World Religions Conference looks at faith and economy

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, March 24, 2010

Is your faith feeling tested during these economically trying times? Has your personal income taken a hit and you wonder where God is in all this? Have you had to reduce your charitable donations at home and abroad? Has your church, synagogue or mosque had to cut back its building programs or lay off staff?

These concerns that are shared across religious traditions will be the focus of a public gathering in Cochrane next Wednesday evening.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is holding its fourth annual World Religions Conference at the Cochrane RancheHouse. This year’s topic is “Religion: How it Affects and is Affected by the Economy.”

Cochrane Mayor Truper McBride, a university graduate in economics, will emcee the interfaith event featuring speakers/panelists from Judaism, Islam, Christianity and First Nations traditional spirituality.

This is the fourth such conference held in Cochrane by the Ahmadiyya Community. Previous years have addressed religion and social peace, the environment and evolution.

Basheer Islam, president of the Ahmadiyya Community Calgary West chapter, organizers of next week’s conference, explained the reason for selecting the economy as this year’s topic.

“We believe that religion should cover all aspects of human life, including the economy,” he said, “and people should be able to draw inspiration from their religious teachings.” People need to seek moral guidance “to navigate through the economic tribulations.”

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, founded over a century ago, has grown to some 200 million followers in 195 countries. Staunchly opposed to terrorism and violence, the community sponsors world religions conferences globally as a means of promoting peace through understanding.

The conferences are “a learning experience that offers delegates from diverse faith communities and philosophical traditions a wonderful opportunity to exchange ideas and explore topical issues in a spirit of mutual respect,” he said.

“These deliberations, as they are based on a mutual respect for each other’s differences, are an example to all who attend, and a valuable lesson of unity and accepting others.”

Representing a First Nations traditional perspective is Stoney Nakoda elder Tina Fox, of Morley. The widely-travelled university graduate and retired political leader is a popular advocate for community building through mutual understanding and forgiveness.

Russell Stagg, Calgary-area religious studies scholar with background in hospital and university chaplaincy, will speak on faith and the economy from a Jewish perspective.

An Islamic perspective will be represented by Mansoor Anjum, oil company executive and Secretary, Communications, Calgary West chapter of the Ahmadiyya Community.

I’ve been asked to address a Christian perspective.

I will attempt to show that our relationship to the economy is first of all a matter of priorities: Who or what is first in our lives? I will look at the wonderful story of Joseph, son of Jacob, who was given the wisdom for managing ancient Egypt’s resources during a cycle of prosperity and famine – interestingly, a story shared among all the major Western religions.

And since Christian values are so deeply rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures, I will also look at lessons from Jeremiah and others of the prophets, in the light of New Testament teachings on contentment and compassion.

Two years ago I had the privilege of attending the inauguration of the Ahmadiyya Community’s Baitun Nur Mosque in northeast Calgary. Among the speakers on that occasion were Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Calgary Catholic Bishop Frederick Henry.

Dr. Mohyuddin Mirza, the Ahmadiyya panelist at the 2008 World Religions Conference in Cochrane, gave me a personal tour of the breathtaking new facility. Along one wall he pointed out a large eye-catching display. Labelled simply “Beautiful Names of Allah,” it included sacred names such as al-Barr “The Beneficent,” al-Razzaaq “The Provider,” and as-Salaam “The Source of Peace.”

Upon reflection, I find two names particularly inspiring with reference to next week’s conference on religion and the economy: al-Ghaffaar, “The Great Forgiver” and al-Fattaah “The Opener (of the Doors of Success).”

May these two names bring special blessing to all who seek to keep God first in their lives.

Again, the World Religions Conference on religion and the economy is being held March 31 at the Cochrane RancheHouse. Doors open at 6:00 p.m., program runs from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Free admission. Registration recommended (1-866-208-2683 or online at

© 2010 Warren Harbeck

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