The ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony is contemplating to hold an International Conference with the theme ‘Promotion of Religious Tolerance In The Light of Seerah of the Holy Prophet (PBUH)’ on 24th March at Islamabad. The Conference will be attended by the Grand Mufti of Egypt and other international scholars. The objective of the conference is to convey national narrative on terrorism and religious tolerance to the global community.
Pakistan admittedly is facing an image problem among the fraternity of nations, with all its negative consequences for the country; a phenomenon that needs to be urgently addressed. Needless to emphasise that this state of affairs owes greatly to the rise of terrorism during the last 30-40 years unleashed by the geo-political developments in our region fuelled by a skewed narrative orchestrated by its proponents who used the distorted version of religion of Islam to advance their nefarious designs.
The fissiparous and centrifugal forces unleashed by this development obscured our national narrative. While the terrorist outfits continued producing crops of terrorists through indoctrination of the young minds, no worthwhile effort was made at the national level to develop a counter-narrative to fight terrorism on the ideological front besides using the state power to destroy the terrorist infrastructure or physical elimination of the terrorists.
In view of the permeating situation the PML(N) government and the military leadership of the country not only launched military offensive to eliminate and destroy the infrastructure of the terrorists outfits but also decided to redouble efforts at the national level to develop a counter-narrative against the dogma of the terrorists with a view to neutralise them on the internal front ideologically and also to send an unequivocal message to the world that Pakistan was a religiously tolerant state which believed in religious harmony and abhorred any manifestation of terrorism.
The National Action Plan unfurled through national consensus also accorded due focus to the efforts regarding curbing the hate speech, introduction of reforms in the seminaries and bringing them into the national educational mainstream. The ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony was given the responsibility to develop the national narrative to challenge the narrative of the terrorists, who were using the religion of Islam to justify their actions, coinciding with the efforts to erase negative perceptions that had been choreographed through their incessant propaganda.
The ministry, reportedly, has been pursuing the given task with unswerving commitment and has taken appreciable steps in that regard. Some of the worth mentioning measures include formation of Ulema and Mashaikh Councils, holding of international Seerat Conference on religious harmony as well as establishing coordination with the provincial governments and other stakeholders. Probably the most significant step was the launch of a book-let titled ‘Paighame-e-Pakistan’ compiled by the International Islamic University and launched on 18th January by the government of Pakistan.
The book-let signed by 1829 religious scholars from nearly all mainstream sects in the country, declared as un-Islamic several anti-state actions including rebellion, attacks and suicide attacks against the state, spreading of sectarianism and anarchy in the name of religion or issuing a call to Jihad without the consent of the state. It also held the use of force against the state of Pakistan in the name of Sharia as un-Islamic and prohibited use of force against the government by militant entities. The document also declared use of force in the garb of implementation of imposing Sharia, the waging of an armed struggle against the state or the use of violence and terrorist tactics to settle ethnic, geographical, religious and sectarian disagreements a violation of the injunctions of Sharia Law. The booklet also highlighted different decrees against terrorism prepared by the religious scholars and Wifaqul Madaris—the umbrella body for the regulation of religious seminaries in the country after thorough consultations.
It was for the first time that such a comprehensive national narrative on terrorism and religious harmony was evolved that enjoyed the support and approval of all the religious sects. It was indeed a very laudable and positive step towards meeting the challenge of the terrorists at the ideological plank and also pronouncing to the world the credentials of Pakistan as a religiously tolerant state which contrary to the impression created by its enemies and detractors, had an unflinching commitment to eliminate the scourge of terrorism and the ideology that they used to fuel their dogma.
Changing minds and attitudes developed over a long period of time is an arduous and time consuming effort. The distortions introduced into the society would surely take time to ebb away but there is no doubt that the efforts made so far on the internal front have already started showing positive results. There is almost a national consensus on waging a relentless war against the narrative of the terrorists on the internal front as well as showing the true face of Pakistan to the global community. Thanks to the combined efforts of the government and the Pakistani media which has shown utmost sense of responsibility in supporting and reinforcing the national narrative.
The convening of an international conference to be attended by the grand mufti of Egypt and other international scholars at Islamabad is a very imaginative and visionary initiative in regards to dissemination of the desired message to the international community and dealing with the image problem. It would also lend more credibility to the efforts of the Pakistan government designed to ensure physical elimination of the terrorist outfits and their supporters within the country being targeted through operation ‘Radul Fasad’
n The writer is a freelance columnist.
Changing minds and attitudes developed over a long period of time is an arduous and time consuming effort.