Dialogue not debate: World Religions Conference in Canada – Do we need God to be good?

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Syed Mukarram Nazeer, Canada Correspondent

The fourth World Religions Conference was held on 15 November 2021 in Vernon, BC (province of British Columbia), Canada reported Rizwan Peerzada Sahib.  

The aim of the World Religions Conference is to offer different faiths an opportunity to present their perspective on a common topic. The conference was held simultaneously as a virtual and in-person event. 

Vernon is a city in the Okanagan Region of the Southern Interior of British Columbia, Canada. It is 440 km (270 miles) northeast of Vancouver.

The city of Vernon, which was incorporated on 30 December 1892, has a population of 43,000 and is the largest city in the North Okanagan Regional District. A resident of Vernon is called a “Vernonite”. 

In 2006, Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya British Colombia region hosted the first World Religions Conference in Kelowna, which is 40 km (24 miles) from Vernon. Eight successful World Religions Conferences were held in subsequent years. In 2018, the conference was moved to Vernon city.  

Holding a World Religions Conference is a major undertaking. Presently all organisational efforts are done under the guidance of the regional coordinator of British Colombia, Rizwan Peerzada Sahib. 

This year, the theme of the conference was “Do we need God to be good?” The event moderator was Chief Byron Louis of Okanagan First Nation. The president of the British Colombia region, Naeem Ahmad Lakhan Sahib made the introductory remarks. The following speakers gave presentations according to their respective faiths:

• Chief Byron Louis, Moderator from Okanagan First Nation

• Senior Pastor Randy Hamm, Christianity 

• Umran-ul-Haq Bhatti Sahib, Islam 

• Mr Mike Brodreau, Buddhism 

• Rev Dale Juke, Living Spirituality 

• Mrs Mohini Singh, Hinduism

• Mr Amarpreet Singh Hundal, Sikhism 

Heavy downpour of rain over two days resulted in many roads and highways being closed in the area. Scores of towns suffered from flooding. A team of seven Jamaat members left Abbottsford on the morning of 15 November. Their destination, Vernon, BC was some 400 km away. However, they had to cancel their travel plans due to major road closures. They returned to Abbotsford where the regional amir and the missionary joined the event virtually. Food intended for the conference attendees was donated to local First Nations through their community centres.   

Some guests shared their thoughts about the conference in the following words: 

Susan Ghattas said:

“Thank you very much for your conference, especially the faith you showed us that the event could continue despite the storm. The speakers were very good. I am on the board of the Kelowna Atheists Skeptics and Humanists Association: www.askuskelowna.ca. We are an affiliate of BC Humanists who could get you in touch with humanist representatives from all over BC.”

Daniel Mallet expressed:

“For future events, we would love to have a seat at the table to represent a secular atheist humanist worldview. I really love the approach you took of letting all voices speak and not focus on debate.”

Patrick Finnigan commented:

“[…] Thank you for organising this very inspiring conference. I could only join you for one hour last night here in Belleville […] An event like this – well it helps to restore my faith in Canadians and how we can come together for a greater good. I will be sharing the YouTube link with my friends, neighbours and family.”

In spite of very bad weather, 135 people attended in person, while 371 people joined the conference online.  

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