Amid growing Islamophobia in the west, Pakistan has voiced deep concerns at what it called a “sharp rise in hate speech, discriminatory acts and social hostility against Muslims”, particularly in the countries where they are in minority.

“We are also witnessing an increase in instances of physical and psychological violence against Muslims and their businesses and places of worship. Muslim minorities are being alienated and marginalised. Many of them live in fear,” said Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz in his speech at a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Council of Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Istanbul ahead of a summit meeting.

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Aziz said western media’s ignorant portrayals of Muslims were providing fuel to the campaign of hate and bigotry. “At a time when there is a need to urge all communities to develop tolerance and respect for each other, we see the unfortunate rise of political opportunism by spreading fear and xenophobia.”

He warned that “if left unchecked, such instances and political shortsightedness will grow rapidly in the years to come. It is our collective responsibility to reverse these trends.”

“We attach importance to freedom of expression. We, however, refuse to accept that it allows insults against Islam and hate speech and incitement to violence against Muslims.”

Aziz also spoke about the current challenges facing the Muslim countries, particularly disunity and problems of terrorism and extremism. In these difficult times, solidarity and unity of the Ummah is needed more than at any other time in our 1,400 years’ long history, he added.

“We must rekindle the spirit of brotherhood and one community that has characterised the Muslim people, for justice and peace, especially in Palestine and Afghanistan.”

Aziz maintained that resolving issues through mutual consultations, therefore, was not only our religious duty but also a political imperative for ensuring peace and security of our peoples.

He said any member state amongst the OIC that could assist in bridging the differences between the brotherly countries must step forward and play a role.

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“Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif acted in this spirit when he visited the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Islamic Republic of Iran in January 2016. We are thankful for the cooperation we received from our brothers,” he told the conference.

Today, terrorism and violent extremism pose serious threat to international peace and security. The menace has inflicted immeasurable human and economic losses, he said. “Pakistan has always supported that a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy is needed to tackle this global problem.”

He said the complexity of challenge also demands enhanced and shared understanding and deeper dialogue between countries, cultures and civilisations.

The meeting of the 57-member OIC comes at a time of turmoil in many Muslim nations, with conflicts in Syria and Yemen dragging on and several states, including Turkey, bloodied by militant violence.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2016.