February 2017

World Interfaith Harmony Week
World Interfaith Harmony Week is about peace between religions.

World Interfaith Harmony Week is about bringing different religions together.

Seven years ago, H.M. King Abdullah II of Jordan proposed a week for Muslim and Christian leaders to engage in dialogue based on common elements of their religions. The King made this proposal to the United Nations, and it only took one month to be unanimously adopted by the organization. The first week in February is now observed as World Interfaith Harmony Week.

Common Elements in Monotheistic Religions

Muslims, Jews and Christians have two commandments that are common in each religion:

  • Love of God
  • Love of the Neighbor

The idea is that these two commandments are at the heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Looking at these two philosophies, we can find solid theological ground without compromising the tenets of our own faith.

Leaders came together and published “A Common Word” (ACW) as a way to bring religions together. “ACW is a document which uses religion as the solution to the problems of inter-religious tensions. By basing itself on solid theological grounds in both religions ACW has demonstrated to Christians and Muslims that they have a certain common ground (despite irreducible theological differences) and that both religions require them to have relations based on love not on hatred.”

2017 Events Around the World

Countries around the globe plan events to bring people together to find world peace. According to worldinterfaithharmonyweek.com, in 2017, there are currently 472 events on the calendar. While Western countries plan activities smaller countries have activities listed on the calendar.

King Abdullah believed that society could use infrastructure to bring harmony and peace between individuals, thus leading to peace between countries. Although we still have a lot of work to do, it is evident that more people want to see respect and tolerance between religions, governments and communities.

2017 Theme

The theme for 2017 is “The Gift of Love”. Although he is a direct descendent of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, the King is funding the restoration of Christ’s Tomb in the Church of Holy Sepulchre. His gift is thought to be worth about $4 million dollars. King Abdullah believes in the true message of Islam, but he also promotes interfaith dialogue. He has proven his worthiness as custodian of both Muslim and Christian holy sites through his words, deeds and actions. He truly has given the world a gift of love by respecting a faith not his own.

Take Part in World Interfaith Harmony Week

World Interfaith Harmony Week for all the world’s religions. While religions have common ground, it’s up to us to engage in dialogue and find that common ground to bring us together.

The United Nations has many declarations for world peace, cultural diversity and tolerance. World Interfaith Harmony Week is just one more time that is dedicated to finding common ground between faiths. We may not be able to change the entire world by being friendly, but we can change our community by encouraging diversity and tolerance.

Wedding Traditions From Around The World
Certain wedding traditions have been practiced for hundreds of years.

There are all kinds of traditions that continue through the world. Many have similarities while others can be vastly different.

If you’re trying to plan a unique ceremony for your special day, check out some of these special wedding traditions from around the world.

 

 

 

Wedding Traditions from other Cultures

  • Congo – Brides and grooms aren’t allowed to smile on their wedding day. When they do, it shows that they aren’t serious about the marriage.
  • China – The bride travels to the groom’s home in a decorated sedan chair. Attendants take care of the bride on the journey by holding parasols to shield her from the elements. They throw rice at the chair as a sign of prosperity and health. Female bridesmaids put the groom through a series of tests for him to prove his worthiness of the bride. He must give them envelopes of money before they’ll allow him to have their friend.
  • Fiji – The potential bridegroom must present his father with a whale’s tooth when he asks for her hand in marriage.
  • Jamaica – The bride is paraded through the streets. If the villagers go home, it means she didn’t look her best. She must go home and spruce herself up for another go.

