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By Stephanie Wells

Muslim, Christian and Hindu prayers rang out Friday evening as three religious student groups united for an interfaith event at Ryerson.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association of Ryerson presented a discussion called “Natural Disasters or Divine Warning?” in partnership with the Hindu Students Association and Winners Christian Fellowship. More than 100 people came out to hear several religious scholars debate the meaning of the natural disasters that have dominated headlines for the past two years.

From hurricane Katrina to the Asian tsunami, and from the devastating earthquake in Pakistan last fall to recent mudslides in the Philippines, there have been numerous tragedies in recent months. Religious leaders and scholars have been debating for some time whether natural disasters are just that – natural — or if they might be a warning or punishment from God for the sins of humanity. In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, for example, some American religious leaders suggested the fierce devastation of the storm was a divine punishment for which the ‘sinful activities’ New Orleans is famous. (Think Mardi Gras, drinking, prostitution and the popularity of voodoo.)

A wide variety of perspectives was presented at the interfaith event. Christian scholar Moses Akingbade started off the evening by demonstrating how many disasters have been seen in recent history. “It’s not something that we read in the storybooks,” Akingbade said. “It’s something that is happening right now.”

Dr. Klaas J. Kraay, from Ryerson’s Philosophy Department, spoke about the nature of evil. He addressed a philosophical question many people wrestle with — if God is a loving being, why would God allow natural disasters to happen? “If God exists, God either causes or permits natural evil,” Kraay said.

He challenged those who believe in God to consider what God’s reasons might be in either causing natural disasters, or permitting things like droughts and earthquakes to happen. Ontario Hindu leader Dr. Budhendra Doobay disagreed with the other speakers, placing the blame for natural disasters at our own feet.

“God does not cause these disasters,” Doobay said. “God does not cause anything to happen to man. Man causes these things to happen to himself.”

Doobay briefly outlined the Hindu belief in the force of karma and the concept of the earth as a mother figure. He said it’s the pollution and destruction caused by humans that causes disasters to happen. “When we don’t pay respect to the earth, the environment will make us pay,” Doobay said.

Ansar Raza presented the Muslim point of view, which was in opposition to the Hindu perspective of Dr. Doobay. Raza noted that the Qu’ran says natural disasters are a result of the evil deeds of people, and not just a random, naturally occurring act. “We do not consider natural laws to be divorced from religious laws,” Raza said.

“Allah has every right to wipe out all humanity if humanity does not serve the purpose of creation.”

Ryerson President Sheldon Levy delivered opening remarks, saying these events demonstrate the great exchange of ideas that takes place in the diverse Ryerson community, and in Canadian society at large.

“When I see events like this… it just reminds me again of the respect and civility that makes our society quite wonderful,” Levy said.

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