QUEEN'S PARK NOV 27, 2003 - Presentation by Raheel Raza
afternoon and Salaam Alaikum - I'm delighted to be here despite being
warned at an early age by my mother, never to mix politics and
religion. I want to especially than the
Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition for inviting me here
religious inclusiveness is not only only a global ideal, but an important
Canadian initiative. We live in perilous times where theories
about a 'clash of civilizations' abound. While the world has
become a global village in terms of technology, travel and trade, the
same strides are not seen in the world of faith. It seems that the
most troubled areas of the world, are areas involved in religious
conflict. Challenges faced by people of faith are enormous, but
there is light at the end of the tunnel when we realize that 'humanity
so one community' (al Qur'an), and many of our concerns are
similar. As people of faith we are all concerned about truth and
justice, about poverty and violence and international human rights.
believe that the clash of civilizations can be averted if we can have
communication between citizens of the earth, and as theologian Hans Kung
has said, there can be no survival of democracy without a coalition of
believers and non believers in mutual respect.
do we build mutual respect? In these challenging and too often
troubled times, we need new perspectives and models so that we can find
humane answers to the challenges of globalization, based on a deep
respect for the diversity of cultures and religions in our world
community. There is a desperate need for new and practical ways of
reintroducing spirituality, ethics and faith into the international
debate on globalization, and the local consultation on inclusiveness and
and Gentlemen, I believe that Canada is the model the world needs to
emulate. I'm not alone in this thought. Karen Armstrong,
prolific author and theologian was invited this summer to the launch of
WEBB - Women engaging in Bridge Building on Parliament Hill, Ottawa
where she spoke about building bridges and religious inclusiveness.
Ms. Armstrong said that in her travels across the globe she has seen
only one country where pluralism can work successfully - that country is
you can imagine how energized I am to see 6the latest edition of Time
magazine where the cover story is called A NATION AT PRAYER - I don't have to tell you which
nation they are talking about but if you have any doubts, just look
around you and tell me honestly, which other country in the world
invites it's multi-faith practitioners to a discussion about religious
inclusiveness in the heart of it's political arena?
this issue of Time magazine, they write about a Vision TV/Time poll
which finds that 84% of Canadians agree that all religions have elements
of truth and three quarters believe that Canada's religious diversity is
a source of strength for religious beliefs.... that same diversity of
religious experience in Canada may be increasing our tendency to explore
faith. Furthermore, 7 out of 10 Canadians say they are interested
in learning more about other religions and spiritual matters.
illustrate this even better, I want share with you, an email I received
a few days ago. I don't know the writer but it warmed my heart,
reinforcing my belief in the powers of religious diversity.
Clemmons, Jr. writes: Dear Ms Raza: I received information that you are
participating in a conference at the Episcopal Center in North Carolina
at the end of January 2004. My wife and I had the privilege of
visiting Toronto recently and we met some really fine people
there. I was really impressed by all the different racial and
ethnic groups living in relative harmony, and at times felt like
there was real brotherhood and sisterhood there. Yes I thought
Toronto was an exceptional place. Do you feel the same way about
it? I am an American, born and raised in the Christian
tradition, and a spiritual life is very important to me. I respect
other religions as well. I am disturbed by the pointless hatred
that is so prevalent in the world. As a person who wants to
believe in the brotherhood of humanity despite all the evidence I see,
if you think it would be worthwhile for me to attend, I will try to
overcome some obstacles and come there to participate.
answer to Mr. Clemmons and to you my friends, is: Yes, you are right -
while Toronto and Ontario are leaders in diversity, Canada overall is an
exceptional multi-faith and multicultural mosaic. We have
something quite unique in Canada and if we don't
and promote it - we'll lose it.
years I've lived in Toronto, I've seen the growth of multi-faith groups
their freedom of religious expression.
has given protection to people of faith who were persecuted, sometimes
in their country of birth. Here we live with freedom to practice
our faith in any way we like.
Differences in belief systems
don't have to lead to confrontation. In my tradition we believe
that unity of people doesn't necessarily mean their uniformity
the unique concept of a garland of different flowers making a beautiful
bouquet certainly personifies what Canada means to many of
me to share with you that Canada is being plugged as an international
model of a pluralistic society. People will draw upon Canadian
experience to help other societies engender pluralism in their
institutions, laws and policies. Forming partnerships with Canada
becomes valuable for institutions, laws and policies. Forming
partnerships with Canada becomes valuable for institutions and
individuals, who will serve as a strategic global source of values,
knowledge, experience and practices of pluralism for diverse peoples
from around the world. I have been invited to speak at three
conferences in 2004, in USA, Dubai and Spain to
talk about what makes
But we can't rest on our laurels. We still have a
long way to go and need to practice what we preach.
the respected Dalai Lama said: It's not enough to belong to a
religion. You also have to put it into practice. Religion is
like a medicine. You have to ingest it to combat the illness.
about illness, across the Lakes an to the South of us, the waters are
clearly murky. According to their diversity survey, it was found
that only 54 percent of the American public thinks all religions are equally true; 47 percent of respondents were of the view that the
word "fanatical" applied to the religion of Islam. Nearly one
quarter (23 percent) said they favored making it illegal for Muslim
groups to meet in the U.S. for worship.