Some Other Cultures Practices

  • Guatemala – The groom’s parents host the reception party. The groom’s mother breaks a ceramic bell filled with grains to give the couple prosperity.
  • Germany – The guests break porcelain dishes in front of the new home. The bride and groom are to clean these dishes up together as a demonstration of working together to overcome anything.
  • Scotland – Gretna Green is the place to elope. In medieval times, Gretna Green would marry young couples who did not always have parental permission.
  • Kenya – The bride’s father spits on her as she leaves the reception. It’s thought to preempt fate by not seeming too supportive of the couple.
  • Greece – The best man (or groom’s best friend) shaves the groom before the wedding. The new mother-in-law feeds him honey and almonds.
  • Japan – A Shinto bride wears white from head to toe. The head covering is thought to hide the horns of jealousy toward her new mother-in-law. The white symbolizes her maidenhood.
  • Norway – The traditional cake is called kransekake. It’s a tower of almond cake rings stacked on top of each other. The center is often filled with a wine bottle. The bride may wear a gold and silver crown with small trinkets as part of her wedding finery. As she moves, the trinkets jingle, which scares off the evil spirits.
  • Russia – Couples partake of a sweetbread called karavaya which is decorated with grains of wheat for fertility. Whoever takes the largest bite without using their hands is thought to be the head of the family.

As you go through this list, you might notice that many of the wedding traditions are similar to customs we have here. It just shows that we’re more alike than we think.

Ontario Mosque Donates Funds to the Community
Ontario Mosque Donates Funds

Ontario Mosque Donates Funds

You might be wondering why it’s news that a mosque is giving back to the community, but it’s an interesting story. The only mosque in Peterborough, Ontario, suffered damages after the Paris bombing attacks. A firebomb had been placed in a window, causing a fire. It was not the only mosque targeted in Ontario. Fortunately, no one was injured in the bombing, although there were people in the building just an hour before the firebomb went off. Members were celebrating the birth of a baby, according to the president of the Kawartha Muslim Religious Association (KMRA), the group which oversees the mosque.

Aftermath of the Bombing

While the congregation of the mosque waited for it to be rebuilt, a local synagogue hosted prayer sessions for them. A crowdfunding campaign was started to ensure that the resources would be available to pay for the damages. Almost $100,000 was raised in just a few days. The damages were estimated at $80,000. Insurance ultimately paid for the repairs, which left the donations free and clear for the mosque.

The KMRA reported that they also received many letters and emails from across Canada demonstrating support for the mosque. Individuals in the community came together in solidarity, with people leaving flowers and notes outside of the building. Some women held a drumming and singing vigil after the fire. The KMRA reports that it had to install security cameras, just in case there is another attack. This is the second time the mosque has been damaged after an international incident. The first time was after the 9/11 attacks. In that attack on the mosque, only windows were smashed.

What Happened to the Money?

The KMRA is donating the crowd-funded money to the YMCA Crossroads women’s shelter and to another shelter in the community which works with children and teens who have special needs. The association wanted to assist those who were vulnerable, because that is how they feel right now. This is a statement from their website:

“We the members of the KMRA are shocked and deeply disturbed by the November 14th incident at Masjid Al-salaam. The damage of the incident which is now being investigated as a possible hate crime has been estimated to exceed $80,000. In spite of the incident, we are deeply touched and highly encouraged by the overwhelming support we have received from the Peterborough community at large. We will continue to work with all faith groups and concerned citizens in raising awareness of peace and tolerance. We are thankful to all those who have extended their support to our community and we look forward to strengthening ties with the broader Peterborough community.”

The attitude of the mosque’s leadership should be commended. Instead of turning inward and shutting out those in the community who reached out to them after the tragedy, they turned around and did what they could for the neediest individuals.

Imam Shazim Khan stated that the building was “rebuilt better than it was before.” The entire congregation is taking the incident as a way to demonstrate their faith.

According to the Peterborough Examiner, the individuals which gave money to the crowd-funding campaign had a chance to get their money back if they chose. KRMA was upfront with the donators that the money would be donated to the community, instead of being used for rebuilding the mosque.

On December 23, the mosque reopened with a prayer service. It’s reported that there will be an open house on January 17. Whatever faith you do celebrate, this open house would be a great chance to learn more about the Muslim religion and people. This mosque has demonstrated its heart and character after a devastating event.

The Right to Wear the Niqab and the Canadian Election

Portarit of young woman in brown niqab

Strangely enough, one of the most volatile election controversies surrounds a woman’s right to wear the niqab during citizenship ceremonies. The niqab is a veil that covers the face, not the whole body. At question isn’t that the woman won’t have to remove the veil to prove her identification before the ceremony, but whether she can wear it when she repeats her vows of citizenship. Just a few weeks ago, The Federal Court of Appeals ruled that women have the right to wear the niqab if they choose. That doesn’t seem to be the end of the matter.

