An independent think-tank

‘Learning to live with differences can help curb sectarianism’

Sectarianim, the most ominous manifestation of extremism in the country, appears not only in the form of violence but also in the groupthinking of people. To root it out, there is a need to promote a culture in which people learn to live with differences even if they do not agree with them.

These thoughts came in a daylong seminar “Understanding the sectarian dynamics in Pakistan”, organized by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based think tank, attended by around 30 religious scholars and experts.

The dialogue noted how sectarianism has become a major ailment in the country. PIPS research shows such as a strong link between sectarianism and militancy, that they have been referd as flesh and blood. In addition to sect-based outfits, even militant groups are deeply sectarian in nature. This comes time and again in their targets and lanaguage.

PIPS researcher Safdar Sial noted, over the years, sectarian violence have gradually declined in the country. While this much is positive, the worry is a gradual ingress of sectarian and faith-based discrimination in individuals’ attitudes and behaviours in Pakistan.

PIPS director Muhammad Amir Rana agreed the issue is more than mere sectarian violence. He asked for admitting that groupthinking on sectarian lines is commonly observed in different segments of society. Such thinking especially in professional lives hampers productivity. That is why, he reasoned, social cohesion is marked as one of the indicators of progress the world over.

Dr. Khalid Masud said the problem is the descent of those differences into violence. He hinted that sectarianism in Pakistan evolved into modern-day terrorism, rather than the other way around. Unfortunately, he said, we too have borrowed the western distinction of the world before and after 9/11, even though we started facing sectarian violence as much as in 1980s, he said.

Meanwhile, Germany’s ambassador to Pakistan Martin Kobler shared that almost half a century ago, Europe too was facing sectarian conflict. Europe learnt from its mistakes, overcoming the bitterness of the past. He said tolerance is about living with differences one may not necessarily agree with. “Tolerance hurts”, he admitted, but accepting to live with it is the way forward. One of the ways is to realize that a single person has multiple identities, based on gender, faith, ethnicity, likes, dislikes, and so on.

Dr Qibla Ayazm chairperson of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) admitted that the role of state comes into any debate on curbing sectarianism in the country. But as of now, what is important to understand is that all the institutions of the state back Paigham-e-Pakistan, which denounces violence. The document has been endorsed by scholars of all schools of thoughts.

Surely, the dialogue reminded, the government has emphasized sectarian harmony in the National Action Plan (NAP), by calling for crackdown on hate speech, for taking action against religious extremism, and for regularizing and reforming madrassahs.

The dialogue participants explored a range of issues behind sectarianism. Surely, one said, part of it has been externalized too, with conflicts in Middle East forcing groups to gravitate towards one or another school of thought. Yet, at the same time, what cannot be dismissed is that madrassahs in the country are bound to affiliate with one of the five boards, which are entirely sect-based. Meanwhile, Dr Khadija Aziz, academic, argued that the differences have been aggravated to the negative, with the advent of modern technology; this should also be analyzed. To some, sect-based differences reflected diversity, as much as of other identities.

The dialogue was attended by Dr Husn ul Ameen, Islamic International University; Khursheed Nadeem, columnist;, Islamic scholar; Saqib Akbar, chairman, Al-Basirah Trust; Amanat Rasool, religious scholar; Dr. Rashid Ahmed, Peshawar University; scholars Abdul Haq Hashmi, Syed Ahmed Banori, Maulana Atta ullah Shahab Zia ul Haq Naqshbandi, among others.