Subject: Roundtable Conference on Interfaith Harmony
Dear Prof Dr Syed Akbar Abbas,
The Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform is planning to host a “Roundtable Conference on Interfaith Harmony” on April 22, 2014. This event aims to create a culture of constructive dialogue between different stakeholders in order to achieve interfaith harmony in Pakistan.
Pakistan has seen a rise in attacks targeting minority groups and sectarianism is on the rise. Targets in Pakistan include the Sunni majority, Shia ,and the small Ahmadi, Hindu and Christian religious groups. According to the human rights group Human Rights Watch, in 2011 and 2012, Pakistan minority groups Shia, Ahmadi, and Christians “faced unprecedented insecurity and persecution in the country”. Attacks on Sunni Sufi shrines have also occurred. These pose a great threat to peace and stability in our society and we must devise a strategy which promotes more understanding and tolerance amongst our diverse population.
The objectives of the Roundtable are:
1. Identification of issues hindering interfaith harmony in Pakistan.
2. To reach a consensus on reversing these hindrances and promoting a more inclusive religious culture.
3. Pragmatic solutions for achieving interfaith harmony.
It is my pleasure to invite you to this event. I am hopeful that by being a part of this event, you will contribute positively towards our goals.
Prof. Ahsan Iqbal
Ministry of Planning Development & Reform
Schedule of Roundtable on Interfaith Harmony, April 22nd, 2014
0930 – 1000 Opening Session Chief Guest: Prof. Ahsan Iqbal’s address
1030 – 1100 Session I Overview of current situation in Pakistan
1100 – 1200 Session II Panel discussion on Identification of issues hindering interfaith harmony in Pakistan( Prof. Ahsan Iqbal will moderate the session)
1200 – 1230 Session III Pragmatic Decisions on Way Forward. (Potential Solutions for achieving Interfaith Harmony)
1230 – 1300 Session IV Questions and Answers
1. What is the current state of interfaith harmony in Pakistan?
2. What are experiences of different countries and regions where heterogeneous societies have thrived?
3. How can such practices be inculcated into Pakistani society?
Key Talking Points:
Sectarian Rifts: Pakistan is home to multifaceted and heterogeneous faiths, and largely constituted of a Muslim majority. 96.28% are Muslims, 0.22% are Ahmedis, 1.60% are Hindus, 1.59% are Christian, 0.25% are Schedule castes, 0.07% are people of other minorities including the Parsi, Buddhist and Sikh communities. Within the Muslim majority, a large proportion of the population is of the Sunni faith, while the rest are Shia. While it would be simple to classify the Muslim population as Shia or Sunni, it is not a simple and straight forward matter. Both faiths house a number of different sectarian ideologies due to which there are intrinsic rifts in theological perspective and practice. How do we then maintain peace in such a diverse society and how do we inculcate tolerance in the masses towards each other’s faiths?
Exclusion of Minorities: Another pertinent issue that leads to feelings of animosity and ill-will within religious groupings, as well as towards the state is that people feel that the government is often acting as the voice of particular and specific religious ideologies. By the indulgence of specific religious elements in the running of the country, whilst excluding other sects/religions, the governmental viewpoint often is representative of the majority, and not other strains of religious thought. This majority viewpoint is also reflected in the curricula at the junior and high school level, where there is no concept of comparative religion. Gradual Islamization of the country has been an offshoot of this; however, this version of Islam is one that may not be representative of all segments of even Islam itself. Secondly, often, Islam is used by various political groupings to achieve their own narrow goals and power grabbing measures.