What Is the Issue?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who represents the Conservative party, is ready to appeal the Federal Court’s decision. He states that wearing the niqab is offensive and not how things are done in Canada. One survey reported that about 80 percent of Canadians agree with him, and he is using this as part of his campaign strategy. Harper has also looked at a ban on niqabs for public servants, stating it as a need to reveal one’s identity. Others say that the stance is fueling anti-Muslim emotions.

Is the Debate Fueling Anti-Muslim Sentiment?

Women are being attacked for wearing the niqab and hijab when they are out in public. One report identified a pregnant Muslim woman who fell down when two teenagers tried to rip off her hijab. Another woman was elbowed in the Toronto mall for wearing the Niqab. She believes she was singled out because of her faith.

This behavior would not be tolerated if it were Catholic nuns or Orthodox Jews. Canada has long been a proponent of religious freedom, and the niqab and hijab are symbols of a woman’s faith. Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms clearly outlines that basic human rights are violated when one particular practice is subject to censure.

Try to Understand Another Side

To many people in the Western world, wearing the niqab or hijab seems to be a symbol of women as chattel or servants. This goes against the values on which the country was founded, on the notion that everyone has autonomy and individuality. It seems reprehensible to mandate that a woman must wear the veil to maintain her honor, especially in today’s society.

Whether the majority agrees with Harper or not, the issue isn’t a decision for the majority. This issue is about human rights. Does an adult woman have the right to make a choice for herself about whether she wears the niqab or hijab? Survey after survey has reported that Muslim women wear the veil out of their own choice, not because they are forced to wear it by their husband or father.

In many Orthodox churches in Russia, woman are asked to wear a shawl when they enter the church. This applies even if they are just coming in to tour the building, not worship. It is expected that you honor and respect their tradition, no matter what your background is. It’s simply a courtesy that demonstrates reverence to the culture and heritage. How can it be okay to ask Muslim women to give up their traditions because they have moved to another country?

The Debate Will Continue Long After the Election

Harper is not wrong in some of his sentiments. Women should not be considered chattel and be forced to wear the niqab. On the other hand, they should also not be forced to take off the veil. It should be their own choice. You may agree that the niqab is offensive, but put yourself in her place. How would you want to be told how to dress instead of being able to honor your faith and traditions?

 

Will the Syrian Refugee Crisis Affect the Election?

Syrian Refugee need help

Christian voters are concerned about the Conservative Party’s reluctance to welcome Syrian refugees to Canada. Although the government has pledged to bring in 10,000 refugees, the regulations make it difficult to get help to families in need. With the recent announcement that those rules would be relaxed, some people are saying that it’s too little, too late. On the other extreme, others are concerned that the lax security will alienate hard-liners who believe the party is yielding to pressure in front of the election.

Religious Organizations Are Making the Difference

Who is stepping up in Canada to help the refugees? Since 2013, about 2,500 refugees have arrived in the country, but data has not been released about their ethnic or religious vulnerability. One news organization discovered that about half of the 1,000 refugees admitted in 2015 are individuals who are the most vulnerable. Because the United Nations has a policy to help the vulnerable first, this information is important to the government’s claim that they are working to help alleviate the crisis.

However, what’s interesting about those 500 refugees is that most of them were privately sponsored instead of being government sponsored. The Canadian government has brought in about 400 refugees and private groups have brought in about 600 refugees this year to date. Only 5 percent of the government sponsored refugees are in the vulnerable minorities that the UN is targeting. On the other hand, 90 percent of those brought in by private groups are in the minority categories that are a priority.

There are allegations that the Canadian government is cherry-picking refugees and discriminating against the Sunni or Shiite Muslims. However, private organizations are probably more equipped and better organized to handle the sponsorships. Christian organizations, in particular, have been dealing with refugees long before the current crisis.

Although Muslim communities want to lend a hand, one of the problems they face is that they are young and still paying off or renting mosques. Many Muslims are sending money abroad. In addition, they don’t have the experience dealing with the process of bringing refugees to the country. There are also national, political, and religious subdivisions which make working together more difficult.

