By Liz Monteiro, Record staff
Sun May 01 2011
WATERLOO REGION — A local group of faith communities is no longer offering its support for the World Religions Conference hosted annually by area Ahmadiyya Muslims.
Interfaith Grand River said it can’t continue to sponsor the Ahmadiyya Muslim annual event because the Muslim speaker at the daylong event has always come from the Ahmadiyya faith, excluding other Muslim traditions.
“We can’t put our name to that because it doesn’t represent the diversity within that religious tradition,’’ said Sandy Milne, a member of the Interfaith Grand River steering committee.
“It’s really hard to reflect diversity all the time, but you try to make the effort,’’ said Milne.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Association of Canada at the University of Waterloo has held the World Religions Conference in Waterloo for 30 years. The daylong event was last held in October.
The conference, billed as a multi-faith event, represents different faiths including aboriginal, atheist, Buddhist, Christian, Hinduism, Judaism and Sikhism. The speaker on Islam has always been of the Ahmadiyya tradition.
The issue came to a head in October, 2008, when representatives of the Sunni and Shia Muslim traditions sent a letter to Interfaith Grand River challenging the group’s support for the conference that claimed to represent Islam but did not include Muslims from the Sunni and Shia tradition.
Most Muslims don’t consider those of the Ahmadiyya faith to be true Muslims. The Ahmadiyya are seen as heretics because the movement’s 19th-century founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, claimed to be the Messiah.
For most in the Islamic faith, there is no other prophet after Prophet Muhammed.
Conflict mediation was held with both Islamic faith groups and Interfaith Grand River but a consensus could not be reached, Milne said.
Nabeel Rana, conference co-ordinator and a local Ahmadiyya Muslim, said the Ahmadiyyas, who host the conference and spend about $20,000 to put on the free event, said they reserve the right of final selection for Muslim speakers.
“We need a certain level of comfort,’’ said the software engineer at RIM. “Those groups are prejudiced against us. How can we collaborate with them?’’
Rana said the conference agreed to allow other Muslim traditions to read from Qur’an, set up booths and displays and to participate in the planning of the conference. But the speaker would identify as Ahmadiyyan, he said.
Rana said the Ahmadiyyans were offended by the remarks from other Muslims suggesting they were not true Muslims.
“Those were brutal remarks against us yet we were open to a meeting,’’ he said.
Rana said Ahmadiyyans have a long history of persecution. Last May about 100 people were killed in mosques in Pakistan and Bangladesh. In Pakistan, it is against the law to profess to be an Ahmadiyya Muslim, he said.
Interfaith Grand River steering committee member Brice Balmer said the coalition is not asking the different Muslim traditions to agree on theology or dogma.
“We are asking people to listen to one another,’’ he said.
Interfaith Grand River said individual members are free to continue supporting the conference and the door is always open for Ahmadiyya Muslims to attend Interfaith meetings.
“I think they (Ahmadiyya Muslims) are doing marvellous work,’’ said Milne.