At a recent intercultural event, a woman approached Ibrahim Cin and told him his people and his culture were not wanted here. They should return to their homeland. Cin, a practicing Muslim, is originally from Turkey.
He politely acknowledged her opinion and was going to leave it at that.
“What could I say that wouldn’t take more than a brief response?” asked Cin.
The woman asked him if he was going to respond, so he invited her to talk. Almost two hours later, after open and genuine dialogue, she hugged him and told him she had an entirely new perspective.
If the premise of Edmonton’s Intercultural Dialogue Institute (IDI), of which Cin is the executive vice president, is to break down barriers, his encounter is a great demonstration. IDI is a Canada-wide agency for cultivating positive relationships among people and cultures.
“We [strive for] enduring intercultural and interfaith co-operation,” Cin explained from his office at Eastwood School.
The span of this undertaking is wide. Events organized by IDI include a seminar on the role of family in a child’s education and a Turkish cultural night held a month ago at Eastwood School, where people sampled Mediterranean and Turkish cuisine and MLA Chris Nielsen was an honorary guest.
“The social events are to share our culture,” said Cin, “to explain it and mingle with people.”
The role of panel discussions and seminars are to foster dialogue around weightier issues like interfaith perspectives on environmental issues, women’s issues and causes of radicalization.
Funded by donations and support from the business community, IDI is located in 10 Canadian cities. It serves communities under the umbrella of Canada’s Anatolian Heritage Federation, inspired by Fethullah Gülen, a scholar cleric living in America.
Gülen left Turkey after falling out with the government, which is clamping down on the press and has been putting some restrictions on religious groups. Through it all, Gülen’s faith-based motivation and peacebuilding commitments are filtered through his Sufi worldview.
IDI aspires to these same principles: tolerance, respect for differences, and social harmony. For Cin, Gülen provides a simple starting point: offer a chair to everyone in your heart.
That impulse in conjunction with IDI translates into platforms like community outreach and social gatherings. It’s a major undertaking, bringing together community leaders from law enforcement, local governments, universities and faith-based institutions. The emphasis is on building bridges.
“We’re not here to change people’s mentality or convert people from one [tradition] to another, whatever that may be,” said Cin. “It’s to know people and accept people with our differences and continue our lives peacefully.”
It’s a daunting task, but Cin seems up to it. After earning his economics degree in Turkey and doing postgraduate study at Carleton University, he worked for a financial institution and then went into business. But something wasn’t quite right.
“I woke up every morning feeling something was missing,” he said.
After volunteering with IDI, he was hired full time. And he no longer has that sense of lack.
While there’s often misunderstanding, the formula for reversing it is simple.
“Just stay away from everything that separates people,” he said. “You have to leave your biases on the side. If I feel that a person has prejudices, no matter what you say, the barrier must be left aside. It’s a first step and leads to lasting friendship.”
Intercultural Dialogue Institute Edmonton
Dr. Wilbert McIntyre Park (8303 – 104 St.) www.edmontonturkishfestival.ca
Header Image: MLA Chris Nielsen (right) and Dr Earle Waugh (left) make Turkish ravioli at Turkish Cultural Night held at Eastwood School. Credit: Supplied
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