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  • Writer's pictureAslam Abdullah

Parliament of World Religions: The Largest Assembly of Faithfuls

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

Panelists at the First Parliament of Religions in 1893

Several diverse faith organizations in the Inaugural Parade of Faiths, the 7,000+ attendees in the halls of the Chicago Lakeside Center, and the hundreds of presenters and exhibitors who shared their unique contributions to the global interfaith movement were the highlights of the Parliament of World Religions concluded in Chicago on August 19, 2023.

The initiative to bring world religions on one global platform began 130 years ago, and 2023 marked the seventh conference. Besides workshops and lectures, the main feature was the Langar, or community kitchen, organized by hundreds of Sikh volunteers. In Sikhism, a langar is the community kitchen of a gurdwara, which serves meals to all free of charge, regardless of religion, caste, gender, economic status, or ethnicity. Sikhs are only .1 percent of the US population. They number about 28 million worldwide, yet they open their Kitchen to the representatives of over 7 billion people, claiming to believe in over 4,700 faith traditions.

Participants appreciated the Kitchen, where they felt honored and welcomed. Most enjoyed the food served humbly in the tradition of the Sikh faith. However, a few who still believe in untouchability and human hierarchy based on the caste system and racial superiority abstained from the most incredible food table the Sikhs spread in every Parliament of world religions.

Cub Scouts at the 2023 Parliament of Religions Parade

For five days, the faith followers shared joy for their commitment to justice, peace, and sustainability. They also recognized the threats their communities face worldwide from hate mongers and diversionists; some tried to disrupt the Parliament by shouting slurs against Imam Malik Mujahid, the organization's former President, for his concerns over the rise of Hindutva nationalists. But the majority prevailed, and the hate-mongers only exposed their frustration. Through their actions, the participants proved that faith and spiritual communities were vital partners in this struggle for justice, freedom, a healthy environment, human rights and dignity, and democracy.

Visitors at the WCMIR booth

They recognized that despots, hate mongers, supremacists, and racists were misappropriating religions to justify injustice by using religious symbols and misusing the name of God to grab more power. They vowed to fight the forces of evil through collective efforts.

Non-Muslim visitors trying Hijab at the Muslim Faith Space

Over 6,500 people registered for the Parliament, representing 212 spiritual traditions and 95 countries. The Parliament is rooted in the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where the first convening of the World Parliament of Religions created a global platform for religious engagement.

Mufti Barkatulla, world-renowned Mufti from U. K., Dr. Zahid Bukhari, President of ICNA Council for Social Justice and Dr. Hasnain Walji, Executive Director of the United Global

Initiative at a WCMIR panel on Social justice binds humanity together.

Renowned religious leaders, scholars, performers, and activists spoke at

plenary sessions held between 10 am and 12 pm daily. Additionally, over

nine hundred parallel sessions were held, including panels, workshops, and

performances.

The Muslim community was there, but not entirely. Chicago has a large Muslim population that generally attracts 30 to 40,000 participants in ISNA, ICNA, or MAS conventions organized to promote what the organizers claim dawa or introducing Islam. Yet, in this significant international Parliament, the Muslim presence was minimal.

Kamran Siddiqi, a young interfaith leader, with Mufti Barkatullah and Dr. Ahmadullah Siddiqi at the WCMIR boot at the Parliament of World Religions

WCMIR and the Muslim Host Committee for the 2023 Parliament presented

29 panels with about 80 panelists. More than 250 Muslims also attended the Parliament and participated in over 100 panels.

The world-renowned Muslim scholar, Dr. Mustafa Abu Sway, from the Occupied Land of Palestine with Muslim leaders of Chicago

Several Muslim groups participated in the Parliament. However, the role played by the World Council of Muslims for Interfaith Relations and the Chicago Muslim Host Committee was pivotal. Its founder, Dr. Irfan Ahmed Khan, was instrumental in the efforts to revive the Parliament after 100 years of dormancy in 1993. WCMIR maintained its spirit and motivated the community to be part of this international forum. Besides other groups, the organization had its booth and volunteers to distribute Islamic literature to the attendees. Dr. Ahmadullah Siddiqi, the secretary general of WCMIR who is actively involved in interfaith dialogues globally, believes that the next Parliament would see greater Muslim participation as the interreligious movement spreads widely among community members worldwide.

History of Parliament

1893 Parliament

1893, Chicago hosted the World Columbian Exposition, an early world's fair. So many people were coming to Chicago from all over the world that many smaller conferences, called Congresses and Parliaments, were scheduled to take advantage of this unprecedented gathering. One was the World's Parliament of Religions, an initiative of the Swedenborgian layman (and judge) Charles Carroll Bonney.

The Parliament of Religions opened on September 11, 1893, at the World's Congress Auxiliary Building, now The Art Institute of Chicago, and ran from 11 to September 27, making it the first organized interfaith gathering.

Mohammed Alexander Russell Webb, an Anglo-American convert to Islam and the former consular representative to the Philippines, represented Islam.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Native American religious figures, Sikhs, and other Indigenous and Earth-centered coreligionists were absent.


1993 Parliament

In 1993, the Parliament convened at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago. Over 8,000 people from all over the world, from many diverse religions, gathered to celebrate, discuss, and explore how religious traditions can work together on the critical issues that confront the world.

1999 Parliament

More than 7,000 individuals from over 80 countries attended the 1999 Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa. The Parliament began with a showing of the International AIDS Memorial Quilt to highlight the epidemic of AIDS in South Africa and the role that religious and spiritual traditions play in facing the critical issues that face the world.

The Parliament Assembly considered a document called A Call to Our Guiding Institutions, addressed to religion, government, business, education, and media, inviting these institutions to reflect on and transform their roles at the threshold of the next century.

2004 Parliament

More than 8,900 individuals attended the 2004 Parliament in Barcelona, Spain. The 2004 Parliament concentrated on four pressing issues:

  • Mitigating religiously motivated violence

  • Access to safe water

  • The fate of refugees worldwide

  • Eliminating external debt in developing countries

2009 Parliament

Melbourne, Australia, hosted the 2009 Parliament of the World's Religions. The 2009 parliament took place from 3 to December 9. Over 6,000 people attended the Parliament.

2015 Parliament[

On 15–19 October, the 2015 Parliament took place at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah. 9,806 attendees, performers, and volunteers from 73 countries, 30 major religions, and 548 sub-traditions participated in the Parliament.[During the closing ceremony, Abdul Malik Mujahid announced that the Parliament would henceforth be held every two years, with the next gathering scheduled for 2017, later rescheduled for 2018.

2018 Parliament

The board of trustees of the Parliament selected Toronto as the site of the 2018 Parliament of the World's Religions at their April 2017 meeting. The event took place from 1 to November 7, 2018. More than 8,000 people attended the sessions, including the Dalai Lama, who addressed the opening plenary of the Parliament.

2021 Parliament

The Parliament of the World's Religions was held online from October 16 through October 18, 2021, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

2023 Parliament

The 2023 Parliament of the World's Religions was hosted from Monday, August 14, through Friday, August 18 at the McCormick Place Lakeside Center.


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