Making the most of our diversity

Published: October 25, 2014
The writer is a Peshawar-based writer and contributing editor at OK! Pakistan

The writer is a Peshawar-based writer and contributing editor at OK! Pakistan

The attack at the Peshawar All Saints Cathedral in September 2013 that killed nearly a hundred people and left many more injured, widowed or orphaned, had greatly pained me as the Catholic side of my family suffered religious terrorism nearly a century ago, although not to such great extreme as twin suicide bombings. When I was born in northern California, my parents baptised me into the Catholic Church, but I have since converted to Islam. My late American grandmother’s farmhouse was nearly burned to the ground by the Indiana Klan, an anonymous terrorist group of white supremacists and anti-Catholics, in the late 1920s. The Ku Klux Klan’s cross burning on my great-grandparents’ front lawn bears only symbolic semblance to the hatred imposed upon Christians in Pakistan, who suffer from virulent forms of violence and social embarrassment on a daily basis. Common parlance in Peshawar often tags male Christians according to their careers as street sweepers.

Apart from being a symbol of Peshawar’s eclectic commercial and architectural heritage, the All Saints Cathedral, which was established in 1883, has unfortunately, become an icon of fear. The building itself would not look out of place if it were located in Venice, where East meets West architecturally and with its setting amidst a busy market area. Farsi scripture adorns the archways of the massive white cathedral, purposefully built in the traditional Catholic shape of the cross with adjoining prayer rooms, also known as chapels, in the shape of half-moons surrounding the central choir. My Pakistani husband and I visited the exterior grounds of the Peshawar All Saints this past Easter at the end of April. The cathedral, which is surrounded by heavy walling and barbed wiring, was also attended by extra armed policemen, properly guarding the church. Today, the cathedral and bazaar remain under strict police security after the 2013 attacks.

We, as brothers and sisters, under one sky have to rise up to the challenge of facing religious diversity. A British scholar of Islam, Ari Azabanee, introduced me to the Quranic idea that a basic factor of human existence is difference. This is a great challenge, but people are created to lead a life of diversity. Besides, without diversity, life would be dull, difficult, even boring. Humans, even non-extremists, misuse this great blessing of diversity and are often afraid to talk about it or acknowledge it. Diversity is a gift for us all to lead a happy and pleasant life, and should not be left to the elephant in the room or skeletons locked in a closet. Differences are a sign of mercy from God and we are naturally subject to the beauties of difference.

The Holy Quran praises diversity. Instead of crying over spilled milk, and lamenting how negative diversity is and can be, we should use this very diversity to make the best outcome from it. The Islamic concept of ta’aruf particularly comes to mind. If we are to know each other, we get to know the other and will begin to embrace others as extensions of ourselves. For example, science is all about uncertainty. How do scientists prove something to be wrong? Like scientists, we must embrace our willingness to be wrong and to stop and start again, consider things again. This is a basic way of beginning to understanding humanity. The Holy Quran teaches to accept our differences and attain peace; it also teaches us to celebrate gender and cultural differences, though affirming one another. While there may indeed be multiple truths understood in different ways, as science would have it, the challenge is to amplify this Quranic teaching of knowing each other and instilling this teaching as an integral part of our daily lives. We must honour the dignity of all human beings, no matter his or her religion or lack of faith.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 25th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • shahid
    Oct 25, 2014 - 7:06AM

    Thank you for a wonderful article.


  • ahmed41
    Oct 25, 2014 - 8:36AM

    Please put all this in the regional language press


  • Qaim Khan
    Oct 25, 2014 - 9:02AM

    God bless you. It is people like you and your husband who we can count on to keep us and our society from tipping over into the dark forever.


  • Toticalling
    Oct 25, 2014 - 12:36PM

    Good thoughts. The main aim should be to accept others as legitimate and respect their faith. That is lacking when we hear the talk about one religion all the time. We tend to base our understanding of what someone else means on our own way of making meaning and are not generally aware that we do this. People brought up among different religious groups present themselves and interpret meanings differently. I wish we all follow tolerance. But that is made difficult when we call the country Islamic or name the capital Islamabad. Others feel ignored and neglected. I have noticed that in Germany portraits of Jesus have been removed, not to annoy Muslims and other faiths, although over 90% of pupils are Christians. That is called respecting minority views. That is not the case and some Mullas give us the rest.


  • Let's go to Mars
    Oct 25, 2014 - 4:34PM

    Diversity is shrinking rapidly.


  • Oct 25, 2014 - 5:51PM

    @Qaim Khan: As it has already not tipped.


  • Rahim Khan
    Oct 25, 2014 - 10:40PM

    There was a famous Englishman called George Fulton living in Pakistan like you married to Pakistani. He left Pakistan five years ago because he felt it was too dangerous for him to remain in Pakistan.


  • zaman
    Oct 26, 2014 - 4:48AM

    As the world becomes a global village, only Pakistan shall sink into the dark ages with its regimes’ leaders at its helm.

    The Titanic is doomed for disaster.


  • Komal S
    Oct 26, 2014 - 9:35AM

    @Toticalling: says “I have noticed that in Germany portraits of Jesus have been removed, not to annoy Muslims and other faiths, although over 90% of pupils are Christians. That is called respecting minority views”

    In a secular country like India we look at it differently out Army/Navy and Air Force has places of worship of all major religion(Christian, Muslim, Sikh & Hindu), it is very common to see in many places all religious beliefs given importance. While Germany has done it with the best intention, i am not particularly sure that is the best model. South Asia for many centuries has been host to the most diverse population in the world and had be extremely successful in supporting diverse culture.


  • Parvez
    Oct 27, 2014 - 12:15AM

    All religions teach good…….the fault rests with the intentions of the followers.


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