year 1893 is considered by some to mark the beginning of the interfaith
movement in North America. That’s because the first significant
interfaith gathering on this continent took place in that year at the
Chicago World’s Fair. It was called a Parliament of World Religions.
interreligious conference in Chicago attracted people of many faiths,
many of whom were immigrants from Asia. One hundred years later, in
1993, interfaith leaders in Chicago decided to convoke an anniversary
conference. To the organizers’ great surprise, the event attracted
emergence of a global interfaith movement, the Chicago interfaith
leaders created the Council for a Parliament of World Religions which
sponsors an international interfaith convention every five years. In
1998, the gathering took place in Cape Town, South Africa; in 2004, it
was hosted in Barcelona, Spain. These conferences attracted eight to ten
thousand people of various religions from around the world.
year the Parliament convened in Melbourne, Australia. 6,000 participants
from more than 100 countries attended. The week-long event featured 500
workshops plus numerous other programs.
About ten people
from the Toronto area and numerous other Canadians made the trek to
Melbourne. On November 24, Scarboro Missions sponsored an evening in
which six delegates to the Australia Parliament shared their experience.
One of these
presenters was Dr. Helene Ijaz, a specialist in interfaith marriage.
Here is the text of her speech:
on my Attendance
the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions
By Helene Ijaz
the Parliament for different reasons, which determined the topics they
sought to explore, the speakers they listened to, and the sessions they
attended over the seven days of the conference.
My interest in
interfaith dialogue stems from my interfaith marriage. I am a
Catholic-Christian who has been married to a Muslim for many years. I
went to the Parliament because I had been invited to speak on the topic
of interfaith marriage. I was also hoping to deepen my understanding of
Islam and other religions, and to learn about interfaith work at the
global level as a means of promoting peace. The Parliament coincided
with my husband’s and my 40th wedding anniversary, and we
attended the Parliament together.
The sessions I
attended essentially fell into four categories:
dealing with the perspectives of Christianity and Islam on certain
theological and other issues, such as Reverence for the Virgin Mary
and Jesus in Islam, issues related to education, faith-based
investing, and building peace;
Sessions dealing with attempts to establish and implement a global
spirituality, to achieve global transformation based on spiritual
transformation, and on related social justice initiatives and movements;
to deepen my personal spirituality, such as early morning prayer and
meditation sessions; and
sessions whose topics tweaked my interest, such as a session on The
Divine Feminine with well-known spiritual writer and Benedictine nun
Joan Chittester and others; a session on Creationism, Intelligent
Design and Evolution, and some wonderful concerts, including an
exceptional musical performance on Hildegard von Bingen.
Speakers at the
Parliament again and again emphasized the need to focus on spirituality,
if we want to heal the earth and achieve peace. They argued that
we must transform ourselves before we can transform social structures
and institutions, including religious institutions. Turning inward,
meditating and praying, deep listening, and focusing on shared meanings
and shared principles of morality were emphasized as paths to spiritual
transformation. Some speakers called for the spiritual education of
religious leaders, including education in compassion.
distinguished Muslim scholar and Professor of Contemporary Islamic
Studies at Oxford University, emphasized that both justice and peace
constitute the essence of Islam, and that the Qur’an is all about
getting close to God and to enter into God’s peace. He stressed the
need for a greater focus on spirituality in the practice of religion, to
get away from an obsession with rules, and to focus more on the meaning
behind religious laws.
Sachedina, a Muslim scholar and Professor of Religious Studies at the
University of Viriginia, pointed out that according to the Qur’an, the
heart is the mind, the way we understand ourselves. The heart is about
relationship. It connects spirit with human action. It calls us to raise
our level of spirituality to morality.
Catholic theologian Hans Kueng argued that to achieve peace in the
world, laws are not enough. Laws without morality cannot endure. We need
valid minimal ethical standards across cultures to survive as humankind,
and we must actively work towards individual and corporate morality.
Kueng talked about his efforts to promote a new Ethical Manifesto for
the Global Economy at the highest political levels, the UN and with
various national governments.
by video talked about the Charter of Compassion as a cooperative
effort to restore compassionate thinking and compassionate action to the
center of religious, moral and political life, and about the importance
of the Golden Rule as a guideline in this effort.
Lerner from the U.S. distinguished between two worldviews, the worldview
of fear and the worldview of love. He said that the worldview of fear
sees God as a right-handed God and leads to the politics of domination.
It finds security through domination of others. Its goal is to get its
way through power over others, and by using fear. It leads to
conflict and wars. The worldview of love, on the other hand, sees God as
a left-handed God. It is a worldview defined by mothering, loving
consciousness, caring for each other, generosity, and building
that the worldview of love is the route to peace. Our challenge is to
move social energy from the worldview of fear to the worldview of love,
a task that entails internal and external transformation. Before we can
proceed to implement the worldview of love in society, we must embody it
founder of the Listening Center in the U.S., talked about the importance
of listening to the voice within and of listening to the other,
especially to those with an opposite point of view.
Kula, President of The National Jewish Center for Learning and
Leadership in the U.S. and chair of the Clinton Global Initiative,
stated that the most important thing in life is to speak with people you
disagree with. When you only speak to people who share your views, it
affirms you and gives you more certainty about what you believe, which
is the enemy of compassion.
I did a session
on interfaith marriage, together with David Schuetz, Executive Officer
of the Ecumenical Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne,
and Denise Lacey, a marriage educator from Melbourne who had invited
some interfaith couples to talk about their experiences. I talked about
the social, emotional and religious challenges that may arise in an
inter-religious marriage, and about how successful interfaith marriages
can become models for peaceful interreligious relations on a larger
scale. I argued that for a couple to transcend their religious
differences, they must change their approach to religion from a
compliance-based approach to a transformation-based approach.
compliance-based approach to religion strongly emphasizes compliance
with religion-specific beliefs, prescriptions and practices. By
contrast, a transformation-based approach is concerned more with the
transformation of our inner self. It focuses on relationships: our
relationship with God and the way our relationship with God impacts our
relationship with other people and the way we live our lives. A
transformation-based approach to religion emphasizes living by moral
principles, such as respect for all life and for otherness,
truthfulness, justice, equity for women and men, compassion, and
their focus on spirituality as well as many moral principles. They
differ from each other in their belief systems and in religious laws,
symbols, practices and traditions, all of which are external aspects of
religion and major sources of religious conflict. I believe that to
achieve peace among the religions, religions must shift their focus from
religion-specific, external, aspects of religion to values and
principles shared by all people, such as moral principles. People who
over-emphasize religious beliefs and religion-specific rules, practices
and traditions, often de-emphasize the importance of moral principles.
They stress the differences between their own and other religions and
the superiority of their own religion, and ignore the transformative
power of spirituality. If interfaith work is to truly contribute to healing
the earth, as the Parliament postulated, religions must rediscover
their essential purpose as aids to living from Spirit, to transcending
the ego, and to living by moral principles.
website address for the Council for a Parliament of World Religions