ISLAMABAD (APP) - President Asif Zardari has said that need for interfaith understanding and dialogue has never been as great as is today to counter those who were predicting clash of civilizations.
In a meeting with a delegation of Ulema and religious scholars, representing various faiths and sects, and hailing from all over the country at Aiwan-e-Sadr, President Zardari urged them to use their influence in neutralising those few who in garb of religious teachings were trying to indoctrinate intolerance in the society and manipulate sentiments of the innocent for vested interests.
No religion preaches or teaches intolerance and extremism and shedding blood of those who disagree, the President said.
Briefing the media, Spokesperson to the President former Senator Farhatullah Babar said the President complimented the Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti for organising inter-faith harmony conference.
He said Islam teaches tolerance and respect for the faith of others.
The Holy Quran, the President said, teaches that Allah created people with divergent views and perspectives and that such diversity was essential for growth of human society.
While referring to historical annals and early days of Islam, the President said Muslims and Jews have lived side by side in Madina during early Islam.
He said promoting interfaith harmony requires respect for the views of others and tolerance for plurality.
He said tolerance for plurality and respect for the views of others was part of the culture of democracy.
The President while quoting Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto said that the great leader fought and laid down her life advocating tolerance and dialogue and opposing extremism.
He said the last act of Shaheed leader was to write a book Reconciliation in which she rejected the so-called clash of civilizations as an attempt to twist the values of our great and noble religion.
Babar quoted the President as saying that ignoring in the past the consequences of spawning militancy and fundamentalism had not only endangered the rights of minorities but also posed a new threat to the to the very existence of the country.
The President said rights of minorities were enshrined in the Constitution that gives equal rights to all, without any consideration of religion, race or creed.
He said the present democratic government following the principles laid by Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was a strong advocate of interfaith dialogue.
He said Pakistan Peoples Party was particularly committed to a liberal and pluralistic society in the country.
Our Party, the President said, has long struggled for bringing the minorities into mainstream of national politics.
He said the Constitution of Pakistan given to the country by founding Chairman Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto envisaged joint electorate system so as to keep the minorities in the mainstream of national life.
However, this provision was changed and separate electorate introduced by the dictatorship that toppled the elected government and later executed the Prime Minister.
However, the Party did not abandon the struggle to restore joint electorate system as envisaged in the original Constitution and forced the previous regime to scrap the separate electorate system.
He said although the government that scrapped the separate electorate system was opposed to the PPP, the Party supported that move even at the risk of being accused of political expediency.
The President also mentioned Charter of Democracy in which Benazir Bhutto made it a point to see that the Joint electorate system was not changed.
He said in May 2009, the PPP government took new initiatives for the welfare of minorities that include 5 per cent quota for minorities in the Government jobs, doubling of Minorities Development Fund, declaring August 11 as Minorities Day and establishment of Inter-faith Harmony Committees, at National, Provincial and District levels, to prevent and deal with problems between communities at grass-roots levels.
The President said he looks forward to more such meetings with religious scholars, ulema and leaders from various faiths and sects.
He hoped that the religious scholars would use their influence to check propagation of militancy and extremists ideologies and reiterated the commitment of the democratic government not to tolerate militancy and extremism in any form, any manifestation and anywhere in the country.
Religious scholars representing different faiths and sects assured they will not allow religion to be used as cover by the militant and extremists elements for their nefarious objectives.
They thanked the President for meeting and assured that they would continue to complement Governments efforts for strengthening of our traditional cultural values of tolerance and promotion of interfaith harmony.
Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti also spoke on the occasion and highlighted steps taken by Ministry of Minorities for the protection and welfare of minorities.
Condolences were made and fateha offered for the victims who lost their lives as a result of Air crash on Wednesday morning.
The meeting was attended by Moulana Syed Muhammad Abdul Khabir Azad, Allama Zubair Ahmed Zaheer, Moulana Ghulam Muhammad Silavi, Allama Niaz Hussain Naqvi, Moulana Mohammad Khan Laghari, Moulana Asad Ubaid, Moulana Anwar-ul-Haq Haqqani, Khawaja Wajahat Hussain, Moulana Raghab Hussain Naeemi, Moulana Roohullah Madni, Maulana Mufti Abu Hurera Mohi-ud-Din and others besides Dr.
Hamilton, Interfaith Scholar USA, Bishops from Lahore, Islamabad, Karachi, Faisalabad and religious leaders of Hindu and Sikh communities in Pakistan.
Qamar Zaman Kaira, Minister for Information, Interior Minister Senator A.
Rehman Malik, Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Minorities, Syed Hamid Saeed Kazmi, Minister for Religious Affairs, Dr.
Babar Awan, Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, Ms Farahnaz Ispahani, MNA, and Spokesperson to the President former Senator Farhatullah Babar were also present during the meeting.

This news was published in The Nation newspaper. Read complete newspaper of 29-Jul-2010 here.