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Interfaith Dialogue ( 24 Apr 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Why Is Inter-Faith and Inter-Sectarian Harmony Important?


By Hafiz Muhammad Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi

April 23, 2014

The concept of a state that Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had in mind at the time of the establishment of our beloved country, Pakistan, has been discussed and will continue to be discussed in the future. However, one belief that is shared by and should be shared by those calling Pakistan an Islamic state and those calling it a secular state is that personal and religious freedom in Pakistan has been ordained by the Pakistani constitution and law. The irony is that amid the problems faced by Pakistan after 1985, there has been a rise in sectarian violence and intolerant behaviours, which have become a very dangerous trend today. Nowadays, whenever the word “religion” is mentioned, it brings with it a sense of fear and terror, even though no religion has been founded on the basis of fear and terror. A religion or sect cannot gain popularity on the basis of fear and terror. Due to its name, the religion of Islam, in particular, is against the concept of using force to bring someone towards Islam.

The concept of jihad in Islam is the name of taking humans out of slavery and getting them to worship Allah the Almighty. If we study the conditions set for jihad by Islamic Shariah, we will realize that jihad is about helping the oppressed against the oppressor, as opposed to violating someone’s rights or committing atrocities. On numerous occasions, the Holy Quran and Prophet Muhammad [PBUH] have stressed the need for focusing on the commonalities. The Holy Quran contains clear instructions about “your religion is for you and our religion is for us”, which proves that followers of different religions can co-exist in the same society while remaining steadfast in their religion or sect.

Unfortunately, extremist behaviour seems to be on the rise in Pakistan. One reason for this is the fact that religion is taken hostage by those lacking religious and worldly education in societies where rule of law does not exist. If we look at the recent past, we will realize that the practice of promoting one’s personal views and opinions using the name of religion is a major cause of sectarian violence and intolerance between religions. Pakistan Ulema Council [PUC] has been carrying out a tireless campaign against intolerant behaviours, the purpose of which is to use dialogue as a means to raise this awareness among people belonging to different religions and sects that they are not serving their religion or sect by debasing the holy figures or books of other religions or sects. Instead, this kind of attitude further promotes extremism and fundamentalism, thus transforming the atmosphere of dialogue into confrontation.

Considering the significance of dialogue, the PUC’s central leadership compiled agreements signed between people belonging to different sects and religions, and gave them the form of a formal code-of-conduct. This code-of-conduct combines all clauses that were unanimously approved by Pakistan’s central religious leadership at Milli Yakjahti Council. By the grace of Allah, the religious affairs department of Punjab province is currently striving to formally implement this code-of-conduct and the author has presented it in the Council of Islamic Ideology for making legislation. We will talk about this matter in detail some other time.

During the last couple of months, religious and sectarian tensions have once again been sparked in Karachi and different areas of Interior Sindh. Considering the casualties and financial losses incurred by innocent people, the PUC held an Ulema o Mashaikh Convention and National Peace Conference in Karachi on 16th April.

In this conference, representatives of all religions, sects and the country’s major political and religious parties unanimously condemned these incidents and decided to form a national reconciliation council that will try to immediately resolve future problems and also review problems that occurred in the past.

As has been the case in the past, the PUC is once again striving to pave the way for inter-faith and inter-sectarian harmony and dialogue. We expect the government and the country’s dominant forces to play a role in implementing the code-of-conduct. We expect this because during a meeting with the PUC’s leadership a few weeks ago, the prime minister had assured his full cooperation for inter-faith and inter-sectarian harmony. Similar assurances have also been given by Imran Khan and Asif Ali Zardari. The only way to promote religious forbearance and attitudes of tolerating each other in Pakistan is by making sure that everyone is on the same page of national unity and nobody is discriminated against because of their religion, sect, race, language or province.