On the 28th of July, I joined a delegation of about 22 Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Sikh religious leaders and scholars to call upon the President of Pakistan, Mr. Asif Ali Zardari. The aim of the meeting, organized by the Minister of Minorities, was to brief the President about the need for and efforts toward interfaith harmony in Pakistan.
Representatives of Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Sikh communities spoke briefly about the urgent need for interfaith harmony in the country and to bring a fresh breeze of peace so that all may live in peace. They also expressed appreciation for the sincere efforts of the government of Pakistan in promoting dialogue and building bridges among the followers of various religions.
The President then welcomed the delegation and thanked them for visiting him. Speaking about interfaith dialogue, he said that the need has never been as great as it is today. He urged religious leaders of the country to use their influence to neutralize those few elements who, in the guise of religious teachings, attempt to indoctrinate intolerance in our society and manipulate the religious sentiments of the innocent believers for their own vested interests. No religion preaches or teaches intolerance, extremism or the shedding of blood of those who disagree, he said. Indeed, all true religions stress tolerance and co-existence of people of all faiths. The President went on to say that the Holy Quran teaches us that Allah created people with divergent views and perspectives and that such diversity was essential for growth of human society. Different perspectives enable us to see the world in different ways, he said, and it is natural, part of God’s plan. He noted that Muslims and Jews lived side-by-side in Medina during the early days of Islam. He stressed, too, that promoting interfaith harmony requires respect for the views of others and tolerance for plurality, both of which are part of the culture of democracy; it is our responsibility, then, to promote democratic values and culture as a necessary tool of promoting interfaith harmony.
The President quoted Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, saying that the great leader fought and laid down her life advocating tolerance and dialogue and opposing extremism. As her last act, he said, she wrote a book entitled Reconciliation in which she rejected the so-called clash of civilizations as an attempt “to twist the values of our great and noble religion.”
The delegation also included URI Global Trustee Maulana Abdul Khabir Azad, Bishop Joseph Coutts and Bishop Alexander John Malik. Several high officials of the government of Pakistan were also present at the meeting, which was held at Aiwan-e-Sadr (Presidency) in Islamabad.