A Memorable Interfaith Journey
By Thomas L. Thorkelson
Newport Beach, CA


(L 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.

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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