By Samreen Ilyas and Sajjad Ali
LAHORE (July 27, 2019) Scholars from different religions and faiths on Saturday called for unity among all communities and urged the government to create an atmosphere at provincial and national levels where everyone can play an active role in the promotion of peace and peaceful coexistence and open dialogue in order to counter negative thoughts.
Sharing a stage in front of diverse audience at an interactive seminar – Interfaith Harmony – held here at the Punjabi Complex, they discussed role of religious institutions in promoting interfaith harmony and the encouragement of interfaith acceptability through better coordination between different faiths.
Expressing their views, Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) member Mufti Raghib Hussain Naeemi, Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shaw, Bishop Azad Marshal, Baha’i community member Dr Faramarz Roshani, Father Nadeem Francis, Hindu leader Amarnath Randhawa, and Sikh scholar Prof Kalyan Singh urged the people to develop the spirit of coexistence by maintaining religious harmony and peace.
On the occasion, all the speakers signed a resolution of peace as an agreement towards ensuring interfaith harmony, and declared that they would work with the government in promoting peaceful coexistence. Also, a thorough discussion was witnessed on the importance of implementation of the laws including the National Action Plan (NAP), Hate Speech Ordinance, and others.
Addressing the audience, Archbishop Sebastian Shaw said that dialogue was important in order to walk on the path of truth and peace. “We need to respect a person on the basis of humanity. “I should tell you that never has it happened that anyone would have asked me to change my religion nor have we ever asked anyone to change theirs,” he said.
Mufti Raghib Naeemi suggested dialogue and open discussions on all faiths through similar platforms to ensure interfaith harmony and coexistence. “Islam does not teach aggression and no one is allowed to force people from other faiths to convert to this religion,” he said, adding that tension and conflict arises when someone targets other faiths. “It is important to negate such conflict by having educational debates with learned people from all faiths,” he said.
Sharing his views, Bishop Azad Marshal said that Pakistan was made with an idea that it would be a Muslim majority state, but it will not be intolerant towards other religions and faiths. “Interfaith harmony is our need and it will come when we will have tolerance and acceptability for each other,” he said. “We need to create strategies, ways and means to promote interfaith harmony,” he said.
“We need to have knowledge, dialogue and discussion on broader levels in order to ensure interfaith harmony,” said Dr Faramarz Roshani, member of Baha’i community. He said that nothing can be more damaging than intolerance and hatred. “We need to end the blame game and bring about a change through peace among all faiths and sects,” he said.
Hindu leader Amarnath Randhawa suggested interfaith harmony through educational and religious institutions, saying Pakistanis can counter hatred with love and peace. He said that no faith promotes hatred or intolerance.
Prof Kalyan Singh said that the textbooks have preached hatred against different religions like Hinduism and Sikhs and this needs to be condemned and be replaced with interfaith harmony and humanity.
He said that it should be noted that this region was never a region of intolerance on the basis of religion or faith. He pointed out that all religious places were always open to everyone and no one would even ask anyone’s religion. Suggesting a change in syllabus, Father Nadeem Francis said there could be no peace or interfaith harmony until the government and the media do not give equal representation and acceptance to the minorities.
Allama Asim Makhdoom said that there was an urgent need to ensure interfaith harmony at the government level. “I am here to say that it is the government’s negligence and attitude, which is leading minorities into problems,” he said.
Representatives from Multan also shared their success stories about how they ensured interfaith harmony and peaceful coexistence in their respective areas of South Punjab through various activities, focused on promoting coexistence and harmony. At the end, CPSS Executive Director Saeeda Diep and Mufti Raghib Naeemi presented shields and bouquet to the panelists.