World Interfaith Harmony Week: Sajiha from Pakistan on why religions need to work together

World Interfaith Harmony Week takes place over the first week of February to provide a platform for interfaith groups and other groups of goodwill to show the world what a powerful movement they are. This week allows for these groups to become aware of each other and to strengthen the movement by building ties and avoiding duplicating each other’s efforts. The initiative is based on the commandments Love of God and Love of the Neighbour and this has been extended to include “Love of the Good and Love of the Neighbour” to apply to anyone – regardless of religion. To mark this occasion, the Global Faiths Coalition for Education, in collaboration with Beydaar Society and Echo Change, will publish a series called Young Perspectives: Articles on Faith & Global Education – written by young advocates for education of different faiths.

The sixth and final article in this series is by Sajiha Batool, who is a 23-year-old from Pakistan who works for the Beydaar Society. She is also a Global Youth Ambassador for A World at School and an Education Youth Ambassador.

Lighting candles for Interfaith Harmony Week Picture: United Religions Initiative

I am Muslim and a Pakistani and I strongly condemn and disapprove conflicts and killings in the name of religion.

World Interfaith Harmony Week is being celebrated this week. What is this and why is it so important to celebrate this for a whole week and too on a global level? Because this is what is acutely needed in my country and globally, considering the tragedies that have been happening for decades and exponentially arisen lately.

Respecting each other for who we are and not hurting each other’s sentiments is harmony and we should know that everyone deserves to live in peace. When there are disasters, there’s no question whether it will hit a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian, or Hindu, Buddhist and so on. It will hit anyone and everyone in its way. Humans will suffer.

We need to be the shields for each other in the times of tragedy and the cause of each other’s happiness, rather than putting each other in to trouble because our religions are different. A lot of things are yet to be infused into societies, in their children’s minds. Kids need to be told why their neighbours are so important and respectable, regardless of their religion, and the community needs to know it’s a community only as long as there’s harmony. The moment it’s gone, it’s no more a community – it’s just a mob.

Bringing such issues to light is crucial more now than ever. The history that’s being written is brutal for humanity. We need to be tolerant to each other at a personal level as well as on national and international level. Countries of different faiths need to start more projects together to restore their faith in humanity.

Celebrating such traits will bring the evaded questions to the table. In a lot of communities there’s a widespread notion that to live in peace with the world, one has to be indifferent. This has to change, one has to be sensitive to see a different world.

There’s still a lot more to do. Work on interfaith harmony has to be extended extensively to let the voice of peace be heard, and for that such discussions should be held extensively in educational institutions. Because there, as of now, a student is only concerned with his studies to get grades and unfortunately most of the teachers will also not want to discuss such issues or highlight problems perhaps even once in a whole course . Students have to complete their degrees and go out in the professional world to start excelling. They’re too busy achieving these goals that they never ponder on these sidelined issues of importance.  It might make them better professionals but it decreases the potential of a society to anticipate problems and tackle issues that are bound to rise in such a landscape.

Bringing the importance of interfaith harmony to the surface will change this. An indifferent person who tells his kids to stay away from people of different faiths to live in their own hermetic kingdom might want to tell his kids to be with those people and understand them and discuss issues instead of running from them.

Instead of thinking the work on interfaith harmony useless, we must think of it as door to the peaceful, progressive world which, of course, is locked until now. Instead of running from problems, facing them can provide us with lasting solutions.

Even in my own university – the University of Sargodha – at the notice board of the Faculty of Pharmacy and on other places on campus, I saw a notice time and time again that read: “Political and religious discussions are strongly prohibited on campus premises and those caught violating the rule will be fined heavily and might even get expelled.” Such is the situation of our world. Because people will tell us this is a chapter better left unread. While I don’t support useless discussions, I do want our educational institutions to stand up and promote healthy discussions.

Why is it that a student of Physics, Chemistry, Pharmacy, English, Biology, Math, Medicine etc. doesn’t need to qualify as a peaceful, respecting, tolerant member of society in order to qualify for the degree acquisition? Why these qualities instead of being forged are just ignored? While I don’t say students and people start unguided discussions, I do say they need to be aware of the elephant in the room. Why is there never a single seminar or roundtable discussion on interfaith issues in any department of our institutions other than the department of religious and maybe political studies?

When people never think of reaching out to people that are different from them and never try to forge understanding with them but rather stay in their own world, trying to be peaceful and not be the cause of any conflict, they’re not living in harmony, they’re living in indifference. They may not be causing trouble but they are not helping either. When conflicts arise between different faith groups, and they do arise a lot nowadays, those indifferent people cannot do anything because they never knew a thing like harmony was non-existent in times which they thought were of peace. 

