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Second workshop on engaging on interfaith harmony held in Karachi

In a second round of workshop on interfaith harmony, held on April 20-21, 2018 in Karachi, Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) engaged around 20 people from Sindh and Balochistan. The workshop “Engaging on freedom of faith and inter-faith harmony in Pakistan” was designed to explore ways of working for the promotion of faith-based harmony in Pakistan. Participants included faith leaders, and development professionals who have worked in the domain of interfaith harmony.

PIPS’s senior research Safdar Sial thanked the participants and shared the rationale of the engagement. He underlined that while there are challenges of working on issues around interfaith harmony, there are nonetheless some avenues too. For the next two days, he urged, participants should actively contribute in the workshop, take notes, and write suggestions and recommendations, which can then be taken forward.

He was followed by PIPS’s senior project manager Muhammad Ismail Khan, who shared the broader findings of the study of working on interfaith issues in Pakistan. The study found that non-Muslims in Pakistan unanimously agree that they are under-reported. Many of them also lack proper identity cards, exposing them to all sorts of vulnerabilities. It was suggested that the religious-wise distribution of the census performed in 2017 be publicized. Without that, all sorts of speculation germinate, which is not beneficial for the society.

The discussion stressed upon reforming criminal justice system to ensure that the rights of all are protected. It was reminded that even though the 2014 Justice Jassaduq Jilani verdict called for taking steps aimed at protecting non-Muslims in light of the constitution, much needs to be done on that front.

Dr. Khalida Ghaus, director, Social Policy and Development Center, said while we often refer to constitutional clauses that call for protecting non-Muslims, or the international conventions we signed, or to the speeches of our founding fathers, the reality is otherwise. She asked why so.

She lamented that in attempt to nurture “oneness” of identity, we have ended up promoting “majoritarian nationalism” – which is about imposing the views of the majority group on others. Real oneness, she said, will be achieved only by making all groups as “equal stakeholders” in the system.

This she said can make its way by the “deepening” of democracy. Dr. Khalida said that she had intentionally used the word “deepening” to stress the importance of inclusion, in contrast to following the procedures. Only by involving people can the miseries of people be addressed. Participants too later hinted at mandating diverse public spaces, ranging from district committees to education boards.

Religious scholar Ahmed Yusuf Banoori narrated that there is a renewed interest in the jurisprudence on issues related to minorities. Not only are non-Muslims living in Muslim states such as Pakistan, but Muslims themselves are minorities in many countries of the world; hence, the ongoing debates.

Senior journalist Sabookh Syed admitted that media often ignores broadcasting social issues – issues that are important to instill ownership among different citizens of the country. He explained this norm is largely due to economy of media, which, like any other business, plainly rely on what sells. Unfortunately, the debates on social issues is not given much consideration; hence less focus on them.

At the same time, those who thought of their professional duty to report on such issues lost their space out. In the good old days, he said, experienced journalists reviewed the content, but now, this space has been taken over.

For building a healthy society, he said, media should nurture spaces where social issues can be openly discussed. Its alternative is vacuum, which means no productivity at all.

Social activist Kokab Jehan seconded the point, calling for such spaces for youth in particular. Youth, after all, constitutes the majority of the country; and they are increasing having little physical engagement with people different than them. It was suggested that authorities should give central attention to youth.

She admitted that while youth policies have been announced by different provinces, the problem, she said, is implementation. This has result in further confusion about the youth.

Taking part in the discussion, Dr. Amir Taseen, ex-chairman of Madrassah Education Board, said interaction is even critical for students of different schools of thoughts. These ways, they will overcome their own biases.

Some participants lamented that the space for working on interfaith harmony has shrunk; authorities deem sensitization and advocacy activities as trivial. On the other hand, those working on these issues are stopped or mocked; on the other hand, nothing is being done by others except for finding faults. The result is less avenues for dialogues.

Participants suggestions several concrete actions. They asked that, among other things, civil servants should be sensitized on issues related to minority rights and faith-based harmony; the role of non-Muslims in the creation of Pakistan should be highlighted; the 5% job quota for non-Muslims should be strictly enforced; parties should be asked to allot election tickets to non-Muslims on general seats rather than on minority ones alone; non-Muslims should be inducted in NADRA offices across the country; and that media should allocate at least 10% of the airtime on peace issues.