Should prayer be public? A multi-faith panel weighs in

The question of whether prayer belongs at public, non-religious events is still stewing in Saskatoon.

On Wednesday the Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association at the University of Saskatchewan hosted To Pray or Not to Pray, a panel event that gathered representatives from seven different belief systems to discuss the role of prayer in modern society.

The StarPhoenix asked some of the panelists about the local debate over public prayer.

Here are their responses:

Do you think prayer is appropriate at public events?

Being a Muslim, and seeing that there were prayers in settings like that, it was very encouraging. It was promoting interfaith dialogue. It felt like it was welcoming to all of the religions and cultures in the world. I would definitely be supportive of it.

What should such a prayer contain?

As long as it’s neutral, we would be okay with it from a Muslim perspective. As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone’s sentiments or feelings.

Do you think prayer is appropriate at public events?

Personally, in the public realm, I don’t think so. This is a complicated conversation, as you know, but I’m just thinking that, in the common realm, if it’s a Christian based prayer, that it’s not acceptable.

What should such a prayer contain?

The strategy I personally think would be best is a sort of moment of reflection, say before eating. In our multi-plistic society, I think that’s probably the best way to go. Honouring that tradition in that way, so people can participate according to their own inclinations.

Do you think prayer is appropriate at public events?

That’s a really complicated question. It’s not something that has an easy answer. I think prayer is important in our lives. I think it gives us an opportunity to reach higher. At the same time, in public situations, it can, in certain ways, make some feel uncomfortable.

I think it has to be done with a lot of forethought and a lot of care.

What should such a prayer contain?

You would need to talk to our rabbi, or someone who is a scholar. I know when something makes me feel comfortable and when something doesn’t, but to offer a suggestion as to something that would make 150 different religions all feel comfortable, plus people who don’t believe in the same kind of creator that I do, it’s really hard to come up with something that generic. If you get it generic enough, it isn’t a prayer any more.

Do you think prayer is appropriate at public events?

I don’t see any reason why it is not appropriate. My take on a prayer is I don’t think it has anything to do with religion. For example, if I was to go to a friend and say, “Please, wish me good luck” on an exam, or a football game or whatever, I’m asking them to think about me, and seeking their kindness, good will and good luck.

What should such a prayer contain?

(A non-denominational prayer) is a good idea. Obviously, it takes all kinds to make the world. There are different people who might react differently to prayers. If they perceive that one prayer dominates a certain religious view, then that is not appropriate. What should it cover? I think it should cover very general statements. We seek blessings. Not even saying from whom, necessarily.

Do you think prayer is appropriate at public events?

It’s high time that we understand that we have a dark history here in Canada. We have to acknowledge that, and we have to fight for future generations. A fight doesn’t mean physical violence. What it does mean is we have to work together to respect each other and fight complicity.

We’re not saying atheism is bad. What we are saying is not caring is bad, and not respecting each other is bad.

What should such a prayer contain?

I think it should suit the event, first and foremost. I think there should be a sharing. This time, there could be this type of prayer, then we could do it differently next time. An exchange, or routine, or cycle of different kinds of prayers rather than just one.

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