Correction appended October 28, 2013.
As the debate over the proposed Quebec Charter of Values continues, students at McGill are finalizing the creation of the McGill Interfaith Students’ Council, in order to address the demand for interfaith interaction, and the need for a forum through which religious understanding can grow.
The first large-scale Council meeting on October 20 included selected representatives from 9 of the 13 religious student groups at McGill, several independent representatives, and Reverend Neil John Whitehouse, Associate Director of McGill Chaplaincy Services.
According to Anita Sivabalan, one of the organizers of the Council and the VP Social Justice of the Newman Students’ Society – a Catholic social and charity club – the councillors wanted to focus on peacebuilding, advocacy, and creating dialogue.
“Dialogue is not only questioning each other but also questioning ourselves and what we believe in; trying to, through those questions, further our understanding of who we are, what it means to be our religion; as well as trying to understand others,” Sivabalan explained in an interview with The Daily.
The Council has also decided to form a sub-committee, as of yet unnamed, which has already started planning an event that aims to reach out to students and raise awareness on the Quebec Charter of Values.
“All the events that have happened before were more directed to just academics in general. But this event, we want to focus specifically on a student audience [and] have an event at McGill, for McGill students. But this is not to say that it’s not open to other students, or other campuses, or scholars, or academics,” Sivabalan said.
According to the lead organizers of the Council, there is currently no student organization at McGill that can claim to have a collective voice that represents the point of view of the religious student body on contemporary issues, such as the Quebec Charter of Values.
Elizabeth Carnogursky, VP Publicity of the Newman Students’ Society, said in an email to The Daily that the Council would aim “to be a unified voice of religious students and faith clubs on campus in response to specific issues that arise.”
“Despite its history, I would say that Quebec social and political culture is not one that understands and respects religions or gives them due consideration, as exemplified by the Quebec Charter of Values lately,” Carnogursky continued.
According to Trisha Islam, one of the lead organizers of the Council, the Quebec Charter of Values is definitely one of the reasons why the Council is necessary, but it is not the only reason.
Islam, speaking to The Daily in an interview, said, “We want [the Council] to be organizational, sustainable. We want this to last year after year. We want this to be relevant at the same time. Who knows what’s going to happen to the Charter? [...] [The Council is] supposed to be ‘on the wave.’ It’s current, it’s relevant – always thinking ahead.”
Sivabalan later said, “We recognize our differences, but we celebrate that diversity. This can really show campus how different religious groups can come together and collaborate, and be peaceful, and have dialogue with each other. It’s powerful, and it can undermine that assumption that religion can bring violence, or people of faith cannot cooperate.”
The online version of this article incorrectly stated the name of the newly-formed council as the McGill Students Interfaith Council. In fact, it is called the McGill Interfaith Students’ Council. The Daily regrets the errors.