A Memorable Interfaith
By Thomas L. Thorkelson
Newport Beach, CA
to R): John Jones, Sheila O’Leary Thorkelson,
Thomas L. Thorkelson, Saghir Aslam and Pakistan Health
Minister Nasir Khan
For many years I have been privileged
to know and associate with Mr. Saghir Aslam. I continue to
be touched by his warmth and dedication to the people of his
native Pakistan. Saghir, through hard work and dedication,
has lived the “American Dream”.
An immigrant with limited English, he worked and excelled
in his business and soon found himself blessed with significant
financial success. Many so blessed buy that immense home in
a prestigious area and drive flashy and expensive cars. Saghir,
on the other hand, chose to live modestly and use his wealth
unselfishly to bless others, with emphasis on those in need
in Pakistan. However, when asked, he always emphasizes that,
while he appreciates the ties has with Pakistan, America is
the land he has chosen and that he loves this country that
has provided him with such immense opportunities.
Through the generosity of others, I was able to be a catalyst
in being a small part of Saghir’s efforts. Michael Dimas
of Medix Ambulance Service in Orange County California consented
to donate ambulances to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints (the “Mormons”) who then refurbished and
shipped the ambulances to countries of need, one of those
countries being Pakistan. I was also able to connect Brother
Aslam with a Mormon medical doctor, William Jackson, who administers
a foundation that treats serious eye diseases. In addition,
I was able to facilitate the sending of clothing and other
supplies to Pakistan through the Humanitarian Services arm
of the Mormon Church.
Some months ago, my wife, Sheila, and I were invited to speak
at an Interfaith Peace Conference organized by Brother Aslam
scheduled for April 24 in Islamabad. We brought our son, John,
with us and he was an active participant. While we were prepared
to speak at the Peace Conference, the opportunity to make
several major presentations during our travels in Pakistan
challenged our confidence. The vast majority of those who
listened to our messages had never heard speakers from a faith
other than Islam.
Our message was to encourage interaction and respect for people
of different faiths.
Sheila and Thomas distribute clothes
among the needy
“It is a part of Mormon
theology that, before we came to this earth, we lived with
our Heavenly Father as His spirit children. We then had the
opportunity to enter into the second stage of our existence
by coming to earth through earthly parents where we would
gain a physical body and prove ourselves by the lives that
we lived. Then, at death, we would be judged and have the
opportunity to live again with God. Because of our belief
that we lived with God before our earthly birth, we are all
children of God, brothers and sisters. [The Qur’an would
say that we are all ‘creations’ of Allah]. This
next thought is very important: You use the term ‘brother’
and ‘sister’ to indicate that you are both followers
of the teachings of Islam, you are brothers and sisters in
a fellowship. However, when I refer to you as ‘brothers
and sisters’, I really mean it! Regardless of your faith
tradition, your culture, the color of your skin or place of
birth, you are my brothers and sisters! We are comfortable
with our kin. Because of this I have a desire and obligation
to know you better, to come to understand you and appreciate
and emphasize our areas of common values, beliefs and traditions.
Why do we spend our energy looking for areas where we differ?
Let us look, learn and speak of the ways that can bring us
closer together. Let us find strength in our common values.
My faith teaches us to dress modestly, to be honest in our
dealings with others, to pray often, to abstain from alcohol
and other harmful influences on our bodies, to build strong
families, to be charitable to the less fortunate, to observe
sexual purity and bodily cleanliness. So does the Holy Qur’an!
There is so much more in common between peoples of different
faiths than there are differences.” Our messages were
well received and sweet friends were made.
Our visits included periods of time in Karachi and Chanan
before we went to Islamabad. We spoke to large audiences at
Wisdom House in Chanan and at the Woman’s International
University in Islamabad. Chanan is a remote village in the
middle of nowhere where this exemplary institution sits. When
Brother Aslam told me the story of this impressive school
which started as a preschool in 1994 and is now able to issue
degrees, Sheila and I were really impressed. On our drive
to the capital from Lahore, we visited the site of the New
Cadet College at Tibi Bangla, acres and acres of beautiful
rolling hills which someday will house an educational village
surrounding a university hospital! Saghir’s dream is
that someday, with God’s blessing, this will be the
location of Pakistan’s greatest multi-cultural and inter-religious
institution. The setting was pastoral as we felt the spirit
of the rich and fertile valley. We were fortunate, during
our entire trip, that the country was preparing for the celebration
of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, Peace Be Upon Him,
so the lights of both the cities and rural areas reminded
us of the celebration of Christmas in America.
We attended Catholic Mass in Karachi and worshipped in a branch
of our faith in Islamabad where we found a thriving and growing
congregation. A number of the leaders of our faith attended
the Peace Conference and we have established wonderful friendships.
While in Islamabad, we had the opportunity to see the Saba
Trust in action. We were impressed as we participated in the
distribution of clothing to those in need who resided in the
area. Some of what Saghir Aslam does involves charitable efforts
to the Christian community when that need is brought to his
attention. We met a young Presbyterian minister at the conference
who has kept in close email contact with Sheila and me. We
have arranged for Saghir to provide compassionate assistance
to this minister’s congregation, which he has done and
continues to do.
The conference was organized with precision and was an inspiration
for both the participants and the large audience. It is a
part of Saghir’s mission to promote peace, harmony and
appreciation for all faiths and all countries. Truly, he is
an ambassador to and for both Pakistan and America. Sheila,
John and I lived in the homes of our new Muslim friends, visited
impressive Mosques, prayed together and grew with our association.
We came to know the beautiful countryside and felt the warmth
of the people we came to love.
We pray that God will continue to bless people of goodwill
from all faiths as they have a positive and loving impact
on their neighbors.