Top Google Searches Demonstrate the Need for Information

Earlier in September, Google tracked the top queries from Canadians. The young Turkish boy who died on the coast of Turkey most likely precipitated the want of information, but it does demonstrate the desire to learn more. Over September 2 and 3, these were the most asked queries on Google:

  • How to sponsor a Syrian refugee?
  • How to help the refugees?
  • Why is the Syrian refugee crisis happening?
  • What is the cost of a Syrian refugee in Canada?

Where to Turn to Help

It’s evident that the country wants to help the refugees, but mobilization isn’t easy. It takes time to process the paperwork required by the government out of security. No one wants to just let in everyone without some sort of screening, but there is an immediacy for humanitarian aid no matter which party you support.

Hay Doun has brought in around 650 Syrian refugees since 2013. They are an Armenian Christian organization based in Montreal, and they have the experience to navigate the process and get people resettled here. Previously, Hay Doun was able to get refugees relocated in about 10 months, but even they are facing delays due to the paperwork slowdown.

Whatever your beliefs, if you’re interested in helping alleviate the crisis, you should work with the organizations who are making a difference. It’s time to rise above religious or political lines and reach out to those in need. Hopefully, the upcoming elections don’t affect what is being done to rescue the refugees and let them start a new life.

 

The Government Relies on Churches for the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Syrian Refugees immigrating from Europe to the west

The Canadian government is making the Syrian refugee crisis part of the political climate, but what is it really doing to make a difference? According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are about 60 million refugees around the world right now. Not all of these are from Syria, but currently, that is the biggest population. If Canada is accepting 10,000 of these refuges, that is just 1/60 of one percent. Germany is expecting 800,000 refugee new arrivals in 2015, or about 80 times what Canada is allowing. Canada leaders want you to believe they are doing something, but the real people making the difference are the churches.

Where the Parties Stand

  • Conservatives – They have pledged to resettle an additional 10,000 refugees from both Syria and Iraq over the next few years, in addition to the 10,000 that had already been pledged.
  • NDP – This party has pledged to fast-track private sponsorship and increase the number of refugees that the government sponsors by 9,000 per year over four years.
  • Liberal – They are pledging to help 25,000 refugees through government sponsorship and boost private sponsorship capabilities. The party also wants to put $100 million each into refugee processing and UNHCR relief work.
  • Green – The Green party is pledging to welcome 40,000 refugees.

Why the Government Is Turning to Private Sponsorships for Syrian Refugees

The UNHCR has very limiting criteria when it comes to relocating vulnerable refugees. Religion and ethnicity cannot be considered unless the refugees are at risk in the country where they are seeking relocation. Churches that offer private sponsorship for refugees help the government target those minorities who are facing problems in the refugee camps.

The Armenian churches are the most active sponsors in Canada, but they are working with other denominations to make a difference. It takes money and time to get a refugee relocated into a Canadian city, and this commitment doesn’t end once the family or individual is here.

So far, 1,106 of the 10,000 refugees that the government pledged to take have been received by Canada. As of September 8, 888, or 80 percent, of those have been through private organizations. It appears that the churches are the ones making the difference in the count. However, it is going to take every citizen to work together to make the difference.

Funding and Government Promises

Just last month, in September, the Canadian government promised to speed up the process to get refugees into the country. It also promised to increase funding to organizations willing to sponsor refugees, but critics are concerned that the funding won’t be distributed quickly enough. Groups that take in donations aren’t guaranteed any matching funds, even though the funding is supposedly going to “match” donations made by citizens. Organizations still have to apply to receive this money, and there’s no indication how long it will take to distribute it. Although it’s understandable that the government wants to maintain the integrity of its money, bureaucracy moves slowly, which makes it more difficult for the churches to move forward and step up to get families relocated.

Who Is Responsible for Syrian Refugees?

The entire world is wondering who needs to take responsibility for the displaced families of Syria. This is a political battlefield, and it would be wonderful if the war in Syria would end. Unfortunately, at this point, even that would probably not stop the problem. The country has been torn apart, and it will take years to rebuild the infrastructure. In the meantime, every other country in the world that has the resources to help these innocents make a new life should step up. It’s a humanitarian need, not a political statement to be used to get elected.

