Fear of the other: ‘Dispelling misconceptions must for social harmony’

Published: May 29, 2015
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PHOTO: FILE

PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD: Speakers at a national workshop, on social harmony were of the view that social disharmony largely stem from societal attitudes, banking on misconceptions about each other. These misconceptions, they argued, can be erased by encouraging dialogue, which serves as the first step in improving understanding about each other, said a press release.

The workshop organised by Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (Pips), was attended by around 30 young religious scholars representing all sects of Islam and members of the Sikh, Baha’i, and Christian communities, from northern Punjab, Islamabad, Azad Kashmir, and Gilgit-Baltistan region.

Romana Bashir, a peace activist, elaborated that the Constitution bestows equal citizenship rights upon all Pakistanis, irrespective of their religions. It allows them the “freedom to profess” their religions, she added. She argued that the constitutional guarantees were not being followed, making way for extremism.

At the same time, Bashir pointed out that some constitutional clauses were seen as discriminatory towards minorities.

She expressed reservation over Article 36, which calls for protecting “legitimate rights of minorities”, saying that words like “legitimate rights” automatically create spaces.

Similarly, Bashir argued that the “oath statement” high officials took, also overlooked minorities. Restricting high public offices along faith line, she said.  Already, non-Muslims find it extremely difficult to rise to the top positions, Bashir added.

Calling for minorities input in the legislative process, she argued that it was because of their exclusion from the various committees working on the 18th Amendment, that the concerns of the minorities were not properly addressed.

Speakers also spoke in favour of more inclusive public textbooks. Bashir was of the view that the contribution of non-Muslims in the foundation of the country was completely ignored in government textbooks. “Hindus and Christians, are indigenous to the country,” she stressed.

Educationist Prof Qibla Ayaz called media to highlight examples of mutual harmony. He argued the contemporary “post-global” world, with increased interactions among people, call for “social harmony”.

“A community in majority in one place might be a minority at another. In the absence of social harmony in one country, the fallout can be felt in other countries – and it has been so,” the professor said.

He argued that besides the country’s constitution, major religions, too, stress upon social justice and equality. In the medieval times, Prof Ayaz recalled, Muslims and non-Muslims generously shared knowledge with each other, to the ultimate advantage for human advancement.

Khurshid Nadeem, television anchor, argued that achieving social harmony in the country was contingent upon addressing three challenges: the intellectual that is what do we make of the narrow religious interpretations against social harmony; the political, which excludes minorities from nation building, manifested in the shape of Islam-ised laws; and the social challenge, how we deal with the discrimination against minorities in our everyday lives.

Dr Raghib Naeemi suggested that if we have to move forward, we have to shun the sectarian-infested literature produced in the last two to three decades. Such literature, he said, “has no relevance in the future.”

Speakers recommended that the attitude of scholars should be advisory, rather than reactionary.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 29th, 2015.

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