The Abraham Festival is an annual event in Peterborough, Ontario, which engages the community in interfaith dialogue and relationship building. It reaches out to all people who care deeply about social justice and equality in the world.
The Abraham Festival is a gathering of Jews, Christians and Muslims who believe they are all descendants of Abraham. They have been meeting since 2003 and discovering in the process that they are spiritual cousins.
This Best Practice is organized by a group of people who want to learn more about people of other faiths and provide an opportunity for other people to benefit from more education and interaction.
The event includes a worship service in each of the three religious traditions; a shared potluck vegetarian lunch; a guest speaker, and small group discussions in a café style where participants can discuss various sub-themes.
In the past, additional activities have been included throughout the year, such as seminars for high school students and a book/film festival.
Helen McCarthy was teaching World Religions at St. Peter's High School in 2002 and Elizabeth Rahman, a Muslim woman who attends the Masjid Al-Salaam (Peace Mosque), was scheduled to speak to her class. Ms. Rahman arrived for the class, not knowing it was a 'snow day' and, because there were no students, the two women spent the whole time talking. They realized that even though there were many differences in their religions, their faith in one God was the same, and the gleam of an idea was born.
Heather Pollock, a Jewish woman from Beth Israel Synagogue, spoke to Ms. McCarthy's class a few weeks later, and conversations between the three women led to the creation of the Abraham Festival, which honours Abraham as a prophet in all three of their religions and celebrates those religions.
It took a year of planning and negotiating with St. Alphonsus Roman Catholic Church, Beth Israel Synagogue and Masjid Al-Salaam and the first festival was held in 2003.
The festival's founders wanted to: create a local network of Jews, Muslims and Christians who would grow relationships to bind these three local groups, which have traditionally been separate; listen and learn from each other's traditions; open their hearts to each other's perspectives, and support each other as extended family - the children of Abraham.
The Abraham Festival encourages learning, questioning and sharing.
The first festival was close enough to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that some Muslims were still experiencing labelling and ostracism. The mosque in Peterborough had had a rock thrown through the window, and a couple of incidents involving visible minorities had been really unpleasant, leading some Muslims to wonder if anyone would want to visit their mosque. Interest from the Peterborough community to learn more about Islam has been strong since the initial year.
In several years, including 2014, planning for the festival occurred during hostilities between Israel and Gaza. The Jewish members of the planning committee were surprised and upset by the strength of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish feelings and actions of some people, but the committee reaffirmed its commitment to non-violence and to working together, and in June 2014 they sponsored a peace rally in central Peterborough.
Making a Difference
Muslims, Jews and Christians are now attending 'the other's' place of worship. Although the organization is grassroots, faith leaders are getting involved and spreading the word about interfaith cooperation to their communities. One Muslim Imam visited his native Libya and talked about his involvement with the festival; he reported that Libyans were impressed that Jews, Christians and Muslims were working together.
The Abraham Festival's website has had thousands of hits from all over the world, with the Netherlands and Turkey leading in number of requests. Many ask how they can start their own Abraham Festival and others want more information on how people of the three faiths are able to work together toward one goal.
The festival has addressed many challenges through the years, including: overcoming myths and assumptions about other groups; selecting themes that are relevant to the community; engaging a younger audience, which may be uninvolved with religion; applying for grants and other financial support; maintaining a positive approach in the midst of devastating world events, and communicating to various groups that the event is about religious similarities and differences, and not about the promotion of any specific religion.
Vision for the Future
The organizers hope to continue hosting the festival. They intend to keep using the café format and ensuring they provide adequate time for participants to interact.
They would also like to be able to invite well-known speakers who would draw in more people; however, sufficient funding will be required.
About the Abraham Festival
The Abraham Festival is organized by a group of people who represent three religions. They are committed to an annual event that promotes ongoing education and discussion to increase awareness of the three Abrahamic faiths.
Best Practice Contact
The Abraham Festival
858 Birchview Rd. Douro-Dummer, ON K0L 2H0