 

The Battle Over Niqab

Beautiful blue eyed woman in traditional niqab veil

Zunera Ishaq, a woman who holds devout Muslim beliefs, moved to Ontario from Pakistan in 2008. When she was going to participate in a citizenship ceremony, she had to decline because she would be required to remove her niqab, a head veil that is a symbol of her faith and modesty. This set off a battle in the courts. On September 17, 2015, the Federal Court of Appeals upheld Ishaq’s right to wear her niqab, stating that, “banning face coverings at such ceremonies was unlawful.”

Head Coverings – What’s the Difference?

Muslim women wear different types of head coverings. If you aren’t familiar with these articles of clothing, the names can be confusing. Here is a primer:

  • Hijab – A hijab covering is the most common in the West. It covers the head and neck while leaving the face clear.
  • Niqab – A niqab is a veil for the face that usually leaves the eyes clear. It’s typically worn with a headscarf.
  • Burka – A burka is a one-piece veil that covers the face and body and has a mesh screen for the eyes to see through.
  • Shayla – A shayla is a long scarf that is wrapped around the head and leaves the face clear.
  • Chador – A chador is a full cloak that covers the entire body and is typically worn when outside the house.

The Argument Against Head Coverings

One of the reasons that the government is arguing that Muslims should remove their veils during the citizenship ceremony is so they can hear them say the oath. However, it is possible to hear someone speak under the veil. Another argument is that of identification. Again, women who wear these garments are willing to accommodate the need to be identified. One survey of Muslim women found that they would be happy to remove their veils for facial identification. Wearing veils during the ceremony doesn’t change who they are.

Earlier this year, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper went so far as to condemn the wearing of the niqab because it is “rooted in a culture that is anti-women.” The Conservatives are being charged with practicing divisive policies because they have taken this fight over the niqab so far. The Conservatives say that they will appeal the most current ruling of the Federal Court, making some wonder why it is so important to them when the women are not complaining.

Freedom of Religion

Advocates for the right to wear the niqab believe that it is a restriction of religious freedom when the state tries to use its power to dictate what a woman can or cannot wear. Justin Trudeau believes that in a free country such as Canada, individuals should have the right to wear a niqab, just as others can choose to dislike it. However, the state itself should not be in the middle of it unless it poses a threat to society.

How Do You Respond to a Woman Wearing a Niqab?

The Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW) surveyed Muslim women across Canada to give them a voice by asking why they wore the niqab. Not one of the women surveyed answered that they are forced to wear the veil. The two most common reasons that women gave for wearing it were for religious beliefs and personality identity. The CCMW is working to ensure Muslim women are not denied their rights just because so many people do not understand this minority.

If you are in a position of authority and need to see a woman’s face for identification purposes, politely explain your position and make the request. A woman may be more comfortable allowing another woman to identify and see her face, but most agree that they have to cooperate with the government as part of their religion. Otherwise, you should just consider the niqab as any other item in a woman’s attire. Respect their choices, even if you don’t agree with them. As for Ishaq, she plans on taking her lawyers to the citizenship ceremony, just in case.

The Religious Movement in Canada for Syrian Refugees

Map showing where syrian refugees come from

Since the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, it’s estimated that there are more than four million people who are refugees, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. After the photo of a young Syrian boy found dead on a Turkish beach was published, it brought the issue to the forefront of mainline news. The UN Refugee Agency made an appeal to every nation to help resettle 100,000 Syrian refugees. Canada committed to another 10,000 on top of the 1,300 that it had already said it would help. However, only about 2,500 refugees have been taken in at this point.

Why Syrian Refugees Cannot Get Help

Mayors in practically every city in Canada want to help Syrian refugees, but there are a number of obstacles that make it difficult. One of the biggest challenges is that refugees fall under federal jurisdiction. While the will is there to accept people into the community, it takes time to get all of the paperwork and screening done. These are a few of the challenges:

  • Canada is focusing on minorities, which indicates that it is choosing refugees based on religion.
  • Bureaucratic red tape is slowing down the process. Limited staff and paperwork obstacles delay the status of refugees. It can take from 11 to 19 months or more to work through the paperwork.
  • Private and community organizations must get a proof of refugee status from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or a foreign state, which adds another layer of red tape for this vulnerable population.
  • The Immigration and Refugee Board is not fully spending the budget it has to help resettle refugees.

