Saturday, October 6, 2012

Waterloo record Story: Oct 6, 2012: Conference to examine role of religion and state

Conference to examine role of religion and state

Participants from several faiths to share ideas on governance

Joseph Ho, Record Staff

Waterloo - Representative of various religions and philosophies will discuss the role of religion in governance at what is called the largest multi-faith event in Canada.

The 32nd World Religions Conference will be held on Saturday, Oct. 13, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the University of Waterloo in J.G. Hagey Hall. Admission is free.

This year's theme is "Idea of an Ideal Government." The conference will examine issues such as the separation of religion from the state and whether it provides any insight into good governance.

The conference will also people of different beliefs to share their views of how a country should be governed, said Nabeel Rana, chief planning and co-ordinating officer.

This year's conference includes seven speakers from aboriginal, Jewish, Islamic, Sikh, Hindu, Christian and Buddhist faiths.

Also included is Doug Thomas, president of the Society of Ontario Freethinker and founder of Secular Connexion Seculaire, representing humanism.

Thomas will discuss government reforms at the federal level he says are needed in a multicultural society.

Some changes he proposes include reforming income tax laws regarding religious charities and severing ties with the Queen, who also heads the Church of England.

"If we're going to get an ideal government in a multicultural society, we need to make sure everybody can get the table equally," he said.

Thomas doesn't expect politicians to abandon thier beliefs once they enter Parliament.

But Thomas said the Constitution needs to clearly define the role of church and state if fair laws are to be enacted.

The conference is also intended to foster dialogue between people different beliefs and to learn about each others' values and traditions.

"One of the main objectives of the event is to build relationships between the different faith groups," Rana said.

Thomas said people should visit the conference bazaar, where people can pick upi literature from each group and discuss what they've heard.

Following the event will be a question-and-answer session with the audience.

The organizer of the event are Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama`at of Canada, and the Ahmadiyya Mulslim Students' Association at Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo.

A year ago, controversy arose when Interfaith Grand River stopped endorsing the conference.

Rana said the interfaith group withdrew its support after Sunni and Shia Muslim groups claimed they were excluded from the event.

Those denominations were offered roles in Scripture reading, opening speeches, musical presentation and the bazaar, but they declined, he said.

Speakers at the conference are asked to represent the general religious group, not a specific sect, Rana said.

To register for the event, visit

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A contemporary look at faith

A contemporary look at faith 

Liz Monteiro, Record staff Tue Oct 12 2010

[Waterloo Record Story Reproduced]

WATERLOO — We are all guilty of it.
Being so busy with everyday life — be it work, getting dinner on the table, driving the kids to swimming or hockey practice and going to bed at a decent time so you can do it all over again the next day.
Today’s technology keeps you connected 24/7.
So what about time to reflect, to ponder, to think about something other than one’s day-to-day distractions?
“I haven’t met a single person who doesn’t ask for a greater sense of meaning in their lives,’’ said Kulvir Singh Gill, a practicing Sikh from Brampton who will speak in Waterloo at an upcoming conference.
“If something is important to you, you make time for it,’’ said Gill, who tries to pray three times a day. “Life is about choices.’’
Having faith plays an important part in his life and doesn’t mean sacrificing what others consider living, he said.
Gill watches television on his cellphone, keeps track of world events through tweets on Twitter and talks regularly with family in India on Facebook.
As a management consultant, the 33-year-old has a busy work schedule and also volunteers with Sikh youth, the Sikh arts council, a food bank and Habitat for Humanity.
Gill said keeping faith in his daily life is part of his routine and being a Sikh means a daily routine is at the heart of his faith.
“If you don’t have a routine, you are left to your own devices,’’ he said.
Gill said when he talks about his faith with others who share his beliefs or those who don’t, he feels closer to his religious roots. Born in Calgary to Sikh parents, Gill has practiced Sikhism since he was a child.
He is one of eight speakers at the World Religions Conference to be held at the Humanities Theatre at the University of Waterloo Oct. 16.
The conference, organized by Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, is celebrating its 30th anniversary. It’s a multi-faith event that brings together speakers of various faiths. This year’s theme is keeping faith alive in contemporary society.
The faiths represented include aboriginal, atheist, Buddhist, Christian, Hinduism, Islamic, Jewish and Sikhism.
The conference, which is free, will offer a complimentary lunch and dinner for participants.
Conference co-ordinator Nabeel Rana said the conference is an opportunity to build friendships with groups who might not interact with each other.
“It’s an opportunity to understand the other perspective, not to call any perspective or view weird,’’ said Rana, a software engineer at RIM.
He said the theme is chosen after consultation with conference faith partners which include K-W Council of Churches, Interfaith Grand River and other religious groups.
In the past, subjects discussed have ranged from the existence of God, the concept of salvation, the relevancy of God and how religion can protect the environment.
Rana said a similar conference might have attracted several thousand people 100 years ago because faith was more relevant to people.
“There seems to be a decline in terms of popularity, excitement of faith,’’ he said.
Rana, takes time out for Friday prayers by joining other Ahmadiyya Muslims in a rented room at the University of Waterloo.
Stuart Bechman, a humanist from California who runs the Atheist Alliance International, said he relies on reason, purpose and science as a way to achieving a fulfilled life and a better future.
He said there isn’t necessarily a higher purpose but a broader one.
“For me, it’s education, learning about the world around me. The reflection part is really important,’’ Bechman said.
Raised in the United Methodist Church in Arizona, he said he “appreciates the awe and wonder” of other religions.
Bechman believes all conference participants are talking about the same issues.
“Some describe it in mystical terms. We keep it to a human level. It’s not so mysterious,’’ he said.
Christopher Ross, a religion and culture professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said one shouldn’t worry about keeping faith alive because it meets a human need.
Buddhism and Buddhist mediation is an antidote to the daily distraction in people’s lives, said Ross, a practicing Buddhist for the past 13 years.
He said most people are distracted, multi-tasking and juggling their day with various activities. He sees it in the hallways of the university where students walk to class as they are talking on the phone or texting.
“This underscores the need for a spiritual practice,’’ said Ross, who meditates twice a day.
Ross, who’s been meditating for 30 years, said it is a “positive addiction” that gets him through the day.
For Buddhists, the focus is on the present, providing an inner peace and steering away from the “incessant judgment people face each day — am I good person, am I good parent, am I meeting my target.’’
When one meditates, one becomes aware of the distractions, “creating a framework in which it’s easier to let go of evaluation,’’ Ross said.
Other speakers for the daylong event are:
Chandar Khanna of Toronto — representing Hinduism
Daniel Maoz of Kitchener — representing Judaism
Charles Van Alphen of Waterloo — speaking about Christianity
Walter Cooke of Hamilton — on Aboriginal Spirituality
Mubarak A. Nazir of Toronto — representing Islam
For more information on the conference and registration, go to the website:


