Efforts to promote interfaith harmony
Mohammad Jamil


ON Wednesday, a discussion for promotion of interfaith harmony and coexistence in light of the Paigham-i-Pakistan narrative against terrorism and extremism was organized by the International Islamic University. A delegation comprising British Members of Parliament and members of National Commission for Human Rights graced the occasion on the new campus of the university. The speakers agreed that the Paigham-i-Pakistan narrative could prove a true harbinger of tolerance, justice, equality and protection of rights, expressed their views and lauded the efforts for interfaith harmony. In April 2018, Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) had conducted a workshop on “Engaging on freedom of faith and inter-faith harmony in Pakistan”, in Islamabad. It was attended by around 20 experts, faith leaders, and development professionals who had worked in the domain of interfaith harmony, from Islamabad, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA and Gilgit-Baltistan. There is a realization that interfaith harmony is imperative for peace and progress.

After withdrawal of the Soviet forces from Afghanistan as a result of Afghan war supported by the West, which later led to disintegration of the Soviet Union, western scholars looked for another theme to continue their onslaught on smaller and weaker countries. However, Bernard Lewis, the British orientalist, was the first to claim there was a ‘clash between civilizations’ in a speech at Johns Hopkins University in 1957. Lewis argued that Islam and the West had differing values which would only be resolved following conflict. The main foreign policy issue confronting the West in the late 1950s was dealing with what was widely perceived as an expansionist Soviet Union. Four decades later, Lewis’s clash between civilizations became a ‘clash of civilizations’, as Samuel Huntington contended that a clash between the West and the Muslim world would be the key foreign policy issue for the US after disintegration of the Soviet Union.
It was because of pedaling such narratives that 9/11 had happened, and the world has suffered from the chaos stirred by outpourings of the doomsayers. However efforts are being made to create interfaith harmony to control the damage. In January 2018, unanimous fatwa was issued by religious scholars belonging to various schools of thought, which would help face the challenges posed by extremism, sectarianism and terrorism. Under the Paigham-i-Pakistan, different religious schools of thought had unanimously prepared an impressive document in light of the teachings of Quran and Sunnah, rejecting the rationale behind sectarianism and use of religion for spreading evil, and showing the true face of Islam. The Fatwa (Islamic ruling) signed by over 1,800 religious clerics from different schools of thought stated that those who commit suicide attacks, order such attacks, train such people are all considered rebels against the true spirit of Islam.
The responsibility to enforce the Paigham-e-Pakistan is laid on three entities: the academic/religious institutions, the government institutions, and the mosques. The curriculum, it is advised, should teach the ethics of disagreement and the pulpit of the mosque should be used to generate feelings of welfare among the people. The government institutions are also guided to treat the people of Pakistan with respect, provide equal opportunities to them and ensure fundamental rights as enshrined in Pakistan’s constitution. Many verses from the Quran have been quoted to illustrate punishments for those who create chaos on earth. Many pages are given to the discussion as to why a just society is essential for the betterment of society and for elevation of Muslims to the level where God is pleased with them. The document is indeed a good attempt to make Pakistan an ideal state, where people could live in harmony.
Islam is indeed the religions of peace and harmony, and stands for love and affection, moderation and enlightenment and respect for humanity. But the fraternity’s extremist strands with their shenanigans have given a handle to the compulsive detractors of our noble religion to depict it as a creed of violence and bloodletting. People have been living together for centuries despite differences over fiqah; but the nation has witnessed thousands of deaths in Pakistan since the beginning of 1980s Sunni-Shia strife. The reason behind the increased incidence of sectarianism is conspiracies by outside forces to divide Muslims. Fifth generation war against Pakistan is in full swing, and enemies of Pakistan are now using the strategy of dividing and creating hatred among the nation by promoting sectarian violence and animosity, thus trying to destroy the essence of unity. Unfortunately, some unconscionable individuals are tools in their hands and are serving their cause.
The narrative also pointed out that sectarian hatred, armed sectarian conflict and imposing one’s ideology on others by force is clear violation of the injunctions of the Shariah is tantamount to create “disorder on earth”. The government should strive to implement the narrative and efforts should be made through educational curriculum to inculcate the spirit of tolerance, especially among the younger generation. If properly implemented, it has the potential to improve the present and set the future course to create harmony in the society. This fatwa needs validation through ratification in the parliament to give it a legal approval. It should be binding on all government bodies and non-state-actors with detailed mechanism for enforcement to make the fatwa more than a mere symbol of good intentions. Old laws that fan sectarianism and target minorities should be abrogated and new laws promulgated to ensure equal opportunity to all citizens.