• Raya Shokatfard

FROM THE PARLIAMENT OF WORLD’S RELIGIONS

Updated: Jul 3, 2020


By: Raya Shokatfard


The Parliament of the World’s Religions, the world’s largest interfaith gathering ended on December 9, 2009. “It was an event that brought together religious and civil leaders and the people of faith, spirit, and goodwill from more than 80 countries,” said John Brumby MP, the Premier of Victoria.


The Parliament was founded in 1893, and is headquartered in Chicago. It reconvened some 25 years ago, making the recent event the fifth , and is to be repeated every five years in a new location.


It addresses issues of peace, social justice and community sustainability. Some estimated that over 10,000 people attended the conference.


The event took place in Australia, one of the world’s most popular places for multicultural, peaceful, and respectable societies. Melbourne is home to people from over 150 countries, speaking over 200 languages. Thus bringing this event to the right place at the right time.


Although the main topic was regarding religious debates, their secondary sub-themes were about healing the Earth with care and concern, overcoming poverty in an unequal world, securing food and water for all people, and building peace in the pursuit of justice.


In addition, other program clusters were added, such as; local and inter-religious movements, Islam in the global context, women in leadership, youth, family, media, other religious context, peace building, and nuclear non-proliferation.


Though simple words fail to express the vividness of their faces, their national attires that they wore, and their expression; but I will leave that up to your imagination.


I tried to interview as many religious ambassadors as I possibly could, and asked them similar questions. For example," What is the concept of God in your religion? What is the difference between monotheistic and polytheistic religions? What about the soul and life after death? Do you believe in prophets and their messages? What were their messages?"


How about Heaven and Hell?


One scene that captured my eyes was a specific dance, performed by the Buddhists. Their colorful costumes and chants amazed me, along with the manner of respect they offered to their master.


I interviewed their master, who was a wise middle aged man, he even looked like the Buddha statue. The translator stood on his knees, with another holding two cups of water for their master and the translator, and a few others were all kneeling before this man during the whole time I was talking to their master.


The first question I asked him, was if Buddhists believed in God? He said many Buddhist don’t believe in God but his sect did, but they did not believe in one god. “There are many,” he said.


“For a specific period of time, there is a god and these periods occur in a constant cycle.”


"What about Heaven or Hell," I asked? His response was that Heaven and Hell are on earth, and according to the way we live; some can be reincarnated as an animal like a dog and some as humans according to how they lived their last life. He believes they will continue this way until they achieve godhood and thus not have to be reincarnated again.


When I asked whether he knew Prophet Muhammad, he said, “Yes.”


Then I asked,“If so, Muhammad came to proclaim that there was only one God and that we were from our mother’s womb and we will be resurrected on the Day of Judgment."

He said, “Yes, yes, I agree,” but could not give me a straight answer as to why he believed in numerous gods.


I asked him again if he believed in Muhammad as a prophet. He said, “Yes.” But he could not make connection between Muhammad and his message, which was to believe in the oneness of God.


After much discussion, he looked at me and he said, “You are a prophet.”

“No!” I raised my voice and said, “not me, but Muhammad.” Then he said, “You are my teacher and I need to learn from you.”


“Ok," I accepted, then I told him to say that there is only one God,” which he did, “and Muhammad is His prophet,” and he did. Then I asked him how many gods are there? He said many. I gave up, smiled, and thanked him for his time and walked away.


A day later, as he was walking with his followers, he approached me again and told me I was his teacher. I raised my index finger and said, “There is only one God,” he smiled and said, “Yes, there is one God!"


“And Muhammad is His Prophet,” I said with my index finger still in the air.

He said, “Yes, yes.” I asked him to promise to read the Quran more often and stay in communication with me. He said, “Yes, yes.” I then said good bye, while watching his followers bow down to him and treating him as their god.


In my interview of other religious ambassadors, I found many of them saying that they worship only one God. However, the issue was confusing. According to some, there are gods of lesser degrees, like in Sikhism;  Multiple gods, like in Hinduism. A human god, like in Zoroastrianism. A self god, like the New Age spirituality. Jesus as god, as in Christianity, no god, as in atheism, and many other varieties in between.


I came away wondering how all this come about? I know there is only one God, So why do we have such vast differences and so many religions?


This brought my thoughts back to my own journey,I remembered when I was looking for God and joined many religions in my pursuit , I had joined some of the above, only to walk away, still looking for Him.


It was only when I came to Islam, I found it to be the only religion that teaches to worship one God only — the God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad — and the Creator of the universe. All Praise be to Him.


On the last day, the closing ceremony had nearly all the participants anxiously waiting in line to get into the Plenary Hall to see the Dalai Lama.


This was a great chance to interview many waiting in line, asking them about their view regarding the importance of religion. I found nearly all agreed that religion was needed for human to survive in the society and to distinguish right from wrong. Even the ones with no religion agreed for the need of religion.


Being a media camera woman, I was able to get the very front location for filming. Thinking that I would film the Dalai Lama shortly, I was surprised to see various performances by different religions. I managed to get a few shots of the Dalai Lama, and left the conference happy and thanking God for helping me through my journey of discovering the true religion.


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Published on: Tuesday, 15 December 2009

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    Raya Shokatfard is an international speaker, film maker, and writer with a focus on women’s issues, Islam, and cultural issues. She holds BA and MBS degrees in Journalism and Mass Communication as well as a BA in Islamic Studies and an MD in TV Journalism.

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