmonton, Entz and Gross have become familiar faces. After the service, they smile and share the traditional Islamic peace greeting with several women who stop to chat.
“They recognize something about me because I wear a long dress like them, but they also know there’s something different,” Entz said. “And they want to connect with me, with the mainstream in some way. These are the opportunities we have. It’s an amazing thing.”
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