Extending the discussion to the current scenario, let’s just discuss the issue of terrorism in Muslim territories caused by the so-called Muslims in the Middle East. In the places where terrorism could be defeated if only the Sunni and the Shia groups had supported each other, it was never defeated because the two groups of faith never trusted each other.

When one faith group is dominant in the government offices, it tries to suppress the other groups in its own country and the government of the country is much more inclined to make ties with the countries of similar faith and might even cut ties with the other. And believe it or not, it all comes down to individual perception and mentality. That’s why education is so important. And when we say education here, it means the right kind of education which not only makes us a perfect professional in our field but also an active member of the society.

We know a lot of highly educated people including PhDs, surgeons and engineers joining ISIS and such other groups that are downright terrorists and their basic belief is that everyone who doesn’t follow their version of religion/faith should be eradicated. If only those perfectly (per our institutions) educated people had had some exposure on interfaith issues and had their minds tuned to forge peace and respect everyone, they would not go on a suicide mission deadly to themselves and to the whole world.

But they did because in the perception of their families and institutions, discussion – even the most positive one – with each other on faith and religion was equivalent to intruding on privacy. We need to rethink our lines of what we need to discuss and what we don’t. We need to know closing our eyes and ears and shutting our mouths won’t help. If a problem facing us is not confronted, it will only exacerbate. This is the lesson that history has taught us. It’s about time we started playing our role!

A very important point that I would not want to miss in this discussion is the understanding of one’s own religious values for the peaceful world. If only we understand our own religion better, the world will know peace. There would be fewer killings and conflicts in the name of religion. NO religion in the world permits killings in its name. All that every religion has preached is peace. Conflicts arise because we lack what we should know our religion wanted to teach us. Being a Muslim, I know all the terrorist groups in the world – who have hijacked Islam for their own interests and trying to implement a distorted form of Islam – from Taliban to ISIS to Boko Haram – never knew what Islam is. I will make several references to Islam here because the thing to be discussed is faith and tolerance and it will not seem out placed.

See what Islam has to say:

Al-Quran 5:32  
“…if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.”

Islam preaches tolerance and respect for humanity. The most important thing to believe to be a Muslim is to have faith on the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the Holy Prophets Musa (Moses PBUH), Eesa (Jesus PBUH) and Daood (David PBUH) and the Holy Books Torah, Zbor, Injel and Quran e Pak.

Human life is sacred and so is humanity. 

Al-Quran 6:151  
“…take not life, which God hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus doth He command you, that ye may learn wisdom.”

There’s no way the brutality in the name of my religion can be justified:

Al-Quran 5:2  
“Do not let your hatred of a people incite you to aggression.”

No doubt the Jews and the Christians and the believers of other religions will testify that their religion never taught or allowed them to disrespect other people and that it’s their own misunderstanding and misinterpretation of religions that led them to the roads of hatred.

Islam has to say a lot about the acquisition of knowledge. It has made it a compulsion on every Muslim, man and woman and child, to acquire education. Our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) used to pray: “O Lord, increase my knowledge!”

I recently had the pleasure to volunteer for the United Nations’ My World survey and for that I got a chance to reach out to over 2000 people and it was so reassuring to hear that almost every single one of them thought the education should be a priority in our world. Like other people standing up for education, I too believe that education is the catalyst for success and the magic potion for our problems. I am an education advocate and education is important to me because the more I learn the more I am ready to accept. To create acceptance of races, beliefs and faiths we need to stand up for education.

A more educated world can be expected to be more tolerant. There are millions of kids out of school and those who do go to school don’t have access to a quality education. The struggle is far from over but at least we are trying and this matters.

We have to stand by each other, by humans, to ensure the survival of humanity and for that struggle for interfaith harmony is a key step taken in a very right direction.⨠World Interfaith Harmony Week is a wonderful initiative. Congratulations for bringing people from around the world to one platform and to make them think about this.

Let’s hope for a world that’s harmonious, prosperous, peaceful and more tolerant place to live in, to sit together and feel for each other.â¨Let’s keep struggling. No matter how small our efforts are, they will add up to pay off eventually and our generations to come shall see a different world – a world where following a religion will not put people in jeopardy!

Sajiha Batool is 23. She is currently working for Beydaar Society and has completed her PharmD from University of Sargodha. She is a Global Youth Ambassador and Education Youth Ambassador.