Volume 92, Issue 86

Thursday, March 11, 1999


Finding self, finding support

Finding self, finding support

By Lena Hassan
Gazette Staff

In a society which seems to be melding into one blurry, fast-paced culture, the role religion plays is a questionable one. Is belief in religion needed within our society or is it simply an idea which faded with the scientific revolution?

There is no doubt Western is a diverse community with some students holding strong spiritual beliefs and others not believing in religion of any kind. It is easy to see, however, that religion affects the everyday lives of many students.

The one aspect which brings together individuals from Christianity, Islam and Judaism is their view that religion is about working together as a unit for the love of God.

Western chaplain Lynn Godfrey considers the reason some may not see any evidence of God is simply because they have given up the search. "What's their definition of God?" Godfrey asks. "Maybe they think the God that they thought was supposed to exist, doesn't. That doesn't mean that God isn't present."

When values and beliefs are shaken, Godfrey and other chaplains available are there to help students find answers – not to give them. Godfrey says there are many misconceptions concerning chaplains, one being that in order to become a chaplain, you must be Christian. "There is a Muslim chaplain on campus now," she points out. "It helps having chaplains of different faiths working together as a unit. That way if someone comes to me who is of a different faith, I can respect that and refer them to someone else."

Godfrey reads religious books and talks to people of different religious groups to acquire more information. This knowledge helps her to connect with the many different Jewish and Islamic students, as well as students of other faiths, while allowing her to strengthen her own faith. Godfrey also expresses her delight in learning more, for it helps her appreciate the gifts that other people have to share.

Hussein Hamdani, a second-year law student and the current president of the Muslim Students Association, speaks of his religious beliefs in a slightly different manner than Godfrey. Although Godfrey speaks about many different Christian groups on campus (over a dozen) and different sects of Christianity, Hamdani points to a togetherness in the community.

Bidding the month of Ramadan goodbye until next year, Hamdani explains that with millions of Muslims all over the world breaking fast at sunset and praying towards the east at prayer times, there is a sense of fulfillment and closeness among Muslims. Such traditions of Islam help Muslims all over the world come together. "Muslims are more religious than any other group. This is because they have recognized their calling and feel blessed to call themselves Muslim," he says.

Hamdani also discusses his knowledge dealing with other religions. "I have studied many religions. I've attended church services and read books, but there were still questions lingering in my mind. Even approaching priests proved to be unsuccessful, for they couldn't answer my questions either."

The more he learned about Islam the more confidence he gained about being a Muslim. Just as Hamdani found solace in his religion, he trusts others will be able to find comfort in it as well and ultimately see it as the answer.

Hamdani stresses the importance of self-education when researching a religion. "Islam is the fastest growing religion in Canada. If a person were to sit down and read from an objective source, he or she would see for themselves why it has caught on in such mass hysteria. It really isn't puzzling.

"University students are becoming better educated on the topic of Islam. There is no compulsion in the religion. The truth will set itself free."

Second-year media, information and technoculture student Natalie Berens says she believes although some people may say there is no God, they will turn towards some form of spiritual guidance when times of misfortune arrive in their lives. "There are going to be times of tragedy in everyone's life. Unfortunately that is something we can't avoid, however the thought of there being no God leaves me feeling empty inside," she says.

A sense of community also seems to play an important role, although being on the executive of the Jewish Students' Union as the religious and cultural chair, Berens finds some problems with their programming. This year the executives' goal was to get as many students out for their events as possible, however this has caused them to plan so many events that the attendance for some has been quite low – especially the attendance of the first-year students.

"The advertisements are always cheery and they give an idea – 'let's be one big happy family' – but once I get there the people seem to be judgemental simply because they may recognize me as a student who doesn't come to the events very often," says JSU member and second-year scholars electives student Jordanna Clarfield-Henry.

The JSU helps out Jewish students by allowing them an office to go to and people to talk to. Above all, it is there to provide protection against discrimination. With misinterpretations and prejudices which seem to plague some around campus, Berens feels all the clubs could work together towards a common goal – peace and acceptance.

"Wouldn't it be nice to make everybody one, as opposed to putting people into categories? In order for us to grow as a society, we have to learn to see people as people rather than automatically throwing them into a heading or class."

Although the Asian Christian Fellowship does not participate in cross-religious groups, president Cliff Lee says it is simply because the group's focus is on developing personal relationships with God, not because of disagreement among groups. "It's not that we can't get along," Lee says.

A small club catering to English-speaking Asians, Lee points to the role of the ACF as building relationships and support among students. "We don't do big events," Lee says.

Organizing events such as Christ Awareness Week, praise and worship nights and spending time praying and reading the bible, Lee says the group is in tune to each other. "It's about understanding the place God has in our life and moves us to act in a certain way."

Although this article focuses on three groups on campus, there are a multitude of religously-based clubs and organizations designed to meet the needs of students in terms of community and religion. Included are:

Asian Christian Fellowship

Buddhist Philosophy

Campus Crusade for Christ

Chinese Christians

Christian Arab Students

Cornerstone Student Christians

Hindu Students' Association

Jewish Students' Association

Korean Christian Fellowship

London Chinese Catholic

Muslim Students' Association

Seventh Day Adventists

Western Inter-Varsity Christian

Western Sikh Students Association

Chaplains' Services, Room 255, UCC

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Copyright The Gazette 1999