Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Plea for religious tolerance offers hope for future

Nallai Nallainayagam
Calgary Herald
Wednesday, January 30 2008

Today marks the 60th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s death. He was assassinated by a member of a fanatical Hindu group that was angry with him for making concessions to Muslims in India. Gandhi dedicated his life to free India from British rule by nonviolent means and also to bring about religious understanding and peace in India.

Although India witnessed much bloodshed and killings due to religious fanaticism since his death, its commitment to secularism has been strengthened over time and the religious riots are becoming a thing of the past.

It is also to India’s credit that a Sikh is the prime minister now and that Muslims have been elected to the post of president. Unfortunately, many other regions in the world are now mired in religious conflicts and the divide between religions seems to be widening. It surely is a very disappointing development for those who believe in the ideals of Gandhi.

Although most religions have radical elements sowing the seeds of religious discord, the greater danger to world peace now comes from fundamentalists in Islam. Radical imams are using their mosques and modern means of communication to reach young minds to exhort them to defend the faith by violent means, if necessary.

Their interpretation of the current military action in Afghanistan and Iraq as a war on Islam and the misinterpretation of the Qur’an to achieve their political agenda are all intended to undermine the institutions and values of western societies. I am aware that the majority of Muslims do not agree with this, but feel helpless to stop it.

Hate-filled propaganda can be countered and durable peace achieved only by promoting religious understanding in our communities by all of us. Most importantly, we need to educate the youth in all societies about the need to understand and respect each other’s religion. I am aware that many organizations and groups in Calgary have come to realize this and they are working to promote religious harmony through understanding of and appreciating different religions.

Calgary can be proud of the fact that there is a multi-faith group that meets every month in different religious venues to learn about various religions. Mount Royal College has now established a multi-faith chaplaincy that helps organize different religious functions and events that promote religious understanding. I am also aware that many religious organizations now make it a practice to invite people of other faiths to their celebrations to build bridges by removing prejudices born of ignorance.

Last March, I was invited by the Calgary Jewish Community Council to attend its Passover Seder celebrations. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn about this faith and to interact with people of other faiths.

Recently, I attended the celebration of Eid ul-Adha, a Muslim festival celebrating Abraham and the common brotherhood of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, by the Ismaili Muslim Community of Calgary. The organizers had invited people of different faiths to take part in the celebration, once again with a view to promoting understanding between religions. The significance of the event was well explained to the audience and every attempt was made to convey the message that Islam is a religion of peace.

The highlight of the event for me was the speeches by three young people belonging to the three monotheistic faiths. They are part of an organization called IDEA (Interfaith Dialogue, Education and Action) that brings together youth from different religious backgrounds to give them an opportunity to learn about each other’s religion as well as to engage in service activities jointly.

The three youths talked about the significance of their faiths and how they have so much in common.

They made a very impassioned plea for religious peace through understanding and acceptance and I was delighted to hear such inspiring talk from our future leaders. I am sure that the young speakers touched the hearts of most of the adults present at the function.

I left the celebrations with the feeling that although the world is now facing a threat from religious fanatics, the future is going to be better because of our youth.

I now believe that Gandhi’s dream of a world free of religious hatred and conflict can only be achieved through our youth and it is our duty as adults to help them attain it.

Nallai Nallainayagam teaches Economics at Mount Royal College and is a member of the board of the Ethno-Cultural Council of Calgary

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Upcoming InterFaith Network of Calgary Event - Celebrating Ash Wednesday

Marking the first day, or the start of the season of Lent, which begins the 40 days prior to Easter

Date: Tuesday, February 5 2008
Venue: Deer Park United Church and Wholeness Centre (77 Deerpoint Rd SE, Calgary)

6 pm - Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper (Pancakes, sausages, etc.)
7 pm - 45 minute worship service followed by group discussion until 8:30 pm

InterFaith Network of Calgary (IFNC) is an informal and grassroots group of Calgarians, belonging to several faith traditions, who have come together to promote goodwill and mutual understanding.

We believe that this objective is best achieved by interaction and dialogue among the followers of different faiths.

This belief is based on our conviction that while the general tendency is to highlight the differences among different faiths, a deeper study would reveal that we have more in common than is generally believed.

We hope that through these gatherings, we will encourage mutual respect and peace in our community.

We meet once a month to discuss questions related to our personal spirituality and religious practice.

The venues of the gatherings rotate among the places of worship.

Our theme for this year is: “Sharing Each Other’s Festivals”

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Calgarian hits spiritual peak

Calgarian hits spiritual peak

Graeme Morton
Calgary Herald

Few experiences can bring you closer to God than trudging through a pitch-black night in the rarified air of Africa's highest peak.

Almoonir Dewji, vice-president of Calgary management consultant firm Callow and Associates, said summiting Mount Kilimanjaro near sunrise on Jan. 2 capped a profound spiritual journey.

