HomeArticleGlobal interfaith harmony and the important roles of Pakistan & Saudi Arabia

Global interfaith harmony and the important roles of Pakistan & Saudi Arabia

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A resolution jointly sponsored by Pakistan and the Philippines was recently unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly. It sought to foster inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue in promoting understanding and cultivating a culture of peace. It also stressed that the exercise of the right to freedom of expression carried with it special responsibilities. An environment of national harmony and international peace can be nurtured by mutually understanding and respecting the religious beliefs and cultural norms of other societies and nations. For achieving that coveted goal, sustained wide ranging inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue is essential at multiple levels.

Some nations give unbridled freedom of expression to their citizens but the line should be drawn at offensive remarks against religious personalities and the burning of holy scriptures which has promoted so much discord and hatred in the world recently. An oft quoted saying of Justice Holmes amply defines the limits of these kind of freedoms. “Your right to swing your arms ends where the other man’s nose begins.”

Stereotyping other religions and cultures has been common in human history has increased in modern times where inter-connectedness should have decreased the otherizing and villainizing of entire countries and religious or ethnic groups.

Islamophobia, which means the fear of Islam and Muslims, is a result of stereotyping through the media and politics especially after 9/11. The banning of the hijab in certain countries is a clear indication of a highly biased understanding of Islam in these societies. On the other hand, even an objective criticism of Israeli policies is immediately dubbed as antisemitism. We live in a world of double standards. It is high time Muslim countries spoke with one voice against the discrimination and dual standards that work to the disadvantage of the second largest faith in the world.

Cognizant of these developments, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan played pioneering roles to promote interfaith and intercultural understanding and harmony. On the political track, an extraordinary Islamic Summit was convened in Makkah in 2005 to reject violence, extremism and terrorism. By the same token this summit aimed at promoting dialogue, tolerance and mutual respect.

In all subsequent international meetings, the Kingdom’s refrain was that militancy and criminality are enemies of every religion and every civilization. On the cultural track, Islamic scholars of all major denominations  gathered in Makkah in 2008 to affirm the true nature of Islam and its message of dialogue and peace. Subsequent meetings were held in Spain aAnd Brazil. King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Centre for inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue was established in Vienna.

Pakistan and the Philippines have been co-sponsoring the resolution of interfaith and intercultural dialogue at the UN General Assembly since 2004. Apart from the UN, Pakistan has actively pursued this objective at the Organization of Islamic Co-operation (OIC). Promoting interfaith harmony remains at the heart of cultural diplomacy of the OIC. A plan of action has been adopted to achieve concrete results till 2025. It recognizes that intolerance impedes the development of a culture of peace and understanding. It also recognizes that the primary target and victim of religious and faith-based intolerance has been Islam and Muslims in some western societies. OIC wants to formulate a new paradigm for inter-religious, inter-sectarian and intra-sectarian tolerance for the promotion of understanding and moderation through dialogue.

It is but natural for both the Kingdom and Pakistan to strive for interfaith harmony at the national and international levels, seeing as Pakistan is the second largest Muslim country in the world in terms of its population. But creating this interfaith harmony around the globe is a herculean task. It demands political will, sustained scholarly interaction and a long-term plan to remove hate material from the text books and highlight the fact that all religions aim at the betterment of human beings. Saudi-Pakistani efforts for this noble objective must continue in a sustained manner in the interests of global peace and understanding.

— Javed Hafeez is a former Pakistani diplomat with much experience of the Middle East. He writes weekly columns in Pakistani and Gulf newspapers and appears regularly on satellite TV channels as a defense and political analyst.


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