An independent think-tank

Collective efforts needed to eradicate persecution of religious minorities

Broader interaction and coordination among state and various segments of society are needed to reach at a better understanding of different forms of discriminations existing in Pakistan and the required ways to eradicate them.The government has almost failed to provide security and a feeling of equal citizenship to religious minorities, a fact that encourages those who have developed a sense of intolerance and hatred towards people of different religion, sect or ideology. The religious scholars and leaders have an instrumental role to play in counteracting the regressive religious forces which promote differences and prejudices on religious and sectarian bases and target religious minorities and people of other sects for personal political, social and economic interests. These concerns were expressed by the participants of a national seminar titled,“Ethnic, Gender, Religious and Class Based Discriminations in Pakistan and Ways to Eradicate Them,” organized by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) in Islamabad on August 28, 2012.

The daylong debate covered almost every aspect of social differences causing turmoil and dissent in Pakistani society. It was divided into three sessions. The focus of the first session was set on the required role of the religious scholars (Ulama) in protection and upholding of minority rights and eradication ofdifferent types of prejudices and discriminations against religious minorities. The session was chaired by Dr. Hamayun Abbas, Chairman International Studies Department at GC University, Faisalabadwhile the discussants included: Maulana TahirAshrafi, Chairman Ulama Council; Maulana Abdul QadeerKhamosh, Chairman Muslim Christian Foundation; Mr. AmarnaathRandhawa, President HinduSudharSabha, Lahore; and Ms. Romana Bashir, Director Christian Study Center. The problems faced by religious minorities were discussed at length in this session and solutions sought.

Mr.Muhammad Amir Rana, Director PIPS, welcomed the participants and presented a overview of the seminar while stressing upon the need of a broader interaction among various segments of society to reach on a better understanding of the issues and hence, their sustainable solutions.Maulana Abdul Qadeersaid inter-sect and inter-faith harmony shouldbepromoted in the society so as to minimize the differences and highlight the commonalities among sects and religions.Ms.Romana Bashir said religion is a way to identify and recognize God and it should not be used for personal interests and to kill others. Maulana TahirAshrafiarguedthat the common attitude of blaming religious scholars for every intolerant act should end. Meanwhile religious scholars should also acknowledge their responsibilities.

The discussion topic for the second session was Ethnic, Linguistic and Class Discriminations: The Role of State, Society and Religious Scholars. The session was chaired by Maulana NoorulHaq Qadri, Member National Assembly, whereas the discussants included: Dr. Syed Muhammad Najafi, Deputy Director TaqreebMazahib-e-Islami; Sahibzada Zahid MahmoodQasmi, Coordinator Government of Punjab; and Mr. AniqZafar, Director CEO. The speakers underlined the need to create awareness among peopleabout peaceful co-existence and respect for diverse viewpoints in society. Dr. Syed Najafiand Mr. AniqZafar highlighted the loopholes and divisions in the education system of Pakistan and urged to work for a uniformcurriculum and system of education in Pakistan. They urged the government as well as religious scholars to come forward to end the discriminations towards religious minorities and other weaker segments of society in the light of the guiding principles laid down by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Some participants also raised their concerns about the wrong usage of blasphemy act against minorities and demanded pungent action against those using the act erroneously.

The third and final session of the seminar focused on the topic of Gender Biases in Pakistan: Perceptions, Realities and the Role of Religious Scholars. The session was chaired by Prof. Dr. Muhammad ZiaulHaq, Dean Faculty of Shariah and Law at International Islamic University, Islamabad, while the speakers included: Allama Zameer Ahmad Sajid, leader Jamaat-e-Ahle Sunnat Pakistan; Maulana TanvirahmadAlvi,Vice President Jamia Muhammadia, Islamabad; Dr. SameeaRaheelQazi, leader of Jamaat-e-Islami;Ms Farzana Bari, Head of Gender Studies Department at Quaid-e-Azam University; andMs. MarviSarmad, social worker and journalist. The speakers stressed that the social behavior towards women in general needs to be improved through awareness and education. There are many hurdles, mainly in religious and sociocultural perspectives, in the ways to make the society safer for women and making efforts for the empowerment of women.