Brenda Suderman, a member of Home Street Mennonite Church, Winnipeg, was one of two Winnipeg Free Press journalists to be honoured by the Islamic Social Services Association with its Ihsan Award recently.
Ihsan is an Arabic word that conveys “excellence and perfection in a matter of taking one’s inner faith and showing it in both faith and action,” explained Shahina Siddiqui, the association executive director, at the awards ceremony on April 11 in Winnipeg. She estimates there are about 10,000 Muslims living in Manitoba.
Suderman, who has been writing a weekly feature for the Faith Page since October 2006, said the award was “totally unexpected. I see this as an affirmation of the path I’ve taken in covering stories for the Faith Page. . . . It’s nice to hear they appreciate my work enough to recognize me publicly.”
“Brenda was honoured for her contributions and efforts towards building bridges of understanding between Muslims and their fellow Manitobans,” Siddiqui said. “She has been a trailblazer when it comes to connecting various faith communities in Manitoba and offering them the opportunity to tell their stories.”
This is only the second time the Islamic association has offered the Ihsan Award. “We don’t give it out that often,” explained Siddiqui. “We have to see consistent contributions and somebody with a vision. Brenda has been fair in covering faith perspectives in Manitoba. She went beyond the call of her job when she arranged for trips to different places of worship, encouraging dialogue and doing more than merely reporting on stories.”
In 2008, Suderman did a series called “Faith in the City” for the Free Press. She asked different faith groups to invite her as a reporter to their houses of worship and she asked readers to come with her. The series ran for approximately four months and Suderman visited 20 different worship services or meetings.
“Some people literally came with me to the events and worshipped along side whatever group we were with, and others followed along with the blog that we set up for this in the paper,” said Suderman. “It was like going into other people’s houses. You get a better understanding of who they are.”
“It’s interesting how denominational we get,” Suderman said of the experience. “A lot of people don’t move out of their own denomination. I had the opportunity to do that and it’s been fabulous.”
Suderman, who prior to being a Faith Page writer was the Free Press’s Child’s Play columnist for six years, is completing her master of theology degree this spring at the University of Winnipeg.
“I’ve had two theological educations,” she said. “One in the city of Winnipeg, where people have been willing to educate me, explain their traditions, invite me in and see beautiful buildings, and meet people who are doing interesting things, and one is through the university.”
Suderman, who has an honours degree in journalism from Carleton University, Ottawa, said she has made a point of writing stories “that have a universal quality. When the Free Press asked me to do faith writing, I decided I wouldn’t cover strictly denominational stories, but cover stories that would be interesting to people no matter what their faith tradition was.”
Of her recent award, Suderman said, “I’m grateful for the honour and the openness shown to me by members of the Muslim community.”
Also receiving the award was Carol Sanders, the Free Press’s diversity report-er.