Multan: Speakers at the ‘Youth for Interfaith Harmony’ workshop in Multan called for greater acceptance of the religious and cultural diversity for social stability and cohesion. They said that Pakistan is home to diverse faiths and cultures, and learning to embrace those diversities is crucial for peace and progress. The national culture is generally uniform but still, it has immense variations at regional and provincial levels, they said. Speaking at the occasion, chairperson Council of Islamic Ideology Prof. Dr. Qibla Ayaz said that religion and culture are interlinked and they interact with and influence each other in many ways. He also explained local variations in cultures in the tribal regions and Balochistan and how they shaped lifestyles and behaviors. Besides religious and cultural diversity, the modern concepts of citizenship and fundamental rights were also discussed at the two-day workshop. Writer and columnist, Muhammad Amir Rana, said that though the right to citizenship was declared a fundamental human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, yet thousands of people around the world continue to remain stateless. One example of the stateless peoples is the Rohingyas who are denied citizenship rights not only in Myanmar and Bangladesh but also in Pakistan.
According to Amir Rana, several thousand members of the Rohingya community have been living in Karachi for decades, but they lack basic rights accorded to ordinary citizens. He said respecting the fundamental rights of the people is a prerequisite for peace and stability in society. He also urged the youth to acquaint themselves with basic rights as provided in the constitution because the ordinary citizen is the ultimate guardian of public interest. During the workshop, senior journalist and editor of IBC Urdu, Sabookh Syed, shed light on interfaith relations in the context of the torching of a Hindu shrine in Karak in the recent past. Syed had filmed a documentary on the incident, containing eyewitness accounts of what actually triggered the mob violence. According to Sabookh Syed, religion is often manipulated for personal interests, and sometimes such acts lead to mob violence. He stressed on the need for individuals to exercise common sense and caution while responding to incidents involving religion. Likewise, the youth were also taught how to balance and regulate their everyday emotions for long-term success in education, career, and life in general. Former civil servant and researcher, Ahmed Ali, said emotional intelligence is as significant as mental intelligence for people in general and the youth in particular. According to him, acts of religious vigilantism in Pakistan are cases of emotional failures where people fail to manage their anger and take the law into their hands. The youth need to understand how their emotions dictate their behaviors and actions, he said.
Similarly, the workshop also discussed the importance of critical thinking for addressing social issues and biases among people. Eminent social critique and columnist, Yasir Pirzada, said the young generation must learn how to form their opinions on the basis of facts rather than assumptions and hearsay. Quite often, mere assumptions mold social behavior in society because there is a general tendency among people to jump to conclusions on the basis of unverified information, he said. Mr. Pirzada explained in detail how to structure the process of thinking and analyze information. Critical thinking is key to intellectual growth among the youth, he said. On the other hand, a panel of senior journalists also discussed the role of media with regard to the state of interfaith relations in Pakistan. Famous writer and journalist, Gul Nokhaiz Akhtar, said the Pakistani media had limitations while reporting on social and religious issues. Sometimes, the media face restrictions while at other points they also exercise self-censorship in view of the sensitivity of issues. Mr. Gul Nokhaiz rejected the perception that the Pakistani media mostly focus on the negative aspects of the society, adding that the media usually cover the comparatively better sides of the society because the worst sides cannot even be shown on the screens. Likewise, Habib Akram also talked about how media influenced social relations. The two-day workshop was part of the ongoing series of countrywide workshops on the theme of interfaith harmony and diversity being organized by the Islamabad-based think tank, Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS). The workshops engage university students in a variety of topics relating to interfaith relations and religious and cultural diversity in Pakistan.