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Moderator Mayor Gord Van Tighem, left, and speakers Brian McCutcheon, Paul Andrew, Rev. Peter Chynoweth, Dr. Beth Hedva and Ataul Wahid Lahaye gather during the fourth annual World Religions Conference at the Explorer Hotel in September 2010. - photo courtesy of Kalim Ahmed

World disasters take over conference

Heather Lange
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, September 21, 2011

World disasters: natural phenomena or divine warnings? It sounds like an ominous documentary on TV, but it is actually the topic of this year's fifth annual World Religions Conference being held in Yellowknife at the Explorer Hotel on Saturday, Sept. 25.

Five speakers, three of them Yellowknife residents, representing Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam and Native spirituality will speak on their respective religious perspectives based on scriptures and traditions about the recent earthquakes, floods, famines, wars, unrest and unstable world economies.

Farhan Khokhar, national director of communications for Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Canada, said these conferences are held all over the world to foster interfaith harmony and promote peace in society.

"The main purpose is to provide a forum for all world faiths so they can come together and present their viewpoints on a certain important topic. The key point of this is they do so from their own scripture. It's not a forum for debate, it's not a forum for argument," said Khokhar.

Khokhar said after attending many conferences himself, he has seen the many similarities in the core teaching of the world's religions.

"We have also found how common faiths are in terms of commonality of teachings. I have found that you start seeing how religions are similar in nature at the core.

"That also brings people together and close to each other. It's not what separates the different religions that we are concentrating on, but what unites them," said Khokhar.

Khokhar said this year's topic has been a popular one, with the organization receiving very positive feedback.

"Not only people of faith but people of no faith ask these questions. If there is a benevolent and merciful God, why do these things happen?" said Khokhar.

Pastor Kirk Tastad has been the pastor at the Holy Family Lutheran Church in Yellowknife for a little more than a year and will be the speaker representing Christianity at his first World Religions Conference.

"I think within every religion there is a sense of the golden rule (treat others the way you would want to be treated) and a general care for humanity and a sense of care for the Earth and creation. I think there is a lot more we have in common than we realize and events like this are great opportunities to dispel some myths and get a better understanding of each other," he said.

The two other Yellowknife speakers are Brian McCutcheon and Harold Cook.

McCutcheon is a student of the Shambhala Tibetan Buddhist tradition and is a member of the Yellowknife Shambhala Meditation Group.

Cook is from Fort Good Hope and will be representing First Nations spirituality. Cook was mentored by elders Gregory Shae and Lou Buchan in the K'asho Got'ine traditions.

Representing Judaism is Bonnie Osoff-Bultz, a creative arts therapist from Calgary as well as a professional choreographer, director, actor, singer and dancer.

Lal Khan Malik, who lives in Toronto, is representing Islam and is president of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Canada.

Moderating the event will be Mayor Gord Van Tighem.

The conference is being hosted by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Canada, a Muslim group founded in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. The Muslim group hosts up to 150 conferences a year in Canada and about 200 annually all over the world.

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