Women of four faiths share on suffering

January 18, 2012 | God at work in the World | Number 2
By Angelika Dawson | Special to Canadian Mennonite

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I had the opportunity to participate in a symposium hosted by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community women in Surrey, B.C., late last year. The meeting took place in a store-front temple in a strip mall, where we all had to remove our shoes because it had been consecrated as a place of prayer.



 I was one of four speakers, each representing a different religion: Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism. We were each given 15 minutes to answer the question “Why is there human suffering in the world?”



As each of us shared, I was struck by the similarities of our faiths, rather than our differences. We all spoke of the need to take responsibility for our own actions; of surrendering our will to God or some concept of the divine, since we all came to that slightly differently; and of the need for forgiveness and redemption. I heard common phrases like “as you sow, so shall you reap,” and different versions of the Golden Rule.



Of course, there were differences. The Sikh and Hindu speakers spoke of their belief in reincarnation and karma, which should influence how people act towards others and how they respond to suffering in the world. They shared my view that God did not intend for the world to suffer, but that suffering comes because of the actions of humankind. Only the Muslim speaker indicated that suffering was part of Allah’s original design, arguing that since God is perfect and, therefore, his creation is perfect, so suffering must be part of that design and must be there to teach us something.



I was grateful for the opportunity to share my faith both theologically and personally, offering some stories of my own experience with suffering. There was great openness to receiving what I shared.



There was a formal time for questions afterwards, but most of the interaction happened afterwards as we shared wonderful food, tea and coffee. Several women approached me and asked me about Mennonites in particular, since they had not heard of them before, or, if they had, they were surprised to see me there without a horse and buggy and with my head uncovered.



I was able to talk about my personal faith and I learned a great deal as each of the speakers, and some of the guests, shared their faith experiences with me.



Angelika Dawson works as a communicator for Mennonite Central Committee B.C. and a former B.C. correspondent for Canadian Mennonite.

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