How to build interfaith relationships

Waging Peace.
Directed by Burton Buller. Produced by MennoMedia.
Available online at

February 29, 2012 | Young Voices
Emily Loewen |

After 9/11, many North Americans have viewed Islam with a sceptical eye, often encouraged by the media. In America, being Muslim often comes with a stigma, said Sheri Hartzler, executive producer of the documentary Waging Peace at a screening in Toronto on Feb. 19.

The film Waging Peace tries to eliminate that mistrust by highlighting the commonalities between Islam and Christianity and communities where people of the two faiths have become friends, Hartzler said.

Beginning with an introduction to both faiths, the filmmakers focus on how each has a strong background in peace, with scriptures that encourage believers to love and care for others. Despite the common ground of peace, though, the film also reminds viewers of the integral differences between the two faiths. The documentary calls on viewers to recognize those differences and still find ways to form relationships and treat each other with kindness and respect.

Alongside interviews with religious leaders and professors, the film also presents viewers with examples of communities where Christians and Muslims got to know each other and built lasting relationships.

We head to the Middle East with Christian Peacemaker Teams to see volunteers walking with Muslims to act as a buffer in situations where violence seems imminent. We visit Waterloo, Ont., where breakfast between a Mennonite pastor and Muslim imam grew into a friendship between their larger communities. We look at Rockway Mennonite Collegiate, Kitchener, Ont., where Muslim teens have enrolled and made new friends. And we watch kids in Harrisonburg, Va., at an annual interfaith summer camp.

The project would not be complete, however, without looking at the places where Christians and Muslims face conflict. The filmmakers interview a pastor at Calvary Baptist Church, Temecula, Calif., where the church has protested plans to build a mosque in the empty lot across the street. The pastor said that his congregation will not compromise its truth for the sake of making peace with its neighbours.

California aside, Waging Peace is full of positive examples for communities to follow in getting to know neighbours of other faiths. It also provides good background information for those unfamiliar with either religion.

Yet there are points where the film can strike viewers the wrong way. In one interview, there is a strong focus on the Bible’s commandment for Christians to love their enemies. But by using the word “enemy,” it encourages people to see those from other faiths as oppositional forces, instead of people different from them who can become friends, said Samira Kanji, a member of the interfaith panel discussion which followed the Toronto screening.

Produced for an American audience, the film also presents a distinct American point of view. Although likely similar, the experience of Muslim-Christian relationships might differ in Canada, which experienced 9/11 second-hand.

Also, when the film states that the U.S. is the best place in the world for Muslims, because there is little discrimination, it seems to refute its own call for more dialogue to ease interfaith tensions.

Those criticisms aside, Waging Peace is a good tool to generate interest in building interfaith dialogue. It demonstrates the different ways others have made it work and the benefits they have reaped from knowing someone from a different faith.

The film leaves viewers with the same question posed to the audience in Toronto after the screening: How will you build relationships with people from other faiths and give the world positive images of how Christians and Muslims can relate?

Emily Loewen is co-editor of Young Voices.

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