My Visit to Toronto 2018 Parliament of World Religions

My Story

Here are two reasons why I went to The Parliament of World Religions Toronto 2018 event.

Several years ago, when I was still in my twenties, I met a wonderful Chinese-Canadian woman. I was fresh from Pakistan where I had lived in a city that did not had Internet or libraries. I only had access to books from my school and one bookstore. That is all I had! As a result of this, I was not educated in Politics, Religions, and Global Issues. The only thing I learned in some detail was Islam and how Islam ties all humans as one brotherhood by declaring anti-racist statements. My Chinese-Canadian friend introduced me, just a little bit, to her religion Buddhism as well as some political issues. Our hearts were pure and young; and, we really loved and trusted each other. I wanted to learn from her; and, I promised her that one day I will make time to learn these things. However, I lost contact with her some years ago because she ran away from her hometown due to domestic abuse—she had always made sure that I never saw or met her close family members except for one uncle (safer person) because she was very scared of them and she did not want me to mix with them for some reason. She hid her plan to leave from me because she did not want me to feel any pain or injury; and, instead of telling me what was going to happen, she treated me to dinner and a heartfelt chat the night after she left forever. It was heartbreaking to lose someone so awesome! But, I needed to keep the promise I made with her simply because I felt that doing so is an appropriate way of celebrating a champion like L.C. She was telepathic just like me. I still remember doing a reading with her while sitting outside the North Building of University of Toronto Mississauga. She used to say, “Arzoo, let more and more people see you. They will fall in love with you”. She did a complete makeover of my thoughts and behaviour through her generous company and comments. L.C. is the reason why I find the current fights that are taking place between the Muslims and Buddhists meaningless.

The second reason for attending this transformative event is one of my lucid dreams. On Oct 28, I wrote the post “Dream of ‘Breaking Bread’ With Friends” in which I discussed how I dreamt of meeting Dr. Craig Considine and some of his friends. This lucid dream took place some months before Oct 28; my precognitive dreams can take place several months and rarely some years before they are actually fulfilled. After seeing this dream, I felt sure that I will meet some great speakers at this particular event; and, that I must not miss. As a result of all this struggle, this dream was actualized on Nov 03 and I wrote about on this on Nov 04.

Please journey further with me and learn about this spectacular event!

Morning Assemblies

Indigenous Peoples’ Assembly

Cree Nation’s National Chief Perry Bellegarde discussed five elements of self-identification: languages, lands, laws, people, and government. He said that language is vital for identity; and, that the Aboriginal nations have both rights and responsibilities. He stressed that there are two laws in Canada: Civil Law and Common Law. But, there is a third law that must be recognized: Creators Law/Natural Law/First Nations Law.

Margaret Lokawua of “Women Environmental Conservation Project” reviewed the sexual rights and health issues of indigenous women. She commented that the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) is essential for protecting and empowering of Indigenous women. She said that the women can revitalize their indigenous community, which includes working on existing problems including environmental issues.

Dr. Wilton Littlechild stated that there is a strong need to pay attention to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). He mentioned that there is a strong need for justice and reconciliation for the victims of the residential schools. Some principles of reconciliation that were identified by Dr. Littlechild are 1) UNDRIP;  2) constitutional and treaty rights of  First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people; 3) reconciliation through sharing, apology, and commemoration; action to address destructive impacts on Aboriginal society; 4) and revitalization and integration of the Aboriginal cultural revitalization, knowledge systems, histories, and laws.

The “Countering War, Hate & Violence” Assembly

Rev. Dr. Shanta D. Premawardhana mentioned that religion shares love and inclusion, which is failing because extremists are using religions as tools to meet their own needs. He said that we can overcome this by exploring different traditions and religions. He said that he has taken his organization, OMNIA, to Northeastern Nigeria where he and his team has built 52 interfaith peacemaking teams. These groups are able to build power so that they can act collaboratively while working with those in the margins and building the contextual theologies that comes from below (not “top-down” but “bottom-up”).

Father Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam discussed several aspects of World Peace. One such facet around which peace is centered is human dignity. He said that humans have the right to live; right to have bodily integrity; right to have access to means needed for development including food, clothing, shelter, health care, rest, and social services.

Sakeena Yakubi, Founder and Executive Director of the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) and Afghanistan’s mother of education, shared a picture of the Afghanistan that existed around 40 years ago. She stated that 40 years ago,  Afghanistan was a beautiful and peaceful country. Afghanis could go anywhere they wanted to without feeling scared. They trusted everyone and everybody; thus they were free and fully enjoyed their freedom. But war has destroyed everything. Afghanis don’t trust others anymore because every day they have to deal with bomb threats and murders.

