On 31 March 2021, the Coalition of Faith-Based Organizations (CFBOs) together with International Association of Parliamentarians for Peace (IAPP), Universal Peace Federation (UPF) International,) and LIOS-SOIL Organization, Vienna, in partnership with several universities in Pakistan, South Africa and Austria, held a virtual conference on Faith, Ethics and Education. The initiator, Dr. Afsar Rathor, former United Nations diplomat and President of Vienna based LIOS-SOIL Organization, emphasized that the goal of the conference was to support the newly established “Interfaith Harmony Council of Pakistan”, which is planning to establish further councils across the country with the intention to include the subject of religious tolerance in the curriculum while also highlighting its positive objectives to the western audiences. Two sessions on “The Role of Religious Leaders in Crime Prevention”, and “Faith, Ethics and Education”, brought together religious and community leaders, academics, politicians and experts from politics, religion, philosophy, education, medicine, business, and agriculture to share their views and address current concerns from the perspective of religious tolerance and acceptance.
Sessions One on “The Role of Religious Leaders in Crime Prevention”:
Opened by the host and moderator, Dr Afsar Rathor, LIOS-SOIL Organization, Vienna, this second interfaith conference contributes to nation building, interfaith harmony, and a peaceful society.
Dr Michael Platzer, co-chair Coalition of Faith Based Organizations (FBOs) noted that FBOs can help fight corruption and contribute to resolving numerous issues including climate, violence against women, social justice, urban safety, ethics, and good governance. Dr Platzer noted that the Vienna based United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has welcomed religions as a valuable stakeholder and partner to prevent crime and to improve the criminal justice system.
HE Syed Hussain Jahania Gardezi, Minister for Agriculture of Punjab, former Minister of Food, and practising farmer, presented an in-depth analysis of the significance of religious peace and harmony. He proposed to develop a code of ethics for religious journalists on how to deal with incitement that may lead to atrocities.
HE Lal Chand Malhi, Parliamentary Secretary for Human Rights (Deputy Minister), Ministry of Human Rights, Pakistan journalist by profession as well as human rights activist, observed that religious leaders can more effectively work with juvenile substance abusers, or with the inmates returning to the community, who then become a key resource of crime reduction. Religious leaders can influence society in a positive manner, by not remaining silent when other communities are targeted.
HE Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shaw, Bishop of Lahore (Catholic Church) was inspired by St Francis and the Vatican Two document. Dialogue is the way to bring peace, to express yourself and listen to others: there is no need to convert anybody, let us make interreligious dialogue more visible. “Let us plant olive trees, mentioned in the holy Bible and in the holy Quran. Let us go beyond tolerance to acceptance, let us work together for restoration of human dignity.”
HE Ramesh Singh Arora, Member of Parliament, Punjab Assembly stated that the fundamental belief of Sikhism is universality of God, duality, interfaith harmony, humanity, and sharing. People from all faiths and those who do not profess any faith are welcome in the Sikh gurdwara. The Pakistan National and all Provincial Assemblies and the Senate have reserve seats for the minority, so they don't consider themselves vulnerable, also 5% job quota are reserved for the minorities in Pakistan, so they consider their livelihood is protected. He suggested we need to take tolerance and acceptance one step further to respect.
HE Sardar Masood Khan, President Azad Jammu & Kashmir recognized that communities should reach out to each other and try to understand the basis of their faiths, banish Islamophobia, Christianophobia, or antisemitism. We need dialogue, and at the same time there should be a system for prosecution, a system for accountability, and this culture of impunity for hate crimes committed by followers of a faith should be abolished. No religion is a monolith. He also elaborated on the human rights violation to the Muslims of India and the Kashmiris living in the Indian Administered kashmir
Rounding up the first session, Dr. Afsar Rathor, noted that dialogue is the only way forward, thus we are looking forward for more interactions between the communities for result oriented dialogues. We had outstanding collaboration with the Universities in the last webinar on 2nd February 2021.
Professor Doctor Suleman Tahir, KF University of Engineering & Information Technology, stated that dialogue between the faiths is necessary to decrease the distances and promote relationships. We need to address corruption overall. Corruption is not only the money: it's also in tolerance; it's also in ethical values; it's also to respect each other. We should follow ethical values, but these cannot be taught. These are the practical values we must practise, as it is in engineering, we learn something in engineering lab. That cannot be in teaching only in the classroom.