While perceptions of Hindus and Buddhists were more favorable, one
person in five still favored making it illegal for these groups to meet.
can only say thank God for Canada where pluralism is no longer a luxury
–but has become a necessity of life, and we have a choice. Either we
embrace brother-hood, or other-hood.
may ask what is Religious inclusiveness? As a Muslim I could say that it
means inclusion of my faith in the mainstream. The good news is that I
see inclusion of my faith. Imagine
my surprise when after a decade of writing about Islam and Ramadhan, I
walked past the Hudson’s Bay Store on Yonge street and saw huge
posters in their windows saying Happy Ramadan. Similarly, IKEA has introduced décor for Muslim celebrations in
their new brochure; the provincial government gives us vacation with pay
for our religious celebrations and schools reflect many of Islam’s
holy days. This is a small start and I’m thrilled to see the
transformation. Across the
street from my home, a strip mall boasts of a halal meat shop alongside
a lingerie store – this is the reality of pluralism in Canada.
the religious inclusiveness
we are talking about here
is not just acceptance of a
few faiths; rather inclusion of all faith communities that make Canada
their home because each faith brings valuable reflections and expands
our understanding of the human community. If we want our faith to be reflected in the mainstream, then we
must also lobby for other faiths. I
should add here that a significant imperative of religious inclusiveness
is to address our mutual concerns about social justice and social
reform. Together we can work towards our common goals of eliminating
homelessness, child poverty, drugs, domestic violence and the pursuit of
education reforms. These
issues are important to all of us, and transcend barriers of faith.
United we can have a strong voice and become a force for the Government
to contend with.
of our objectives should also be to share each other’s pain. Saadi, a
Sufi philosopher writes:
beings are like parts of one body – when one section is wounded, the
whole body hurts. You, who feel no pain for others, are not worthy of
being called human.
our pursuit of justice, we must also recognize, accept and respect the
majority tradition that this country was built upon. In our rush to
build bridges, we must be cautious not to harm the foundation that’s
already in place. The Judeo-Christian values that Canada has upheld for
decades are strong values and we can ADD to them – not eliminate them
in order to promote our own agenda. Once we start the dialogue, we’ll
find we have more in common than differences.
now we are heading into the Christmas and Hanukah season. These
Festivals must be acknowledged whether we religiously celebrate them or
not. Let it be POLITICALLY CORRECT to say Merry Christmas, Happy
Hanukah, Eid Mubarak or Happy Diwali instead of lumping them all
together under one generic greeting of Happy Holidays - which sounds
like my kids wishing us when we went on a cruise.
must make an effort to celebrate our differences because our long-term
vision should not be one of just tolerating each other – tolerance is
not inclusive, it divides. What
we want to achieve is acceptance, mutual harmony and working together
towards the common good. (see Canadian Living magazine December 2003
issue in the column titled O Canada)
would say this is impossible. I would offer that it’s already
happening on a small scale. Ten years ago, did you or I know what a
multi-faith or multicultural calendar was? No, but someone who cares
about religious inclusiveness has taken the time to reflect major faith
celebrations in one document. In classrooms across Canada, various faiths are being
recognized and celebrated, and it would not be at all amiss as far as
I’m concerned if in the public and private sector, in education and
media, a different faith is reflected, celebrated or acknowledged every
day of the year. After all, students spend time and money to take a
course in Religions of the World – here all of us have the opportunity
to learn about world religions without benefit of a University course.
we come to the question of how religious inclusiveness will take place?
Can it be imposed by governments? I don’t think so. Religious
inclusiveness (in my humble opinion) only happens when faith communities
and their leaders join hands with politicians to forge an understanding
that through partnerships in a pluralistic society we can encourage
socially beneficial peace, nature friendly behavior and ecumenical
decisions. To be sure, many people are already committing themselves to
these goals, but a deeper change of consciousness is needed. Religious
inclusivity has to be promoted from the pulpit. In places of worship, whether they are churches, temples, mosques
or synagogues – the message should be one of pluralism and respect.
will help us gain respect for each other and work on the bases of common
visions, ideals, values, aims and criteria. This will also help us
eliminate the seed of racism which is ignorance. We have to understand
that we have the power and
to move beyond mere tolerance towards accepting all
cultures and religions.
Aga Khan who is the spiritual leader of the Ismaili community is in the
process of building a center for Pluralism in Canada and in his remarks
about the importance of such an institution he said “Fostering
pluralism could be Canada's most powerful lever in enhancing its
relations with all countries -- in the Muslim world, in the larger
developing world, and even in the West. Promoting pluralism provides an
inclusive, sensitive approach to foreign relations. It means neither
promulgating a single-faith/single-culture perspective, nor risking the
perception that a single faith or society is being targeted for
criticism. A focus on fostering pluralism would not only enhance
relations between Canada and the Muslim world, it would also increase
security and prosperity in Canada and around the world. Promoting
pluralism could hold for Canada in the 21st century what peacekeeping
held in the 20th century.”
end with the worlds of Hans Kung which I think, encapsulates the message I’ve tried to bring here today.
will be peace on earth when there is peace among the world religions”,
he says. “No world peace without
peace among religions; no peace among religions without dialogue between