Toronto church and mosque compete to raise funds for Syrian refugees

Toronto church and mosque compete to raise funds for Syrian refugees
(Saturday, January 2, 2016) 14:27

The fundraising contest between St. Anne’s Church and the Islamic Information and Da’wah Centre will support the resettlement of a refugee family in Toronto

It’s hard to endorse a contest of religion, what with centuries of spilled blood on the table. But not all competition has animosity at its heart; Rev. Gary van der Meer and assistant imam Ilyas Ally can attest to that.

The religious leaders are leading their respective flocks — van der Meer at the St. Anne’s Anglican Church and Ally at the Islamic Information and Da’wah Centre — in a friendly contest to raise money to sponsor a Syrian refugee family’s resettlement in Toronto.

For Ally, the cross-faith tête-à-tête has a divine stamp of approval: “Race with each other in good,” the Qur’an says.

“That’s the verse that, for me, inspires this in a way,” Ally, a 27-year-old who took Islamic Studies at the University of Toronto, told the Star this week.

“We thought it was a great opportunity to send a message to both our congregations and also to the wider public, that Muslims and Christians can be working together and really ought to be working together.”

He added that the competitive aspect of the fundraiser is beneficial, too. “I think we’re winning,” he said with a laugh.

The goal of the drive is to raise $40,000 in the coming weeks. The Islamic centre has already gathered about $12,000. Rev. van der Meer concedes the St. Anne’s crew is a bit behind in the race to collect money, but to be fair, he points out that the fundraising pursuit was only recently announced, when Ally attended a carol service at the west-end church Christmas Eve.

Ally said the idea of sponsoring a family had been floating around the Islamic centre because other community groups had approached them seeking Arab-speaking volunteers to help newcomers adjust to life in Canada. A few weeks ago, van der Meer set up a meeting with Ally and pitched the idea of working together to sponsor a family. Ally jumped at the proposal.

“To have the support of another community to sort of join hands was something that meant a lot to them as well,” he said.

For van der Meer, it also made sense to work with the Islamic centre because some of its members will be able to help the newcomers, with translation for instance.

“I think competition is a healthy thing, in a good sense of friendship,” van der Meer said. “We’re in the stage of two communities wanting to understand each other, and this’ll be a great opportunity for us to work together… We really want it to be about the neighbourhood connecting.”

St. Anne’s was established in 1863 and occupies a historic building featuring Group of Seven artists’ work, on Gladstone Ave., just north of Dundas St. West. The Islamic Centre is a short distance to the north, near Dufferin and Bloor Sts.

The religious leaders predict that the contest, perhaps paradoxically, will bring the church and the Islamic centre closer together, fostering deeper understanding and respect between the religious communities.

You might call that a miracle.


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