The June 21st conference, attended by parliamentarians, diplomats, academics, members of the armed forces, business people and representatives from a spectrum of faith communities, was addressed by a group of international speakers including Karen Armstong, Ali Asani, Nazim Baksh, Daood Hamdani, Zainab Istrabandi, Riffat Hassan, Mishal Husain and Lorna Wright.
Speaking in Room 200 of the West Block of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, the venue in the early 1980s of parliamentary public hearings for the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, many of the presenters articulated common themes: the need to reintroduce large parts of the Muslim world to the pluralist essence of Islam; the importance of countering exclusivist interpretations of faith; and the necessity of building bridges with other religious communities.
Following the Keynote Address by Karen Armstrong, Azim Nanji emphasised the importance of pursuing an understanding of ‘common humanity’ through an acknowledgement and acceptance of its own diversity. Commenting on the notions of ‘respect for traditions’ and ‘traditionalism’ in the postmodern age, Nanji said that it was widely stated that tradition is ‘the living faith of the dead’ and traditionalism is ‘the dead faith of the living’. In reinforcing his point with the larger theme of the conference, Nanji stated that individuals should ‘aspire to understand how these traditions can influence the life of a community over time and space.’ He suggested that we need to look at the spectrum of Muslim traditions and experiences to see what it is that facilitates the ability to build bridges, as examples in Muslim history illustrate.
‘Pluralism is not simply the acknowledgement of diversity. It is also the capacity to negotiate difference.’ Nanji iterated that just as we acknowledge and pay tribute to the multiplicity within nature, ‘it is very important that Muslims acknowledge and recognise that they should pay tribute to their own diversity. They should not see it as a weakness. They should not see it as something that takes away from Islam. It enriches and it profits us to acknowledge our diversity.’
WEBB (www.webb-international.org) was established to mobilise women to engage in building bridges of human understanding and engage in positive action for peace and harmony. ‘Diversity in Islam: Bridging the Gaps’ was organised with the support of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the Embassies of Indonesia, the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Islamic Republic of Iran.