Plenaries

The “Faith and Interfaith: From Grassroots to Global” Plenary

Emcee Tarunjit Butalia introduced the plenary by offering greetings from various religions of this world. Some of the salutations included Native American greeting “To-hi-du-lit” (Good Peace of mind, body, and spirit); Jewish greeting “Shalom” (Hello, Peace); Baha’i greeting “Allah O’ Abha” (God is the most glorious); Hindu greeting “Namaste” (I salute the divinity in you); Islamic greeting “Assalam-u-Alaikum (May the peace and blessings of God be upon you); and, Christian greeting “This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it”.

Valarie Kaur of the “Revolutionary Love project” shared that she has always wanted her daughter to inherit a nation where women are believed. She stated that in the US a global trend is on the rise: far-right movements now have power and they are threatening democracy and human rights including women rights. She said that every day she asks the same question: “What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb but the darkness of the womb. What if America is not dying but waiting to be born. What if a new world is waiting to be born?”

His Excellency, Cardinal Blasé Cupich, started his speech by bringing up the shooting that took place at the Tree of Life synagogue of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on October 27, 2018. He called for the healing of the victims of this shooting by emphasizing that people of all faiths are joined together in solidarity for this Anti-Semitic act. He noted that the younger generation is playing a crucial role in creating change in the society. He further reviewed how the world is using wars to settle conflicts; and, how it cares less about what is being left for the future generation while collecting all the reaped profits. Then, Cardinal Blasé Cupich continued discussing that the current economy, environment, and politics must be changed with the help of this world’s religions.

The Closing Plenary

John Troy, Mayor of Toronto, addressed the Closing Plenary with the message that underlying values of religions are the same; and, they have to do with treating people with dignity, respect, humanity, and compassion. He stressed the importance of bringing people together in this world where some people are trying to divide, cause conflict, and cause something that is worse than ideological or faith related conflict.

Bob Rae mentioned that we need to fully realize how destructive and terrible the power of hate is; and, we also need to understand the tragedy that religion has been used to give rise to as much hate as it has given to love. We have to fight and we must challenge those who are using faiths as instruments of hate and destruction.

Larry Greenfield stated that Religions of World must reverse the ways of tolerating inequality wherever it appears; discrimination on basis of race and gender; any other violations of human dignity; mistreatment of animals; destruction of Earth’s resources; and other movements that channel these processes.

Lectures

Lecture 1: Citizen Engagement: How Democracies Can Thrive in the Age of Populism

Speaker: John Ralston Saul

During his lecture, “Citizen Engagement: How Democracies Can Thrive in the Age of Populism”, John Ralston Saul provided some context that is required for one to become an engaged citizen. He said that the citizen is the source of legitimacy of state. It is not the constituency because emperors can lose their power if they are unable to help the people. Then, he compared nationalism, populism, and democracy. He stressed that the Citizen Model allows people to clean up the corruption by granting them power to do so.

Lecture 2: Faiths Rising with Global, Local Multi-Faith Environmental Leadership: Connecting with GreenFaith

Speakers: Fletcher Harper, Irene Woodard, Estrella Sainburg, Malik Saafir, Rev. Dr. Neddy Astudillo, Gopal Patel, Kyle Lemel, and Nana Firman.

Green Faith interfaith coalition addresses environmental issues holistically. They discussed how they are building new policies, resources, and tools that will allow people of faith to act as engaged activists who are ready to change the environment. The speakers reviewed some religious teachings to show critical role of religion in saving the environment. They further discussed how Green Faith achieves its objectives by coordinating several campaigns and mobilizations ; e.g., “The Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice” that took place in New York in Sep, 2018.

Lecture 3: An Offering of the Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad to the Christians of the World in the 21st Century

Speakers: Charles Upton, John Andrew Morrow, Jennifer Doane Upton, Abdul Malik Mujahid, and Craig Considine

The speakers are part of the Covenants Initiative that seeks to tell the world about how Prophet Mohammad of Islam formed covenants to protect the Christians. The speakers challenged the current Christians to oppose Islamophobia because the current Muslims are opposing how ISIS is slaughtering Christians and Muslims. One of the speakers quoted Prophet Mohammad: “And even as they honor and respect me, so shall Muslims care for [the Christians] as being under our protection and whensoever any distress or discomfort shall overtake them, Muslims shall hold themselves in duty bound to aid and care for them, for they are a people subject to my Nation, obedient to their word, whose helpers also they are”. To listen to the full lecture, click here.

You can visit the official website of Parliament of World Religions here; Twitter Account Updates and Live Feeds are available here.

I took some photos with the help of my cellphone simply because I broke my camera, Samsung Digital Camera (pink color), a while ago. Here is the movie of the event. Please enjoy!

Copyright © by Arzoo Zaheer. All Rights Reserved.

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