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Religious leaders to discuss common ground

Elizabeth McMillan
Northern News Services
Published Friday, August 28, 2009

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - A religious conference scheduled for September will bring people from four different faiths into one room, a feat the organizers call a miracle in itself.

Basheer Islam, a software engineer and architect Kalim Ahmed, both from Calgary, were in Yellowknife Monday to make preparations for the third World Religions Conference to be held between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 27 at the Explorer Hotel. Doors open at 2:30 p.m and admission is free.

"We've been hosting events in larger cities and universities … There was desire to bring this message to the smaller towns," said Islam.

Islam and Ahmed said the conference is an opportunity for the public to learn about philosophical traditions and to foster understanding between groups that have been historically divided.

"It's not a debate. Our aim is to find the commonalities and appreciate the common ground, to accept each other even if there is a hint of difference of opinion," said Islam. "It's a forum for people to present their beliefs and understand each other."

They hope it will increase dialogue and show that many religions have similar views.

This year's theme is "The Concept of Salvation." Each presenter will have 20 minutes to discuss their perspective and then the audience will be able to ask questions.

Harold Cook will be representing Native Spirituality, Alex Beaudin, Buddhism, Peter Chynoweth, Christianity, and Salman Khalid is the Islamic speaker. Mayor Gord Van Tighem will once again be the moderator.

Beaudin and Chynoweth both participated in last fall's conference. The October event drew close to 100 people. This year, the organizers are hoping to attract more than 200 people.

"This sort of destroys prejudice and opens up people's minds to other religions and practices and I find that constructive," Beaudin said of last year's panel.

Admed said part of the goal of the conference is to challenge misconceptions about Islam, because he said so many people associate it with violence and terrorism, when it really is a peaceful religion.

Beaudin agreed, adding that he is looking forward to hearing the Islamic panelist's perspective on salvation and the Muslim concept of Jihad. He said the panel showed "not everyone involved in a religion thinks the same way."

The conference is put on by the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, a non-profit organization that emphasizes "peace for all and hatred for none."

The community was founded in India in 1889. There are now chapters in 97 countries and several across Canada, the closest of which is in Edmonton.

This is the 37th year the Islamic group has hosted World Religions Conferences in Canada.