The first mosque I ever visited was in a Toronto building that started its life as a Presbyterian church. I don’t think that usage was predestined.
It was the Summer of 1989 and the mosque visit was part of an orientation session being given before we moved to Africa. I think the idea was that, while mosques at that time were rare in Canada, there were a lot where we were going, and it would be helpful if we had been to one on at least one previous occasion.
I thought of that visit this week when I was reading news reports about the sale of Ottawa’s Northwestern United church to the mosque next door. Despite offers from Christian organizations, the church chose to sell its facility to the Muslims. I have to wonder why.
In the case of that former Presbyterian church in Toronto, I could not give an informed opinion on the conversion of that building into a mosque. I don’t know if the congregation outgrew the building and moved to newer, bigger premises, or whether attrition had taken its toll and the remaining worshippers could no longer afford to maintain the building. I suspect the latter. I don’t know if they agonized over turning over the facility to be used to propagate a non-Christian religion, or whether they were just glad someone wanted it.
I do know that I was uneasy on my visit. It just seemed wrong that a church had been deconsecrated and handed over to the proponents of Islam.
I felt the same way when I visited the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. It was a church, then a mosque and is now a museum. At least it wasn’t sold to a Muslim group. It was seized by force. Northwestern United’s congregation doesn’t have that excuse.
The sale speaks to me of what is perhaps a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of religion. One congregant was quoted as saying that they were happy the building would still be used for God’s work. The media reports that I saw mentioned no dissenting voices.
But religion is not a service club that exists to do good works in the community. And choosing one or the other is not as simple as deciding whether to join Rotary or Kiwanis. Religions each offer a unique way of looking at society. These are competing visions, not complementary ones. It is not a matter of choosing which hockey or football team you are going to cheer for. Choosing a religion has eternal consequences.
Christianity and Islam have very little in common, though that is not the way the media these days would describe it. But one thing they do have in common is an insistence that their faith is the only way to bridge the gap between man and God. If Christianity is true then Islam must be false. And vice versa. There is no middle ground, not if you read the Bible or the Koran.
Which may be why I am so baffled by whomever at Northwestern United Church made the decision on this sale. As I understand it, there were Christian groups who wanted to purchase the property. To reject those offers would seem to me to be a betrayal of trust; to sell to a Muslim group who will use the facility for the glory of Allah is a denial of everything the people of Northwestern United Church once held dear. Somewhere a rooster is crowing.
Yes, I understand the mosque is right next door to the church. And the two organizations have a history of friendship. But don’t get me started on the million dollar interest-free loan from the church to the mosque. McDonald’s doesn’t loan money to Burger King.
Geographical proximity is a bad basis for spiritual decisions. Somehow they missed that at Northwestern United.