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Islam and Sectarianism ( 7 Feb 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Pakistan Ulema Council’s Five Steps to Peace

Five Steps to Peace

By Mohammad Shehzad

08 Feb, 2013

Special board of The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) should check religious literature for hate speech, Allama Tahir Ashrafi proposed as part of his five-point agenda to counter sectarian violence.

Ashrafi, a former Jihadi and now the chief of Pakistan Ulema Council, shared the proposal with a select group of reporters in Islamabad. The proposal comes days after President Asif Zardari appointment him a member of the CII. Tahir Ashrafi said he intended to submit it to the council's chairman and said it was intended to lead to new legislation.

Allama Tahir Ashrafi has fought against the Soviet Union in the Afghan Jihad in the 1980s and has also been the information secretary of the defunct Sipah Sahaba Pakistan. He has been close to Malik Ishaq, the founder of the defunct Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and, but has dissociated with some of his views. Now, he talks about sectarian harmony.

"I have seen the world," he said. "I am now convinced that Shias and Sunnis will have to co-exist peacefully. There is no other solution."

Because of his past, some civil society activists still look at him with suspicion. "If Shias will keep on abusing religious figures, I will not be able to stop myself from calling them Kafir," he said. "If they can't stop, they should do it behind closed doors and not on the streets." But he said Shias were not infidels collectively as a community in any part of the world. When Shia and Sunni leaders will learn to sit together, sectarian harmony will prevail, he said, citing a meeting between key clerics Sajid Naqvi (Shia) and Zia Qasmi (Sunni) that he had arranged in Lahore. "They arrived with a dozen guards each and looked at each other angrily. But when I asked them to shake hands, they seemed to have become calm."

Tahir Ashrafi is known for his recent stance on the forged blasphemy case on a Christian minor Rimsha Masih. She was later found innocent and acquitted. "That gave the Christians a feeling for the first time in Pakistan's history that they are part of the Pakistani society," he said. "We need to strengthen this feeling."

He also asked civil society organizations to invite madrasa students to their programs, giving them an opportunity to express their views and make them part of the mainstream.

To counter forced conversion of Hindu girls into Islam through marriage, Ashrafi said that such girls should be given in the custody of neutral trusts where they should live for one month, after which they should be asked whether they converted and married of their own free will or were coerced or pressured.

Among the several other issues he discussed was the controversy on the sighting of the moon. He said he would propose to the CII that the moon-sighting committee should be dissolved and the issue should be left to the experts of astronomy.

Journalist Aoan Sahi asked his opinion about clerics from various sects occupying each other's mosques. Tahir Ashrafi said he believed a mosque should belong to the sect that has run it for the previous 10 years.

He said the Pakistani society had been becoming more and more radical and intolerant, and some clerics would even declare a person infidel if their trousers reached below their ankle, ordering their killing.

His Five Points Are Listed Below:

1. Followers of one sect should not be allowed to abuse the followers of other sects. They should not be allowed to declare each other infidel in public. They should not be allowed to abuse/insult/defame each other's religious figures.

2. Hate material that fans sectarianism and provokes the sentiments of any sect should be banned. All the religious material should be presented before a special board of Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) for approval.

3. Minorities are being marginalized. They need to be assured that they are assets for Pakistan, not a burden. Their persecution should be stopped. They must be assured that they are equal citizens.

4. Students of seminaries should be integrated into the mainstream. They should be given a feeling that they have to live in this society too.

5. Only an approved body should be allowed to issue an edict on religious matters. The members of such a body should be qualified to issue an edict. All the edicts should be registered with this authority.