Inter-faith dialogue: Where are we going wrong?

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This blog post was originally published on Laaltain magazine

ashrafiWhile lurking around my Twitter timeline one morning I came across a tweet by Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) Chairman Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi, a repost containing a link to his article about inter-faith and inter-sect dialogue from a couple of months earlier. Realizing I had nothing better to do, I decided to engage with Mr. Ashrafi by asking whether Ahmadis were part of this ‘inter-faith dialogue’ he was championing. Much to my surprise, he actually responded by saying:

It’s not a surprise that a vast majority of Pakistani Muslims regard members of the minority sect Ahmadiyya as non-Muslims, with hardline clerics insisting that it is a different religion altogether. But what Tahir Ashrafi said in the tweet was a step further. Maulana actually claimed that “Qadiyani [a derogatory term for members of the Ahmadiyya community] is not the name of any religion” implying his refusal to recognize Ahmadiyya as a faith altogether.

With my curiosity now aroused, I tweeted back asking whether or not the purpose of inter-faith dialogue was to stop religiously fueled attacks on minorities like the one that took place in Gujranwala recently, resulting in the deaths of a woman, two minors and an unborn child belonging to the minority Ahmadiyya sect.

As expected, I did not hear back from Maulana.

The need to satisfy my curiosity then took me to Maulana’s article in the Daily Times, in which he boasted about the success of his ‘inter-faith’ dialogue efforts. However it was evident that there was no representation of the Ahmadiyya community in his article, an absence which Ashrafi probably justified by the opinion he presented in his tweet.

But then he claimed “[…] the representatives of all sects and religions also agreed on a code of conduct during the conference.”

So I want to ask him, is it really an ‘inter-faith dialogue’ when there’s no representation of a faith that has been persecuted for decades?

According to the article, all other Muslim sects decided for Ahmadis – in the absence of Ahmadi representation – the following:

The issue of Qadyanis was also discussed in detail during the conference. It was clearly stated that no Islamic scholar in Pakistan has ever issued fatwa to murder Qadyanis nor do religious leaders allow the killing of Qadyanis. There are some obvious religious differences between the Muslims and Qadyanis, but the rights of Qadyanis as citizens of the country that are guaranteed in Pakistan’s law and constitution should be respected. Qadyanis should also comply with the law and constitution, and Muslims should also respect that.”

Great, we appreciate that. But is it really enough? In spite of the claim that no Muslim cleric has ever issued an edict to murder Ahmadis, they remain one of the most vulnerable groups in the country. If there’s no fatwa encouraging violence against this group, then clearly there’s enough implication that motivated the police to just stand there and watch silently while the mob was setting people belonging to this sect ablaze, not to mention the celebrations of the mob after the attack.

I am sorry but there is something wrong with this picture. Inter-faith dialogue doesn’t mean sitting only with representatives of the faiths that you’re comfortable with; it means sitting together with people of all faiths, even the ones you don’t agree with, or in this case, you can’t even tolerate. Only then can the process of real religious co-existence begin. Let’s be honest, if you can’t sit with a representative of the Ahmadiyya community in a room where ‘inter-faith dialogue’ is taking place, how do you then expect society to grasp the importance of inter-faith tolerance?

Ask yourself Maulana: shouldn’t the aggrieved party have a say in the whole dialogue process? What right do you have to decide for any community without giving them a voice and then continuing in your failure to protect that community?

I am sorry Maulana, but the problem is much graver than ‘averting clash between Sikhs and Hindus’ as you claimed in your article. Minority faiths, particularly of the Ahmadiyya community, the Shia Hazara community, Sikhs, Hindus and Christians are being targeted frequently. Clearly this model of ‘inter-faith dialogue’ is not working. It seems that any inter-faith conference without representation of all faiths is nothing but a gathering to enjoy free food and talk endlessly about an issue that is not going to improve until sincere efforts are made in this regard.

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