Session Two “Faith, Ethics and Education”:
The second half of the conference was moderated by Ms. Heather Wokusch, Austria .
Mr. Peter Haider, UPF-Austria alluded to Doctor Sun Myung Moon from Korea, who during a conference in the UN in New York in August 2000, proposed to create an interreligious assembly to serve as a Senate or a council within the United Nations. Then he congratulated the nation of Pakistan for establishing Interfaith Harmony Councils at the local, provincial, and national levels to promote dialogue and resolve sectarian conflicts.
HE Prof. Dr. Qibla Ayaz, Chairman, Council of Islamic Ideology, Pakistan on the theme of education, ethics particularly with reference to interfaith, should be transferred to the coming generation. It is important that it should be part of the reading contents and the overall curriculum: there should be stories, which should help us to understand why in the post-globalised world it is important that we live with harmony, coexistence, and respect for each other.
HE Senator Prof. Dr. Mehr Taj Roghani, Chairperson- Senate Committee on National Commission on Women Status is a medical doctor and never thought for a minute people of different races, religion, colour, necessity, coming as patients. Harmony can mean agreement of ideas, feelings, or actions, or it may mean a situation when people live or work happily together. Now as a politician she believes they should be the first example for honesty, this will have a trickledown effect.
HE Dr. Samia Raheel Qazi, former Member of Parliament, President of International Muslim Women Union urged us to agree to disagree, and work together enhancing intercultural and interfaith dialogue, and understanding, to promote tolerance and harmony, mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge, people to people, contacts, and education. Beginning is half the task.
HE Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters, President Bishop Church of Pakistan & Bishop of Peshawar stated we are dealing with faith, ethics, and education. In the first place before safe, harmonious, and peaceful society, it must care for the well-being of the other. Secondly the good deeds should become part of our character. But for a safer, harmonious and peaceful society, education, ethics, and faith are essential, education at the practical approach and faith are the base for a change in the mindset.
HE Isphanyar M. Bhandara, former Member of Parliament, a business magnate, politician, and philanthropist said having faith without education does not carry much weight, so today's problems, not only in Pakistan, but all over the world: intolerance. We have rather too much unguided faith with too little education. “I largely blame the primitive education system in the third world, which encourages prejudice, intolerance and hatred towards minorities, at least in the common schools in the rural villages and backward areas.” Curriculum has to be revisited in order to eradicate anything derogatory for the minorities.
HE Sahibzada Sultan Ahmed Ali, Chairman MUSLIM Institute, Research Think Tank, Islamabad-London stated that education lays the foundation for the prosperity of the nation, practising such ethics on larger scales demands their inclusion in educational syllabus and dissemination through modern methods prevailing in societies. We need to harmonise traditions and prevailing educational systems: a blend of traditional and modern methodology for faith-based societies for peace, prosperity, and stability as desired by the teachings of all great religions.
Closing Remarks by Dr. Thomas Walsh, Co-Chairman CFBOs & Chairman, UPF International, USA underscored the advances made and the need to continue in interreligious and intra-religious dialogue, and its importance for peace, development, for crime prevention and criminal justice. He suggested that dialogue does not mean talking all the time, it means spending 99% of your time listening. and not just listening with our ears closed but listening to try to learn.
Rathor, concluded that morality refers to
the set of standards that enabled people to live cooperatively in groups.
Sometime acting in a moral manner means individuals must sacrifice their own short term interest to benefit the society, and that is the
ideal situation which we are looking forward to. Furthermore, he mentioned that
the partner organizations can only provide a
platform for an everlasting dialogue between the various religious communities
for better understanding, more tolerance and peaceful society. He appreciated
the positive contributions made by the panellists and the partner organizations
KF University of Engineering & Information Technology, Rahim Yar Khan; Superior University Lahore; University of Jhang; PMAS Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi;
University of Sailkot; Muslim Institute, Pak & UK; Iqbal International Institute for Research & Dialogue, International Islamic University Islamabad; Dept of Islamic Learning, University of
Karachi; King Letsitsa International University, South Africa; Bakholokoe Kingdom, Harrismith, South Africa; ADPULSE Integrated Media, Karachi; Greenwich University Karachi &
Mauritius; Interfaith Forum, Pak; Academic Research & Policy Development Foundation, Pak; Sigmund Freud Private University Vienna Austria