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By Sheraz Khurram Khan

ANS (01/19/06) – It is an indisputable fact that religion plays pivotal role in ones life. However, slapping of a religion on the other person is something that must be outrightly condemned. Regrettably, the tendency of foisting Islam upon people of other faiths is on the rise in Pakistan . The bleak scenario, therefore, calls for forging inter-faith harmony in the country.

Forced conversions should not be taken as victory of Islam by the fundamentalist elements – rather they go to negative profiling of the very elements and of course of the religion of which they are flag bearers of. Sadly enough, most of the incidents of forced conversions of Christians, Hindus and that of other religious minority communities’ people go unreported and only few come to the lime light. Ideally, the media should be awake to the gruesome incidents of forced conversions of Christians and Hindus and condemn the elements behind the conversions.

It is appalling that the very existence of people of faiths other than Islam is looked down upon by fundamentalists here in Pakistan . The moment they learn about someone practicing faith other than Islam they start badgering the vulnerable victim in one way or another. Hurting the sentiments of religious minority communities peoples’ by words has become a norm and is no aberration in a country where short-sighted Muslim clerics are bent upon seeing a homogenous culture. They are blind to the fact that ethnic, religious and cultural diversity in fact ensures progression.

Advancement of culture of diversity is the crying need of the hour, for that can ensure emergence of Pakistan as progressive, democratic and enlightened state in the true sense of the term. The hardliner Muslim religious scholars want each person in Pakistan to embrace Islam, which is a very dogmatic and parochial approach. In this murky backdrop one must give weight to the saner voices who advocate Christian-Muslim dialogues to achieve peaceful co-existence of Pakistani citizens irrespective of their allegiance to their respective faiths.

To ensure inter-faith harmony the government of Pakistan must take concrete steps aimed at ensuring harmony between people of different faiths in the country, rather than harping on platitudes that religious minorities in Pakistan face no threat and are living in peace and harmony. Well, Pakistani religious minorities are ardent advocates of peace and harmony, but then there is a fringe of lunatic hardliners which does its best to impair peace. To rectify the deteriorating situation and to give religious harmony a chance in the country, the concerned ministry should invite enlightened Muslim religious scholars so that they could have a dialogue with eminent Pakistani Christian scholars. The event should be given due coverage by electronic and print media of the country and the declaration issued at the end of such dialogues and conferences should be given press coverage, for this is how one could bring round the obstinate and intransigent Muslim clerics to shun their agenda of forcing Islam on people of other religions against their will.

I was way younger, in fact a college student when I would hear the ruthless treatment of blasphemy accused Gul Masih, who underwent tremendous pressure by the hardliner Muslim scholars to change his faith while he was in detention in Sargodha . The treatment meted out to Masih would make my heart bleed, but being a college student then I was not even in possession of a mature expression to come up with a write-up on the trials and tribulations that Masih had to face due to his Christian faith.

Of late, one Kalu Suniara, who accused one Younas Masih of sacrilege of Quran in Sanglahill has withdrawn case against Masih. The very withdrawal of the case by Kalu shows that Masih was innocent and the accuser had cooked up the story for reasons known to him. In presence of inter-faith harmony clash between Pakistani Muslims and people of the religious minorities is out of the question, therefore, both Muslim and Christian religious scholars should direct their well-intentioned efforts to cultivate a culture where people of different faiths could practice their respective faiths without any fear or threat. Apart from rendering my services as a journalist I also work for Log Foundation, a non-profitable, non-political and non-governmental organization. In line with the Foundation’s vision of seeing peaceful coexistence between people of different faiths in the country the foundation conducted an inter-faith harmony bicycle tour from Lahore to Islamabad which culminated in Rawalpindi on December 31, a day ahead of the tentative schedule.

I undertook the cycle tour to extend my humble contribution vis-à-vis promoting inter-faith harmony in Pakistan . Dressed in Shalwar Qameez I had worn symbols of religions including Christianity, Islam, and Sikhism (cross, Tasbih, Sikhs bracelets, Hindus Sandhoor applied on forehead) to stress upon the fact that given the will people of these religions could live in peace and harmony.

A joint prayer between people of three faiths including Christians, Muslims and Sikhs was offered at Gurdawara Rohri Sahib in Gujranwala on December 30. During the bicycle ride I received mixed response from people- the hardliners among Muslims gave me hard stares as I was committing a sin. However, few moderates welcomed the gesture and encouraged me to go on. Do I and Aamir Shahzad from Jalalpur Jattan cease to become Christians after having offered prayer in Sikh Gurdawara for the cause of inter-faith harmony and for the progress and prosperity of Pakistan ? Is Kulbir Singh, the prayer leader of the Gurdawara no longer a Sikh religious leader? Similarly, has the Muslim man who offered prayer on behalf of Muslims undergone any change as regards his allegiance to Islam is concerned? No definitely not. Earlier, on my visit to Nankana Sahib the chief of All Pakistan Gurdawara Parbhandak Committee, Mastan Singh offered me his turban, bracelets and backed me to go ahead to promote inter-faith harmony in the country.

I am thankful to Mastan Singh who demonstrated flexibility and broadmindedness and joined hands with Log Foundation in the cause that is in fact in the larger interest of Pakistan . Unfortunately enough, the print media which is otherwise littered with news of mudslinging of politicians on one another did not give that much coverage to the incident which it deserved. However, Pakistan ’s leading Urdu News Paper Naw-e-Waqt reported the incident besides couple of Urdu papers that come out from Gujranwala .

I would like to thank Radio Yesu Masih team ( UK ) in general and Mr. Taskeen Khan in particular who interviewed me Online after termination of the Inter-faith harmony bicycle tour.

I would like to appeal to expatriate Pakistani Christians to support all those media organizations who enable them read what is happening with Christians in the world over. Among Online Christian Papers Pakistan Christian Post and Assist News Service are doing incredible job and deserve your donations to carry on the good work.