Syed Mukarram Nazeer, Canada Correspondent
To celebrate International Women’s Day, Lajna Imaillah Prairie region, Canada organised an all-women virtual interfaith symposium on 6 March 2021. The topic of the symposium was “Women as Nation Builders”.
Prairie region comprises of three adjacent provinces of Canada; Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta with more than eight Ahmadiyya chapters.
Ladies of diverse faiths and backgrounds including dignitaries, politicians, councilors and university professors attended. Advertisement campaigns on various radio and TV stations conveyed introductions of the Jamaat and invitations to the symposium to a potential 100,000 plus audience.
The symposium sought to showcase a united front in support of women as nation builders. The goal was to reflect the vital contributions of women at every stage of life and every background in establishing peace, love and tolerance in society and presenting women’s role as nation builders across various faiths.
The symposium website introduced the objective as:
“We believe that mutual exploration and a deeper understanding of what beliefs motivate us, will help dispel misconceptions and allow us to learn and draw strength and support from each other, uniting us in our common goal of not just surviving but achieving lasting success.”
Symposium moderators were Shazia Rehman Sahiba and Maham Anna Malik Sahiba, regional outreach coordinator Lajna Prairie region and media correspondent Lajna Prairie region, respectively.
The event commenced with a recitation and translation of the Holy Quran. A documentary highlighting community projects of Lajna Imaillah and work done over the last few months was shown. Activities featured included donations to food banks, sewing and distributing face masks, offering pick and drops for grocery and medication, supporting the bereaved with regular calls, delivering handmade letters and baked treats, wellness checks, toy drives and winter clothing donations. Various social media campaigns undertaken by Lajna were also featured including
A presentation on “Virgin Mary in the Holy Quran” highlighted the status of Hazrat Maryamas in the Holy Quran. It was also narrated that the Holy Quran does not comment about the physical appearance of any woman mentioned therein; rather, it focuses on their spiritual characteristics and nearness to Allah.
Four speakers delivered presentations on the symposium’s topic from their faith perspective.
Gurmit Kaur Sarpal, a nurse and founder of Royal Women Cultural Association, said:
“Sikhism teaches about interrelation and interdependence. Men and women have equal responsibilities in building the country. When a woman falls, a generation falls”.
Dr Brenda Anderson, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Women and Gender Studies at the University of Regina, elucidated the Christian perspective by promoting “interreligious dialogue and interfaith harmony”. She highlighted the importance of breaking ignorance around present-day inter-generational issues, emphasised recognising the worth of everyone within the community regardless of age or circumstances, and recognising all are precious in God’s sight.
Dr Lillian Gadwa-Crier, Indigenous Knowledge Keeper, presented the Cree Way’s perspective and said:
“As an indigenous Knowledge Keeper, teaching traditional language helps strengthen cultural identity. I strive to promote Cree language in our school system, and it is imperative we protect, retain and strengthen our pimatisowin – the good life – whether it be in education and/or upholding our traditional beliefs and wear.”
Dr Fozia Zakaria, a family physician and Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Alberta, presented the Islamic perspective. Citing Quranic and historical references, she explained the role and responsibilities of Muslim women in raising, shaping and delivering future generations of moral and successful nation builders. She highlighted the sanctity of the family institution in Islam which is the pivotal unit of any society.
Attendees generally thanked and praised contributions of Ahmadi women towards their communities. A selection given below:
Honorable Whitney Issik, Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) of Alberta, said:
“At the end of the day we all share genuine desire as common goal to make the world a better place. We all have strength that we can bring to the role of being a leader. By having diverse perspectives on an issue, we can make better decisions and help improve the life of all of our citizens.”
Honorable Erika Ritchie, Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) of Saskatchewan, expressed:
“What a wonderful afternoon of learning and hearing wisdom of women from various faith backgrounds. I can’t say enough about how important our faith communities can be in providing us with the support, strength and wisdom to be representatives in our communities. I have benefited greatly from this event.”
Heather McPherson, Member Parliament for Alberta, stated:
“Very professional and wonderfully put together presentations […] Thank you for the work that you are doing; today is so important to bring equality for women and to also make a path for those who come after us.”
Councilor Lorelee Marin, City of Lloydminster, Alberta, said:
“As we celebrate Women as Nation Builders, together we create connections that will help us reach greater understanding to strengthen our families and our communities. As we spend time together today, we start to build trust in this diverse and inclusive society.”
The audience was also engaged in an interactive quiz on the presentations given in the event. More than 60 attendees participated and the result reflected excellent contents retention.
Exhibitions included images of the Holy Quran with its translation in more than 200 languages. In addition, books of the Promised Messiahas and his Khulafa were also included in the exhibition.
The concluding remarks were given by Sadr Lajna Imaillah Canada, Amatus Salam Malik Sahiba. She thanked all speakers, dignitaries and attendees for making the event successful.
The symposium ended with silent prayer, with an estimated attendance of 500.