"It's a very meditative exercise, putting one foot forward, heel-to-toe, in the darkness," Dewji recalls. "It forces you to slow down and think. It's so quiet, sometimes all you can hear is your breathing and your heartbeat."

Dewji, 45, is an Ismaili Muslim who is active in a Calgary Muslim-Christian dialogue group. He found plenty of time for prayer as he wound his way to the 5,895-metre Uhuru Peak summit of Kilimanjaro.

"I thought about God's grace in my life. I went through a lot of reflection on the generosity of the human spirit and on the imperative of giving back," says Dewji.

In the final hours of the ascent, Dewji suffered dehydration, pounding headaches and complications from his asthma and seriously considered turning back. But he was determined to wave the Flames' car flag his wife Nimira had given him to take to the top of the inactive volcano.

"Nimira's image in my mind got me through the final hour or two. I don't think I've ever felt a stronger bond with her," he says.

Dewji was part of a 37-member group of Canadians, including eight from southern Alberta, who tackled Kilimanjaro to raise money for Save the Children Canada HIV/AIDS programs in Kenya. Dewji credits selfless help from team members and even an Australian stranger from another climbing party, who gave him energy bars at a critical point, for getting him to the top.

Dewji was able to raise $15,000 to support Save the Children projects. He says he was humbled by the outpouring of both donations and prayers from Calgarians who heard about his climb.

He added one of the trip's most profound moments came when the 37 Canadians were able to deliver clothing and school supplies to children at a Tanzanian orphanage and even to youngsters they met on the roads.

"I was the recipient of such generosity during my climb, and it drove home to me the importance of giving back, of the Bible's instruction -- to whom much has been given, much is expected," he says.

The trek to Kilimanjaro was the first time Dewji had been in Tanzania, his birth country, in 32 years. Dewji hopes to return to Africa in the future and explore other avenues for humanitarian involvement.

Dewji says a phrase from the Sufi Muslim tradition best captures the humanitarian lessons he learned from his African experience: Past the suffering walked he who asks, "Why oh God, do you not do something for these people?" To which God replied, "I did do something, I made you."

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Friday, January 18, 2008

Faiths Gather In Hope - Eid-Ul-Adha Celebration @ Calgary City Hall

Natasha Somani, left, of the Islamic community of Calgary, Matt Ponak of the Jewish community, and Amanda Achtman of the Christian community gather at the Festival of Eid-ul-Adha at City Hall on Wednesday (January 9, 2008) evening. The event celeberated the common brotherhood of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Source

I had the opportunity once again to assist with this event, which has been held at City Hall since 2004. Unfortunately I could not attend as I was enroute from Tanzania. The following is an account by Afroza Nanji, a colleague on the organizing team:

On January 9, 2008 the Calgary City Hall atrium was brightly filled with guests from the Jewish, Muslim and Christians communities in order to celebrate their common Abrahamic heritage.

The event was hosted by the Ismaili Muslim community of Calgary in commemoration of Eid-ul-Adha, a festival marking the sacrifice made by Abraham, a significant figure in Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

This year the event focused on how shared values can lead to hope for the future. After welcoming remarks from Mayor Dave Bronconnier, guests heard from three young Calgary University and High School students on how values espoused by Abraham were relevant and expressed by each of their traditions. The speakers then shared how these values are put into action in their daily life.

Matt Ponak, Natasha Somani and Amanda Achtman shared insightful and inspiring stories about their experiences on the Interfaith Youth Council and other initiatives they were involved in that put values of generosity, compassion, stewardship and sacrifice into action. These included working with young children on their reading skills, devoting time to those less fortunate, spending time with the elderly and developing a Palestinian Israeli Peace Association on campus.

By sharing their hopes and dreams, all three speakers made the audience proud of the creative ability of our young people and hopeful for a future built on trust, dialogue and value for our common humanity.

Afroza Nanji
Executive Director
IDEA Youth Initiative
Interfaith Dialogue, Education and Action.

Eid-Ul-Adha, one of the major Muslim festivals, commemorates the sacrifice that Abraham, the Father of the three monotheistic faiths, was willing to make upon God's command. The shared destiny of the ethos of the Abrahamic tradition is governed by the duty of loving care to help nurture each life that is born to its God-given potential. This festival therefore gives us the opportunity to contemplate about our relationship with and responsibility towards one another.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Second Community Tu Bi Shevat Event - January 21, 2008

You are warmly invited to B’nai Tikvah’s,

Second Community Tu Bi Shevat Event
7:00 pm - 9:00 pm on January 21
Temple B’nai Tikvah
900 – 47 Ave S.W.

Tu Bi Shevat means Festival of the Trees and this event will feature
• The Tu Bi Shevat Seder (a ceremonial meal)
• Jan 21 is also Martin Luther King Day. The Very Reverend Bill Phipps will address and facilitate discussion on the connections between poverty, environmental stewardship and civil rights.

This is an inter faith event for all community members concerned about environmental stewardship.

