Interfaith harmony in Pakistan

Reema Shaukat

THE term interfaith dialogue refers to compliant, productive and positive interaction between people of different beliefs or religions at an individual or institutional level in order to bring peace, progressive change or harmony among masses. Harmony gives one right to live and let others live peacefully too, definitely based on element of coexistence. It surely paves way or directs one towards peace and prosperity. In a changing world order which is determined by world politics and economic conditions the idea of inter-faith harmony is inevitable.
Interfaith harmony is a feasible condition, which suggests pacific co-existence among followers of various religious beliefs, with an objective to abolish violence. With a practical model of interfaith harmony it proposes understanding of all religions and respecting everyone’s beliefs without disturbing the surroundings. Surely this model nowadays seems fantasy where we witness disturbance among masses on the name of faith and moreover call it religious intolerance. Not only we are observing impatience globally on the basis of fanatics but in every walk of life too. All religions of the world taught peace, love, tolerance and respect for humanity and stressed the need for dialogue among different religions and civilizations for promoting harmony and tranquillity. To have harmony and peace people should shun their differences and share their experiences. In Pakistan many communities are living and it is part of our constitution that though Pakistan is an Islamic state, yet it gives all basic human rights and freedom to minorities in Pakistan. Flag of Pakistan is not complete without these minorities. White part depicts the existence of minorities in Pakistan. Unfortunately during the past few years when religious extremism has manifolded and intolerance and terrorism increased, minorities in Pakistan were also not exempted. Their places of worship were targeted to create distrust among believers of different faiths.
Similarly it wasn’t about just followers of other religions but sectarian based violence created lot of cynicism and pessimism among believers of same religion. Sectarian violence gave new shape to terrorism and miscreants used it as an effective tool to build up chaos among government and people. There are varied figures about the minorities living in Pakistan as the census was done in 1998 and there is lot of variation in statistics now. According to one of International Religious Freedom Report 2002, it estimates the Shi’a population between 10-12 percent among which around 900,000 are Ismaili’s which is a sect of Shia Muslims and who pay tribute to their living spiritual leader, the Aga Khan.
It also lists Christians at 2.09 million; Ahmadis at 286,000, Hindus at 1.03 million; Parsis, Buddhists, and Sikhs at 20,000 each; and Baha’is at 50,000-100,000. Pakistan is mainly criticised by West for its blasphemy laws but it is to be respected by minorities as for peaceful co-existence one needs to understand and respect the sentiments of people.
Western media criticises Pakistan for ethnicity by saying that they created their homeland and did not respect the sentiments of Hindus and other minorities in Pakistan which is totally wrong as many Hindus which were already living in area which became part of Pakistan were given free choice and will either to stay in Pakistan or to go back to India. Quaid-i-Azam clearly said about rights of minorities in Pakistan and quoted“ Minorities to whichever community they may belong; will be safeguarded. Their religion or faith or belief will be secure. There will be no interference of any kind with their freedom of worship. They will have their protection with regard to their religion, faith, their life, their culture. They will be, in all respects, the citizens of Pakistan without any distinction of caste or creed. They will have their rights and privileges and no doubt, along with it goes the obligation of citizenship.”
Unfortunately, in history of our country we can trace back violations of minority rights in Pakistan and see them suffering. Though every government in reign claims that it ensures their safety and non-discrimination but terrorism effected this notion as it sees no religion or caste.Since 2007 Pakistan has seen a new wave of sectarian attacks perpetrated by an ever-growing constellation of militant groups. Thousands of people have been targeted on account of their faith, including minorities like Christians and Muslim minority sects. In one notable incident in 2016, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (an offshoot of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan) attacked a park in Lahore on Easter, specifically targeting Christians. In recent years, militant groups have expanded their targets to include smaller religious sects and minorities like Ismaili’s and Sikhs.
Pakistan being an Islamic Republic, does not mean that it is only for Muslims. It gives all rights and privileges to different sects living in country though propaganda is always on to malign and defame country. The interfaith harmony and peace building aims to foster religious and social harmony and help develop a diverse society in Pakistan in which people of different beliefs can live together in peace and exercise their basic human rights. Interfaith dialogue, peace building skills and participating in different events of other religions can not only help in promoting tolerance and respecting each other’s faith but definitely it will give insights and hep in building positive image of country.
It is a need of the time to develop and identify psychic understandings around the true moderate and tolerant message of Islam to be able to emerge as a meaningful voice in the Inter-faith as well as Intra-faith dialogues. The guiding idea is not to alter with the basic beliefs of Islam but to present them with the message of adoration, open-mindedness and balance.
— The writer works for Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, a think tank based in Islamabad.

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