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PIPS launches report on its yearlong engagement-for-peace with religious scholars

Scholars, policy advisors and representatives of academic and research institutes acknowledged the role of religious scholars in promoting peace and harmony in society and agreed that they should be engaged in dialogue with other segments of society for that purpose. They emphasized that such a dialogue was much needed not only to facilitate interaction and accommodation between the religious and secular discourses in the country but also to create awareness among people about the threats of extremist and violent ideologies and actors. They expressed these views while speaking at the launching ceremony of a report, “Engaging religious scholars for promotion of peace and harmony in society”, prepared by the Pak Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS) after its yearlong engagement with leading religious scholars from across Pakistan belonging to all schools of thoughts. Starting with assessment of needs and prospects for engagement, the PIPS partnership with religious scholars in the year 2011 moved on to evolving and implementing certain interventions led by religious scholars in main categories of intellectual and academic discourse, advocacy campaigns and capacity building/awareness.

In his presiding remarks, Director General Islamic Research Institute at International Islamic University Dr Khalid Masood said that failure of successive governments in Pakistan to provide justice, security, law and order and other services to the people provided space and opportunity to alternative systems and ‘desires’ to flourish. This has undermined peace and harmony in our society to a greater extent. Advisor to Prime Minister from Gilgit Baltistan Maulana Attaullah Shahab said that Pakistani society was passing through a period of transition. Some of the results of the ongoing sociocultural transformation were expected while some others, particularly those related to religious discourses, are totally new and we were indeed not prepared for them.

Dr Qibla Ayaz, the acting Vice-Chancellor of Peshawar University, proposed to take religious scholars on board and make them a vibrant factor in achieving religious harmony in society, resolving conflict and ensuring peace. He said the education curricula of religious seminaries, or madrassas, required some changes and adjustment according to new academic, socioeconomic and global realities.

Expert on international law Ahmer Bilal Sufi stressed on the need to educate madrassa students and religious scholars about the international laws and the UN charter. He said as every citizen is bound to obey the treaty framework of international law. He also suggested that innovative arguments relating to Islam and progress should be encouraged so that Muslim scholars and scientists enhance their contribution in evolution and development.

Director PIPS Muhammad Amir Rana shared with participants the lessons learned from the PIPS engagement with religious scholars.  He explained in terms of PRIDE what the PIPS had learned in this process:
Peace was observed a common desire among all the religious scholars. This desire for peace and urge to ‘correct’ the practices which bring bad name to Islam call for continuous and consolidated efforts at state and society levels to engage religious scholars for promotion of peace and harmony in society.

Responsibility and reform were another two feelings which were largely shared by the religious scholars. They were found eager to play their role in promotion of peace, harmony, tolerance and other desirable social values. They were also convinced on their role to guide the people about the issues which are used by extremists and militants to religiously sensitize the people in their favor.

Interaction lacks to a greater extent among different religious schools of thought and between religious and secular/modernist circles, which breeds misperceptions and extreme views about one another. Religious scholars are very much aware of this fact and believe in dialogue to enhance interaction among religious scholars and madrassa students/teachers belonging to different schools of thought and between those having religious and modern/scientific education.

Dialogue and logic, and not force, are the only ways to create consensus on sensitive religious issues, and also convince people about one’s viewpoint, most of the religious scholars upheld. There was a wide consensus that Islam does not allow imposing one’s ideology or practice on others with force and that problems started to emerge when instrument of logic and debates were replaced by gun.

Exposure is what religious scholars direly need in order to observe and understand state systems, practices and intellectual trends in other parts of the world including Western and Muslim countries, and also to observe and experience emerging trends in Islamic scholarship, research and education in contemporary Muslim world.