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CALENDAR OF EVENTS

November 2018
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Speeches

Z.A. Kazmi: Healing Interreligious Strife in Pakistan

In the great ancient religious and ethical traditions of humankind, we find the directive “You shall not kill” or, in positive terms, “Have respect for life.” All people have a right to life, safety, and the free development of personality insofar as they do not injure the rights of others. Unfortunately, we have witnessed a clear violation of this common holy directive in many nations, including Pakistan.

For the last two decades, the Pakistani people have suffered a lot. In the face of this suffering, we must keep in mind that a human person is infinitely precious and must be unconditionally protected. Furthermore, we are all intertwined together in this universe and dependent on each other and even all things. Therefore, the abusive dominance of humanity over nature and the cosmos is to be discouraged, while instead we must cultivate living in harmony with nature. Conflicts should be resolved without violence within a framework of justice.

Existing as we do in such a miserable and horrific global, regional, and national situation, humanity today needs a vision of people living peacefully together, of ethnic and ethical groupings, and of religions sharing responsibility for the care of humanity. Such a vision must rest on hopes, goals, ideals, and standards; unfortunately, these have eluded our grasp. Nonetheless, we still hope that the communities of faith, despite their frequent abuses and failures, will live up to their responsibility by demonstrating that such hopes, ideals, and standards can be safeguarded, grounded in their faith, and applied to life.

When the Muslims of the subcontinent secured an independent country, Pakistan, in 1947, there were high hopes that it could establish a culture of harmony among believers of diverse faiths. This hope was weighed against the fact that the Muslim ummah (community of believers) has suffered from sectarian and intellectual oppositions throughout its history. The enmity is reflected in conflicts between various groups that have grown more severe since the formation of Pakistan. Within the past decades, violence has spread all over the country, and thousands of innocent people have lost their lives because of religious extremists and sectarian riots.

Seeing violence and intolerance increasing and a culture of heart and understanding being confronted by both secular-minded and religious extremists, my mind and heart were thirsting for understanding and solutions. “Conflicts and differences are found throughout the world,” I thought, “but why have these resulted in so much violence and religious intolerance in Pakistan, a country created in the name of religion? What is the reason for all of this intolerance and killing?”

In the Universal Peace Federation I found an explanation for cause of the intolerance in the world. To me, this message was simple, yet powerful: “Tolerance is not only harmony in difference, but also a moral duty compelling one to live for the sake of others.” Tolerance is a fundamental principle requiring respect, acceptance, and appreciation of a divine way of life in which there is a rich diversity of culture of heart. Human beings, naturally diverse in their appearance, situation, speech, behavior, and values, have the right to live in peace and be as they are. It also means that one’s views are not to be imposed on others.

In the area of Muslim-Christian harmony, we have been involved in resolving conflicts at many places in Pakistan. One early example occurred in the vicinity of Khanewal, about 200 miles south of Lahore. Violence erupted there on February 6, 1997, after it was announced at a mosque in Khanewal that pages had been torn from the Holy Qur’an and blasphemous words had been scribbled on the text. After the broadcast, Muslims marched to two Christian villages and burned 1,500 Christian homes. During the rampage, three churches were raided and seriously damaged. The attacks left approximately 100 Christians hospitalized and two Muslims shot dead by the police.

Understandably, such a tragic series of events left behind a trail of misery and a cauldron of raw emotions. Associates and friends eased the tensions with a healing balm of love and played a dynamic role in bringing life and hope back to the area. A group of Muslim religious leaders, including two grand imams, two imams, and a grand Sufi pir (saint) came forward to join hands with Christian religious leaders as the two groups spent several days consoling Christian minorities. These leaders then signed a joint resolution of Christian-Muslim unity that brought hope to the affected area.

Since the creation of Pakistan and modern India, there has been severe tension between the two countries. Today, with both of them being nuclear states, they share the responsibility of minimizing tensions that can lead to war. We can play a role in rescuing our people from poverty and hunger, whose spread is aggravated by the nuclear and armaments race in the region.

A historic Punjab-wide peace conference in 2004 brought the chief ministers of Indian Punjab and Pakistani Punjab together for peace discussions. Beneath the differences of religion, the Punjabi people, both Indian and Pakistani, share much common culture, even though they have been separated for more than 50 years.

Peacebuilding potential comes through religious, social, and political principles. The core of every major faith is fundamentally similar, reflecting the God-essence virtues and the command to act with charity, mercy, compassion, justice, and true love. No matter what our socioeconomic position or education, our ethnicity or religion, our gender or any other external characteristic, we all have something meaningful to contribute to world peace.

[Source: Islamic Perspectives on Peace. Tarrytown, NY: Universal Peace Federation, 2006.]