Who Is Stepping In?

It’s estimated that only about 27 percent of the refugees entering Canada are doing so with government assistance. It’s the religious sector that is stepping in and meeting the need. Not only are Muslims taking steps to bring Syrian refugees to Canada to settle them, but those of different faith are as well. This worldwide crisis brings together unusual pairings, all in the name of human rights.

The Mennonites in Edmonton started working with the Muslim community in 2014. It’s estimated that the group has reconnected 32 individuals from Syria with relatives in the area. It has another 100 refugees in line to be resettled to Edmonton by the end of the year. The Mennonites is a religious group known for its sponsorship for those displaced. Since the 1970s, it has sponsored more than 70,000 people who were fleeing their homeland due to war or conflict. But in order to help the Syrian refugees, it had to work with the local imams.

In Ontario, 21 churches came together to raise the $32,000 necessary to pay for living costs of a sponsored refugee family. However, this group also had to reach out to the Muslims to work together to bring two entire families to the community. They raised money through bake sales, bazaars, and online donations. This small group inspired more congregations to beef up their own efforts to bring families into Canada.

The Archdiocese of Toronto has already helped 120 Syrian refugees to date, but it has ramped up fundraising efforts. Over the next 100 days, the goal is $3 million, which will bring in 100 families. A Jewish congregation in Toronto is also sponsoring a Syrian family by working with Lifeline Syria.

Working Together Builds Relationships

Interfaith groups that bring these refugees to Canada aren’t just bringing them over and leaving them on their own. Once the families arrive, they often need language assistance and integration into the community to be able to find their way. It’s not just financial assistance that needs to be provided by the sponsoring organization. Getting these families out of the camps that they are currently living in is going to take everyone coming together and not considering religious background.

Spirituality in the Twitter Age

Devotion to technology is a form of modern-day spirituality

Twitter is one of the predominant social media platforms available today. The company was founded in 2006 and has grown exponentially since then. More than 350,000 tweets are posted per minute, and over 500 million are sent per day. In addition to everyday people, politicians, movie stars and spiritual leaders are also finding it an effective way to communicate with and inspire their followers.

Dalai Lama: @DalaiLama – 11.8 M followers

The Dalai Lama is a Buddhist monk who won the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize. He has one of the largest Twitter followings of any spiritual leader and tweets every couple of days. His posts are filled with messages of peace, happiness and compassion. Some recent tweets are:

  • “The use of force and violence inevitably entails unanticipated consequences, but rarely yields a solution.” – August 21
  • “To create a happier humanity we have to pay more attention to our inner values, whether we are religious or not.” – August 3
  • “To cultivate genuine compassion we need to take responsibility for our own care and have concern for everyone’s suffering, including our own.” – July 27

Pope Francis: @Pontifex – 6.89 M followers

The papacy of Pope Francis began on March 13, 2013. He has had a profound effect on the religious and secular alike, and is proving to be a religious force with whom to be reckoned. The pontiff has also amassed 6.89 million Twitter followers, which is a far cry from his predecessor’s (Pope Benedict) 12,700. Every two to four days, he tweets messages of benevolence and God’s love. Some recent tweets are:

  • “A Christian too attached to riches has lost his way.” – August 25
  • “Reading the Gospel each day helps us overcome our selfishness and to follow Jesus our teacher with dedication.” – August 21
  • “Hospitality in families is a crucial virtue today, especially in situations of great poverty.” – August 1
  • “We are all sinners. Let us be transformed by God’s mercy.” – August 8

Joel Osteen: @JoelOsteen – 3.89 M followers

Joel Osteen, a preacher and New York Times best-selling author, is the pastor of the biggest Protestant church in America. Every week, more than 44,000 people fill a former basketball area to watch him live, with another seven million tuning in on television. Osteen is also extremely active on Twitter and typically posts twice per day. His messages are inspirational and motivational. Some recent tweets are:

