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Muslim group to present interfaith youth conference

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Every time he refuses an offer of food or drink during Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, university commerce student Shahzad Musaddiq knows he will face queries about his beliefs.

"In my experience, friends of other faiths would often ask about my faith," explains the 21-year-old University of Manitoba student.

"For me, the questions would come up when I'm fasting during Ramadan."

Musaddiq hopes an upcoming interfaith event aimed specifically at high school and university students can help address some of those questions.

The first ever interfaith youth conference presented by the Islamic Social Services Association runs Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., at Canadian Mennonite University, 500 Shaftesbury Blvd. The event is funded by Manitoba Multiculturalism Secretariat and the Winnipeg Foundation.

The university-aged organizers faced their first lesson on the challenges of interfaith dialogue when they set the date, negotiating a weekend time that would acknowledge Muslim Friday afternoon prayers, the Jewish Sabbath and Christian worship on Sunday mornings, says committee member Elizabeth Beattie.

"We wanted to make sure we could accommodate (everyone), so a time change made it easier for the Christians to attend," says the Booth University College student, who recently completed a social work placement at the ISSA.

Initially scheduled for 10 a.m., the interfaith youth conference kicks off with lunch at 11:30 a.m., but the formal program doesn't begin until 1 p.m.

Musaddiq says he and the other planners also had to understand how faith permeates every aspect of life, including food, prompting them to offer vegetarian options in the conference's pizza and salad lunch.

"I've seen that each of the faith groups has a role in when they worship and what they eat, so it shows that faith is almost all-encompassing," he explains.

"It's an emphasis on religion being a way of life instead of a form of worship or ideology."

The free day-long event is aimed specifically at teenagers and young adults to allow them to meet peers from other faith traditions, ask questions and share concerns, says CMU student Melanie Kampen, who expects many of her classmates to attend.

"A lot of people in my own community are interested in diversity and in meeting new people, but they don't really know how," says Kampen, 22, one of the conference organizers, who has participated in Catholic-Mennonite dialogues.

"It's not very hard to find (interfaith opportunities) if you make that step, but it's a lot easier if there's actually an event, since it promotes a structure."

The conference includes a speech by Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive lineman Obby Khan, who is Muslim, music by Winnipeg hip-hop artist Lyrical Militant, and panel discussions on shared values, media and religion, and gender politics and faith.

A panel of women from various faith traditions will address how gender plays a role in faith and how their faith tradition addresses those issues.

"One (issue) that always comes up is hijab and articles of clothing," says Musaddiq, 21, referring to how some Muslim women cover their heads.

"The reason it's an all-female panel is so we can get personal perspectives as well as input of general perspectives of what topics may come up," adds Beattie.

The goal of Sunday's event is not to debate differences in belief and doctrine, but to discover commonalities, make connections and perhaps establish an interfaith youth council in Winnipeg, says Kampen.

"Gearing it to a certain age and demographic creates more potential common interests and more potential for future relationships," she says.

 

Find Interfaith Youth Conference on Facebook or register at the door at 11:30 a.m. Sunday.

brenda@suderman.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 25, 2012 J13

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