Co – sponsored by Temple B’nai Tikva and Faith and The Common Good

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Imam & the Pastor - Plaza Theatre, Kensington - January 28, 2008 @ 7 pm

Meet two bitter enemies who learned how to reconcile...

The Imam & the Pastor
with a presentation by the two main characters and dialogue following the film

January 28, 2008 @ 7 pm
Plaza Theatre, Kensington

Admission by Donation

After covering costs, any extra will go towards the Inter-Faith Mediation Centre in Nigeria, run by Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye

This 39 minutes documentary, winner of the short documentary section of the Africa World Film Festival tells the remarkable story of Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye who moved from leading opposing armed militias to working together for peace and reconciliation within their respective communities.

The film, made in Nigeria, is the human story of two men and what emerges from an
act of reconciliation.

Movie Trailer

The story is relevant everywhere, for everyone.

Organized by Initiatives of Change:

Keith Newman 403-208-1602 or
Initiatives of Change: 403-270-0975

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Kilimanjaro Challenge - January 3

After spending the night at Horombo, we began our descent to Manadara, where we stopped for lunch. We then proceeded to the Marangu Gate where we arrived at 6:00 p.m. We had hiked a total of 27 km. Thereafter, we proceeded to our hotel in Moshi. Dinner was served and we were entertained by the native dancers.

Kilimanjaro Challenge - January 1

We began our climb from Kibo (15,500 ft, 4,700 m) at 11:45 p.m. We hiked heel-to-toe for 4 hours in the dark, wearing our head lamps, to Gilman's point at 18,650 ft (5,680 m). From there, we hiked for another 2 hours to Uhuru peak at 19,430 ft (approx. 5,900 m)

The weather was great. Those who arrived late at Gilman's point were able to continue their ascent to Uhuru Peak due to the great weather. We spent enough time just to take photos at Uhuru Peak as it was windy - the windchill was -20 degrees Celsius.

We descended to Kibo, and then to Horombo for a total hike of 15 km. The reason for this was to descend to a lower altitude as quickly as possible. We spent the night at Horombo.

There were 31 of 37 people who made it to Gilman's Point and 29 who reached Uhuru Peak.

My Personal Experience

This was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life.

During the night, we had to leave the window open while sleeping in order to maintain the supply of oxygen. It was cold. Although I slept with all available layers of clothing, I was cold. I woke up with a headache and was completely frozen. The headache was the first sign of altitude sickness. I began to drink some water. Each person had been supplied with 3 litres of water. As I drank my water, my headache disappeared, so I drank some more. Within a few minutes, I was out of water. I still had to climb the remainder of the mountain!

I told my guide, "I can't not go. My wife has given me this flag to hoist up at the peak. I have to go!" The guide gave me 2 litres of water from the emergency supply.

While walking up in the dark, my head lamp died, despite the brand new batteries that I had used. The guide pulled me aside and tried to fix the lamp - in the dark. He could not fix it. He assured me he would take me to the peak ... yes, to hoist the flag! He then shone his torch along the path so that I could continue. A young man named Brett Elsdon walked behind me and tilted his head so that his lamp would also light my way. As I turned along the path, Brett turned his head to guide me. Amazing! He walked in this manner all the way up to Gilman's point.

At Gilman's point, I was out of energy. I was not going to make it. I commented to the guide that I had to take this flag to the peak. An Australian in another party gave me four energy pills. Within minutes, I got the energy to continue. I plodded away. My motivation was an image of my wife and 2 daughters standing at the peak, urging me on "you can do it. almost there." Also, the promise made to my wife about taking the flag up to the peak was ringing in my head.

You are probably wondering about the flag ... it's a Calgary Flames flag!

As we got closer to the peak, we saw the sign 'Uhuru Peak' and we all seemed to have a burst of energy to get there. I had to literally crawl to the peak as I was very tired. I took a photo, yes, with the flag, and began my descent with the group.

Everyone has been reflecting on whether it was worth the 'torture.' We are not sure. It will take a few weeks of reflection. However, it was amazing to see the human spirit endure dire conditions and strangers helping one another in their hour of need.

When I signed up for this challenge, I really did not know what to expect. For the first 3 days, we were literally strolling up. This initial ascent is no reflection of the final grind. Nobody, including a dear friend who had recently climbed this mountain, had told me the truth about the final ascent. A female participant said it was like labour: nobody tells you the truth. She also said this was more difficult than labour!

It seems that walking heel-to-toe is the slowest means to ascend drastically thereby allowing greater intake of oxygen. The night-time walking is to minimize the scare factor!

Unfortunately, Brett did not make it to the peak. He experienced severe altitude sickness at Gilman's point. How unfortunate. Hopefully he will take solace in knowing that he helped me get to the peak.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Kilimanjaro Challenge Day 3

We arrived at Kibo, had dinner, and will be resting for a few hours before beginning our ascent to the peak at 11:00 p.m. local time. We met several people on their way down, who reminded us to go slowly and to stay hydrated.

The huts are comfortable, the views are spectacular, and everyone is friendly.