Lisa Vandervelde/morning star                                Muhammad William Saleh, with the Vernon Muslim Association, speaks during the Sacred Spaces tour Saturday.

Lisa Vandervelde/morning star Muhammad William Saleh, with the Vernon Muslim Association, speaks during the Sacred Spaces tour Saturday.

BEYOND THE HEADLINES: There is room for all

Columnist Richard Rolke touches on the Sacred Spaces tour and the need for tolerance

As you walk through the doors, it seems like every other building you’ve ever been in. There are photos on the walls and books on a shelf. The only thing that really stands out are the Canadian flags.

Going further inside, tile transitions into warm carpet on your feet, and large windows provide a view of Vernon.

Hear the word mosque and many perceptions come to mind, but all of those were dashed during Saturday’s Sacred Spaces tour, including the claim that Islam isn’t inclusive or compatible.

“To me is my religion and to you is yours,” said Muhammad William Saleh, with the Vernon Muslim Association and tour host.

“It’s never been a religion that supports persecution. The prophet said everyone is the same in the eyes of God.”

Now Saleh’s comments may clash with what we hear and see on TV, and particularly images of cruelty, but Saleh insists ISIS is no more representative of Muslims than the Crusades or Canadian residential schools are indicative of Christians.

“It’s not the religious teachings that create those problems, it’s those people who don’t follow those teachings,” he said.

“It’s the people who hijack the religion and use it to justify their actions.”

One of the challenges is that Islam, like Christianity and other faiths, has numerous scholars and interpretations abound. Confusion can lead to misunderstanding.

That’s why the Muslim association took part in Sacred Spaces, which was organized by Vernon Interfaith Bridging.

“It gives an understanding of my faith and who I am or someone else. Even if you’re an atheist, we can sit and talk about who we are,” said Saleh.

Saleh was very upfront and didn’t shy away from potentially more contentious issues such as why men and women are separated when praying.

It was also an opportunity to understand how Saleh, of English/Irish background, became Muslim seven years ago.

“I never found peace in my life until I found Islam. Islam doesn’t allow me to harm myself or anyone else,” he said.

But he admits the shift required some adjustments. “The hardest thing for me was to leave bacon.”

After leaving the mosque, the tour converged on Polson Park for a traditional First Nations smudging ceremony.

“For us, every space is sacred,” said Mollie Bono, with the Okanagan Indian Band.

As the sage smoke wrapped around us, we were encouraged to contemplate and pray.

“Our people have used this as a cleansing for tens of thousands of years,” said Bono.

The tour then wrapped up at the People Place with presentations on the Baha’i and Buddhism, and the message of unity and understanding continued.

“We believe in the oneness of God. We’re all brothers and sisters,” said Garrett Brisdon, with the local Baha’i.

“You need to respect other people and the inter-dependence we have. It’s about having compassion for our place on Earth,” added Huston Cameron, with the Vernon Buddhist Temple.

Sacred Spaces was a reminder that there’s more in common between us than divisions — that your faith or lack of faith is part of who you are but it doesn’t completely define you. Round pegs don’t fit comfortably into square holes.

The tour is a journey I wish everyone could take, and particularly our local politicians who often set the tone for the community.