Conference explores nature of God


Conference explores nature of God 

By Liz Monteiro, Record staff | Sat Oct 01 2011

WATERLOO — It’s the mother of all questions.
The question has been asked since humans walked the earth and it’s still being contemplated today. For some, it’s a simple answer, while for others it remains ambiguous.
The question of Who is God? will be addressed at the 31st World Religions Conference at the Humanities Theatre at the University of Waterloo today. The daylong event is free and sponsored by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at of Canada.
Eight speakers from various faith perspectives will address the question and the characteristics of God. The faiths represented include aboriginal, atheism, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islamism, Judaism and Sikh.
Conference co-ordinator Nabeel Rana said this year’s theme came from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Student’ Association at both local universities.
Although God may be interrupted differently, most mainstream religions agree there is only one God.
Swami Bhagwan Shanker of Hamilton said there is a misperception in society and within Hindu circles that there are many gods in Hinduism, but there is only one.
The Hindu god has numerous characteristics, which are reflected in the faith’s many idols. It’s a way of giving physical form to something indescribable, Shanker said.
“God resides in all things,’’ said the 53-year-old Hindu priest who oversees congregations in Hamilton and in Toronto.
Imam Muhammad Afzal Mirza from Mississauga says the majority of the world’s population believes in the existence of God.
Mirza said it’s not enough to say that God doesn’t exist because he cannot be seen, heard or touched.
There is scientific evidence about many things that exist but that we cannot perceive with our primary senses, he said. An example of this is how a seemingly empty room can be filled with a mixture of gases.
Mirza said most religions have a concept of God and his attributes at their core of their teachings. Religions provide detailed and clear descriptions of the being of God as compared to human reason, he said.
Allan Gould, a Toronto author who lectures frequently on Jewish topics, said Jews are not obsessed with theology. Instead, God is a given, he said.
“Judaism is a God-infused faith not a God-obsessed faith,’’ he said.
At the core of Judaism is whether one is deserving of God’s love and how to attain it, Gould said. The Jewish concept of charity is referred to as Tzedakah in Hebrew which means righteousness. To be righteous in the eyes of God, means giving to others, Gould said.
There is no choice, he said. By giving, the Jew is fulfilling the holy act of Tzedakah and being a righteous person and fulfilling God’s expectations.
“It’s what you do in your life that is important,’’ he said.
From the Christian perspective, Pastor Rick Pryce of St. Philip Lutheran Church in Kitchener said God is the other who came to earth in Jesus.
He embodied otherness, living up to no one’s expectations, playing by no one’s rules and questioning assumptions, Pryce said.
“God is a god of love who will sacrifice everything based on love and ultimately that love wins,’’ he said.
Pryce said God also comes to us through the other. Otherness can be different gender, race, nationality, economic status or criminal history. We see the face of Christ in others, he said.
“People who are different shake us up and challenge our priorities,’’ he said.
For aboriginal spiritual adviser Gerard Sagassige there is only one God. But the God some pray to isn’t the one he holds as the Creator.
“God isn’t assimilating,’’ said the cultural adviser at Healing of the Seven Generations in Kitchener.
“Religion is assimilating free spirit, free self and free belief,’’ said the 51-year-old Ojibwe of the Great Mississauga Nation.
“My God isn’t revengeful. My God isn’t dictatorship,’’ Sagassige said. “My God is no different than your God.’’
Other speakers at the event are:
   Hari Nam Singh Khalsa of Toronto representing Sikhism
   Doug Thomas of Elmira representing Humanism
   Sister Thich nu Tinh Quang of Hamilton representing Buddhism
For more information on the conference, go to

 Waterloo Record Story - Source: