Emmanuel College begins to train Muslim clergy
By Jim Coggins | Tuesday, April 27, 2010
"THE Christian Church has always existed in a context filled with a wide diversity of religious expressions."
So declares the vision statement explaining why Emmanuel College has begun training leaders for the Muslim faith.
Emmanuel, whose main role has been to train clergy for the United Church of Canada, is one of the schools that make up the Toronto School of Theology at the University of Toronto.
At the end of March, it began offering its first two Islamic courses: 'Islamic Spirituality in a Health Care Setting' and 'The Qur'an in the Canadian Context.' These are continuing education courses, which confer no academic credit. However, students who complete all nine planned continuing education courses will be given a Canadian Certificate in Muslim Studies.
The courses are geared to four groups of people: imams (Muslim clergy) and other leaders in the Muslim community; community workers and Islamic school teachers; people engaged in interfaith dialogue; and people who just want to learn more about Islam.
The courses will help students understand "what it means to be a committed Muslim in the Canadian context," says Emmanuel principal Mark Toulouse. The majority of Muslims in Canada are immigrantsand they struggle with how to relate to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, for instance.
Toronto is the most logical place for such a program because it is "the most Muslim city in North America," Toulouse says. Muslims make up more than two per cent of the Canadian population, but five per cent of the population of Toronto. There are 60 mosques in the city.
The certificate is just the first step in Islamic studies at Emmanuel. The college is also developing an accredited two-year Master's degree in Islamic studies. It would be a second track in the current Master of Pastoral Studies program.
In the first year, while Christian students are studying the Bible, Christian theology, Christian ethics and the history of Christianity, Muslim students would be studying the Qur'an, Islamic theology, Islamic law and the history of Islam. In the second year, students from both tracks would take vocational training together, studying areas such as chaplaincy, and death and dying. The program would prepare Muslims to be chaplains, counsellors and imams.
The third step is for Emmanuel to hire a full-time Muslim professor, as early as fall 2010 and to raise enough money to endow a chair in Muslim studies.
The program arose out of "scriptural reasoning seminars" organized by Emmanuel and the University of Toronto in recent years, involving Christians, Muslims and Jews. As interfaith friendships were formed, conversations developed over the needs of the Muslim community in Toronto.
Emmanuel then spent two years consulting with the Muslim community, including the Canadian Council of Imams, the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, and representatives of the Sunni, Shia and Ismaili branches of Islam. Nevin Reda, the Muslim point person for the scriptural reasoning seminars, has been appointed coordinator for Emmanuel's Islamic programs.
Like Emmanuel's other programs, the Islamic studies programs will stress understanding and professional training. The courses will "embrace university values," Toulouse said, and "no class will set out what you must believe."
He stressed: "We are not out to make Muslims into Christians." He added that this approach is in keeping with the United Church position that "God is at work in Islam just as God is at work in Christianity" and that "Muslims don't need to become Christians to be faithful to God."
A version of this article first appeared in CanadianChristianity.com. It is reprinted with permission.