A celebration of faith

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This past Saturday Cross Cultures Magazine (CCM) presented a multi-faith gathering, or ‘Panorama of Sacred Expression’ hosted at Forest Hill United Church in Kitchener. Albeit a small gathering, those in attendance presented a mosaic of beliefs and stimulated a great deal of conversation.

Event promotions described the event as an opportunity to share all things sacred from various religious faiths and denominations, and challenged anyone to “prove your faith has taught you love for all mankind.”

Although admission was free, the event encouraged participants to donate any non-perishable food item to the Food Bank. Participants themselves were provided with food and refreshments, engaging in an informal meet-and-greet before being seated for sharing and discussion.

Gehan D. Sabry, the editor of CCM, organized the event. Originally from Egypt, Sabry has lived in Canada for 24 years and considers herself a “secular Muslim.”

“It’s hard to go from a very uniform kind of society to something more diverse without adjusting socially” said Sabry. “Whatever ethnicity, faith, background, we are all human beings. There is no reason for one to think they are more or less than the other.”

Attendees participated in group meditation as well as being taught a bit of Hebrew by one speaker. For some present, these actions created discomfort rather than harmony. Edwin Laryea is a Canadian resident originally from Ghana. He described his experiences to the group, going over how his faith background was polytheistic and involved veneration of his ancestors.
“It makes me feel less than equal,” said Laryea, “Let me explain why. It is because I have no religion. How do these religions make me feel welcome? And equal?”

The issue did not seem novel to the group, but rather one mutually lived and experienced. Reverend Murray McLeod, one of the ministers for Forest Hill United, shared his concerns on this topic of inclusion.

“For me, faith is about identity. Who am I, and how do I relate to you?” said McLeod, “One of the places that most religious traditions fall down is when we forget that faith is about identity and start thinking it’s about power. Especially power over others.”

Originally from Pakistan, Ansar Raza has lived in Canada for 14 years and is a missionary for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. He spoke of his faith and his appreciation for the freedom to express it.

At a similar event, Raza said someone had asked him a question: Do you love your country of residence, or your country of your birth? Raza related his experiences to those of the prophet Muhammad.

“I am a follower of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him),” he said. “He was born in Mecca, but to avoid persecution had to migrate to another place …When the people asked him if he would return to his native land, he said no. He said ‘you gave me shelter when everyone was persecuting me. Now I’m going to live with you, and now I’m going to die with you.’ I love Canada. I’m going to live here, and I’m going to die here.”


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