Pakistan is one of the most active nations in the world striving to pursue peace and interfaith harmony. Solidarity of the nation, regardless of the citizens living within Pakistan or abroad, depends on the peacefulness in the country that comes through coexistence and interfaith harmony. Government initiatives, such as Peaceful Pakistan, are dedicated towards promoting peaceful narrative and anti-extremism discourse.It’s all the more encouraging to see Pakistanis make efforts to build peace with communities of other faiths and creed. Ayesha Bux, Honorary Investment Consul for Pakistan in Melbourne and Chairperson Women Wing of Jewish Christian Muslim Association of Australia (JCMA), has dedicated her life to peace building. On a mission to pursue coexistence and interfaith harmony, her peace related activities are contributing towards creating a peaceful image of Pakistan. We reached out to Bux in Australia to get an insight on her peace-activities.

What is JCMA?

The Jewish Christian Muslim Association of Australia (JCMA) is a not for profit organisation whose objective is to promote the prevention of emotional and physical abuse arising from religious intolerance and cultural discrimination.

What is the vision of JCMA and its core belief?

The JCMA aims to create and provide a forum for interfaith dialogue and shared experience through meeting and discussion in a modern Australian and international context. Meeting and learning from Jews, Christians and Muslims together, leads to a fuller understanding of other faiths and perhaps in turn of our own.  By fostering relationships between people of different faiths, JCMA aims to reduce racism, intolerance, bigotry and violence and the associated emotional harm.

We have a vision to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religious bias or discrimination and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the local community and for all living beings.

Since JCMA is based in Australia, how are you reaching out to people globally and most especially to Pakistanis?

Going to Jerusalem was an unimaginable dream of mine without me knowing it. Leading up to the trip we met members of the other Abrahamic faiths, and shared what Jerusalem meant to us. Our trip was divided into two main parts; immersion and worship. The first three days we immersed ourselves into the beautiful city seeing it first through Jewish, then Muslim, and finally through Christian eyes. The next three days, we experienced how each faith worshipped God and observed rituals.

Through it became evident that our "What" was the same even though our "How" might differ. We worshipped the same God, with the same innate ability, but our rituals differed at times. Hearing the recitations of the Torah, Bible or Quran made me realise each of them helped us spiritually connect in the same way. Whether it was submitting to God, praying, fasting or giving charity, our beliefs and rituals were primarily the same with slight deviants. When the Muslim Friday observance was discussed our Jewish members asked "Are you sure you're not talking about "Shabbath?".

The second takeaway for me was people’s reaction to our group. Most stared at as if we were the 8th wonder of the world. Some came up to us and asked who we were, or got photos taken. A few tourists of Jewish faith told me they found our group inspirational. Through our journey, I felt a strong bond with other members as brothers and sisters in Abrahamic faiths, especially going through the journey of life together, honouring our similarities and respecting our differences in opinions with the knowledge that we share the same Divine bond.

There's Rabbi and Anglican Bishop as one of your leading board members. But then there's you as Chairperson of the Women's Committee. How does it feel to be in the lead as a Pakistani?

The Abrahamic bond that we share is deeper than just a friendship. This has further strengthened in recent times when JCMA has stood with Muslims to condemn ignorant politicians demonising our entire Muslim community.

Being the chair of the Women’s Committee I am in awe of the strength and grace of my Jewish and Christian members. We organised a Women’s Conference where I talked about Muharram as the month of inspiration and its significance to the Sunah of all the Prophets and the impact of Karbala on the entire world. We have planned exciting events in the coming year to further carry our message of peace and interfaith harmony.

You are the fifth generation Pakistani-Australian and an advocate of interfaith harmony and peace. What's the motivational drive behind this passion?

I think it’s in my family’s genetic makeup. My great grandfather set up numerous community initiatives in Lahore, including Australia Mosque, Australia Dawakhana (clinic), Australian TAFE library for school dropouts, first free Muslim girls school etc. My father brought me up loving everyone irrespective of faith and background. I grew up participating in various interfaith events.

In recent times I am trying to understand the message of Islam. Following its true values of peace, love and compassion have led to me to work in this space. I also love to see people of other faiths connect to the Divine.  When we were in Jerusalem, I loved seeing Jews and Christians worship God.

You proudly represent Pakistan at various platforms. What other platforms and initiatives are you involved in?

Since my student life I have tried to take positive action when something affects me. We have done fundraisers for numerous community initiatives, including Australian, Pakistani and other countries where there has been a need. We did a fundraiser for the Islamic Museum of Australia and we sponsored the Hajj Theatre there, which has the Pakistan Flag on it. For Pakistan raised funds for Khana Ghar, acid burn Victims, flood and earth quake victims, SKMH, Akhuwat, Indus Hospital to name a few.

I used to take pride in the fact that Australia was the least racist country, but last year I noticed attitudes changing after I specified my halal dietary preferences at an interstate event. Australia has been a big part of my identity so experiencing Islamophobia felt really strange. I had the choice of taking legal option but I decided to choose a higher action of forgiveness and taking positive action. So since last year we have started “SalamFest” Muslim Arts Festival promoting true Islamic values of peace, love and compassion. The aim is to create awareness and combat Islamophobia through arts and culture. We also want to showcase the diverse and beautiful colours of the Ummah.

Being Honorary Investment Consul for Pakistan in Melbourne, how does it feel to present your country at such a prestigious position?

Pakistan is a big part of my identity and I am blessed to have represented it at various forums. In my university life, we did many events to create awareness about Pakistan. We introduced Pakistani culture and movies to newer audiences. During the world cup we organised the biggest group of Pakistani supporters in the India Pakistan match.

For trade and investment I represented Pakistan for over 12 years in an Honorary capacity. I realised that the negative perception of Pakistan was due to lack of awareness of it. I have represented Pakistan and spoken on various platforms to create awareness of the beautiful country it is and the opportunity it provides. I have also facilitated numerous business delegations to visit Pakistan and explore it as an investment destination.

How do you think we can promote a peaceful narrative and anti-extremism discourse among us?

Education is key to fight hate-mongering. This includes understanding of the true values of Islam, which are peace, love and compassion. The other thing is to understand the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) and the love, mercy and compassion he showed to Non-Muslims. 

Your message to the youth of the nation on building a peaceful Pakistan?

Allah (SWT) has blessed us with such a beautiful country and we need to cherish and value it. Love all of Allah’s creation irrespective of religion. We cannot judge another person unless they commit a human rights violation. Always be conscious of God and judge each action by how you will answer Allah (SWT). We all are born with a fitra of love but unfortunately we are conditioned by our surroundings to hate. So love more and hate no more!