Objectives Resolution compartmentalized citizenship on the basis of faith
Sense of citizenship takes a plunge when a singular faith becomes state identity: Speakers
Lahore – PR: Speakers at the second round of a national workshop on interfaith harmony said the Objectives Resolution compartmentalized citizenship on the basis of faith, putting the majority religion at the center stage while also relegating other faiths to the margins. The ideological connotations instilled in the body politics contributed to anti-minority sentiments in Pakistan, they said. Others argued that in South Asia faith is a critical part of people’s identity and that adopting a state religion was not inherently harmful, but weaponizing the faith for political power or strategic purposes was highly problematic.
The workshop was attended by noted scholars, thinkers, authors, and journalists including Muhammad Amir Rana, Wajahat Masood, Iftikhar Ahmed, Yasir Pirzada, Peter Jacob, Safdar Sial, Gul Nokhaiz Akhtar, Habib Akram, Aoun Sahi, Sabookh Syed, Ahmed Ali, Yaqoob Bangash, Najamuddin, Ammar Khan Nasir, and Sahibzada Amanat Rasool, etc. Organized by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), the workshop aimed at engaging the university students in multiple rounds of discussions and debates on the question of interfaith harmony in Pakistan.
The workshop explored the causes of social discord and faith-based polarization in the country, and their impact on the levels of the state and society, and underlined the role of youth in tackling these issues and building peace in the country. Social researcher and author of ‘Radicalization in Pakistan’, Safdar Sial said the concept of nationalism in Pakistan is constricted and based on faith, which tends to exclude the Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, etc. from the mainstream. This phenomenon is rooted in political history, dating back to Pakistan’s formative years when political experimentations religionized the state, he said.
Sabookh Syed, the senior journalist, and director of IBC news explained how the localized problem of religious extremism echoed beyond the borders and impacted the country on a global scale e.g. the grey-listing by the FATF, etc. He said sanctions or restrictions imposed on a country trickle down to the micro levels and affect every individual citizen in the country in one way or the other. No individual remains immune to the restrictions enforced on a country, he added.
Likewise, speaking about Islam’s relations with other faiths, religious scholar Ammar Khan Nasir said Islam advocates respect for other faiths and prohibits hurting the religious sentiments of anyone. He said in the earliest days of Islam when the budding Muslim community was facing persecution in Makkah, it was the Christians who rescued the Muslims by giving them refuge and protection in Ethiopia. Ammar Nasir also questioned the policy and practice of using religion for political or security purposes, adding that this phenomenon and its impact on society should be investigated.
Similarly, Wajahat Masood said the best way to bring back the lost cohesion and harmony among different religious communities was to improve the plight of public education which is in tatters. The state has abdicated its most fundamental duty of providing quality education and health to the public, leaving these two critical sectors to the private industry. As a result, quality health and education have become a privilege of the well-off class, while the mass population is left at the mercy of a dysfunctional system, Masood said. He said the youth must have a longing for freedom and independence, and that independence in its truest sense is public control over the distribution of national resources.
Veteran journalist Iftikhar Ahmed said Pakistan has witnessed a progressive intellectual decline among its youth, further adding that the youth were more aware politically in the past, and formed powerful movements that used to question policies and hold governments accountable for their actions. According to Iftikhar Ahmed, the passion that drove youth activism on social and political issues has been lost over years. The contemporary Pakistani youth are awaiting some messiah to come to their rescue, he said.
Speakers also emphasized the importance of free expression for religious tolerance and peace in society. It was stated that argument is often the weapon of the weak, while the powerful tend to impose their views and curtail free expression for others on one pretext or the other. In a special session of the workshop, the importance of critical thinking and reasoning was discussed. According to columnist and social critique Yasir Pirzada, the youth needed to develop critical thinking and reasoning skills in order to be able to appreciate the diversity of views and opinions.
The youth must be able to identify, analyze, and evaluate arguments in the light of facts instead of resorting to judgment and forming perceptions on the basis of stereotypes. Pirzada also urged the youth to discover and overcome their prejudices and biases which they may harbor towards other religious or ethnic groups. He said internalized biases lead to stereotyping or even scapegoating of minorities.
The workshop was also addressed by religious scholars Sahibzada Amanat Rasool and Peter Jacob who highlighted the sociocultural dynamics of the Pakistani society and emphasized the critical role of youth in promoting interfaith harmony. Issues of citizenship and fundamental rights were also discussed by security analyst Muhammad Amir Rana in separate sessions. The workshop is continuing in the series of countrywide educational and training workshops for youth around the question of interfaith harmony.