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“Citizens’ faith not a business of the state”, Speakers at a national workshop on interfaith harmony

The two-day educational and training workshop aimed at sensitizing university students about interfaith relations and harmony.

KARACHI: Speakers at a national workshop on interfaith harmony said it was not the business of the state to regulate the religious beliefs of the citizens. In Pakistan, attempts were made in the past to manufacture a religiously homogenous nation out of a huge diversity of faiths. Those policies only created social discord and polarized the society even further. It is not the state’s job to incentivize a particular faith and marginalize the rest. Religious bigotry and bias at state-level gave rise to the implicit belief that the religious minorities are peripheral with limited rights despite the fact that the constitution protects the rights of all citizens regardless of their religious affiliations, the speakers said.

Speaking at the workshop, researcher and scholar Mujtaba Rathore said that laws that discriminate against citizens on grounds of religious beliefs are in conflict with the fundamental rights ensured by the constitution. The Pakistani legal system is not without its failings as there are many laws that need to be rectified on the parameters of basic human rights, he said, adding that the Parliament is the fountainhead of all laws and as such it must take the lead at some point and start debating the policies and laws that cause religious discord in Pakistan.

However, journalist and anchorperson Wusatullah Khan said that just because the fundamental rights and freedoms were mentioned in the constitution did not mean that the state would readily offer them in a plate. In the absence of accountability and vigilance by the citizens, states tend to encroach upon people’s rights and freedoms. Mr. Wusatullah also discussed restrictions on the freedom of speech, saying that curbs on free expression begin at home where young people are often prevented from talking on many issues in the name of social values or traditions.

The workshop was also addressed by renowned historian and educationist, Prof. Dr. Syed Jaffar Ahmed, who underlined the significance of scientific and critical thinking among youth. For a socially-cohesive and religiously-tolerant society to take shape in Pakistan, the young generation must learn the skills to think critically and structure their thoughts on the basis of logic and reasoning, he said. According to Prof. Ahmed, scientific thinking has revolutionized societies and taken human progress to unprecedented heights.

Similarly, the social barriers to interfaith harmony such as religious biases also came under discussion at the workshop. Oftentimes, people harbor religious, ethnic, or sectarian biases that influence their thinking patterns and perceptions. Security analyst and founder of PIPS, Muhammad Amir Rana, said social biases towards others impede the process of social integration. Stereotyping religious or ethnic communities interfere with rational thinking, and influence social behaviors among people. Mr. Rana urged the youth to observe and identify their biases towards different peoples and communities, and learn to base their thinking on facts and evidence.

The two-day educational and training workshop aimed at sensitizing university students about interfaith relations and harmony. It was part of a nationwide drive to promote peace and harmony in the society by engaging the youth. The program was hosted by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) – an Islamabad-based research and advocacy think tank.

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