  • “You were created to overcome every obstacle, to rise above every challenge. Not just to survive – to thrive!” – August 26
  • “You may have a negative past, but you don’t have to have a negative future. This is a new day. Make the most of it.” – August 25
  • “You didn’t just happen to show up on planet earth. God had a plan for you long before you arrived.” – August 21

Deepak Chopra: @DeepakChopra – 2.57 M followers

Deepak Chopra is a renowned author and public speaker; he is also a doctor and vocal proponent of alternative medicine. Chopra was born in India and immigrated to the United States in 1970. He is prolific on Twitter (presumably, he has someone helping him), sometimes tweeting up to eight times per day. He interacts with his followers and frequently retweets messages. His posts are filled with New Age spirituality. Some recent tweets are:

  • “Each one of us is created with an inherent light within – a light made up of limitless spiritual power.” – August 27
  • “Yoga is the connection to the source field beyond space and time.” – August 25
  • “A compassionate heart, tapping into the inner ocean of unconditional acceptance, flows in waves of love.” – August 23

Much can be said in a 140-character tweet. Spiritual leaders who have jumped on the Twitter bandwagon are making the most of every post.

To Pray or Not to Pray?

ThinkstockPhotos-77746967The Canadian Supreme Court’s unanimous mid-April ruling banning prayers before city council meetings in Saguenay, Quebec, has stirred up quite a debate across the country. Many municipalities believe the decision is now of the law of land and are following suit. Others are suspending the practice and taking time to debate the matter, and some are ignoring the ruling all together. There are a number of different alternatives being considered.

The Lord’s Prayer

Over the years, many municipal meetings have begun with the recitation of The Lord’s Prayer. This tradition likely evolved out of Canada’s Anglican and Roman Catholic heritage. However, today the country is much more spiritually diverse. It is difficult to dispute the religious sentiment of the text which reads:

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name; thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.”

House of Commons Prayer

In 1927, the House of Commons formalized the practice of opening sessions with its own prayer. There have been some changes made to the wording over time. The current language was implemented in 1994 and is still being used today. The House of Common is independent from the country’s judicial branch and does not have to adhere to Supreme Court rulings, unless the representatives choose to do so. The House of Commons prayer is recited before the public is allowed in chambers and TV cameras turned on. It reads as follows:

“Almighty God, we give thanks for the great blessings which have been bestowed on Canada and its citizens, including the gifts of freedom, opportunity and peace that we enjoy. We pray for our Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth, and the Governor General. Guide us in our deliberations as Members of Parliament, and strengthen us in our awareness of our duties and responsibilities as Members. Grant us wisdom, knowledge, and understanding to preserve the blessings of this country for the benefit of all and to make good laws and wise decisions. Amen”

Generic Invocation

Another option is for municipalities to agree on a nonreligious “invocation.” One that has been proposed by Owen Sound, Ontario resident Terri Hope is:

“As we approach our work here today, may we be mindful of our role as leaders in Owen Sound, a city of great beauty and opportunity. As we face our decisions, may we be guided by strong ethics, wisdom, fairness and sound knowledge. May we never forget the trust placed in us by the people of Owen Sound.”

Observe a Moment of Silence

A number of city councils opted prior to the April 15 Supreme Court decision to have a moment of silence instead of a prayer. This alternative appears to be gaining steam after the ruling. Some municipalities have adopted the practice as an interim step while they consider the implications and alternatives to the recent ruling. Observing a moment of silence can allow time for personal, independent reflection, regardless of one’s religious beliefs.

Skip It Altogether

There are some municipalities that believe that the Canadian Supreme Court is the ultimate authority of these matters, and the affairs of church and state should be separate. They have chosen to eliminate prayers, and anything comparable, and get straight to the business at hand. Over time, it is possible forgoing a prayer, invocation or moment of silence will become standard practice.

The Supreme Court of Canada’s April 15 decision to ban prayers before city council meetings in Saguenay, Quebec, is bound to have a wide-ranging impact. It remains to be seen what the specific ramifications will be.