Distinguished Guests, Friends
Ladies and Gentlemen
Assalam-o- Alaikum and a very good evening
I am delighted to welcome you all at the Embassy of Pakistan for our Annual Interfaith Iftar.
As always, we are honoured to have, among us, the representatives from different faiths and denominations. We have members from the Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Muslim and other communities.
While I thank you all for gracing this occasion, let me offer our condolences to the family of the late Sam Mall who passed away in May. Sam Mall spent his lifetime in the cause of interfaith harmony both in his country of birth, Pakistan, and his adopted home in the US. I recognize Mrs. Rima Mall amongst our distinguished guests. Thank you Mrs. Mall for the selfless and good work of your late husband.
Ladies and Gentlemen
We all know that the concept of fasting is built-in almost all religions of the world in one form or another. And the underlying principle behind fasting is also universal. It promotes self-sacrifice, discipline, fortitude, and humility. It reminds us of the values of tolerance and forbearance. It creates opportunities for human dignity through search for virtue and self-purity. But above all this month of fasting is also a great equalizer. Rich and poor, privileged and less privileged, all feel the pangs of hunger and thirst and all stand shoulder to shoulder in deference to the command of their creator.
As we ponder over this universal message of fasting, it appears to have an amazing relevance in our contemporary world. Today, the use of brute force by terrorists of various denominations have brought upheaval in many parts of the world. Too often, the voices of moderation appear to be in danger of being drowned by the harsh cries of extremism. In many places, the very existence of our common humanity is being challenged by forces of violence and bigotry being committed in the name of religion, ethnic superiority, economic supremacy or even pure hegemonic ambitions.
At this moment in human history it is all the more important that we revert to the sublime and peaceful teachings of religion. True to its essentials, religion should serve as a binding force for the post-modern societies, acting as a moderating, civilizing guide to public and private interactions.
The essence of Islam is indeed finding the middle way and respect for fellow human beings. There is no place for aggression, cruelty or injustice in the teachings of Islam. In fact a true believer is enjoined to respect all other religions and their respective beliefs.
All Muslims since childhood are taught “Asalam-u-aleikum” which means May you be blessed with peace. Islam teaches us to respect the places of worship of others. More than a thousand years before the signing of the Geneva Conventions, Muslim soldiers were directed not to harm women, children and the elderly.
In chapter 11 verse 256, the Holy Quran states that “There is no compulsion in religion.”
In yet another manifestation of co-existence, it reminds the Muslims:
“For you your religion and for me mine.” (Chapter 109:verse 16)
So the clear lesson that we can draw from the Quran or, for that matter, any other religious scripture, is that instead of being hijacked by extremists, our faiths should be the beacon of hope against chaos and brutality. For societies that uphold religion and the civilizing force it is meant to be, tolerance is the most needed value for a world pulled in multiple directions.
Ladies and Gentlemen
We know that in the United States, the greatest values of religious freedom and protection of the rights of minorities go back to the times of the founding fathers. While I have personally enjoyed the interfaith Iftar hosted in the White House and the State Department, I know that tradition of interfaith events dates back to the times of President Thomas Jefferson. Keeping a copy of the Quran in his office to consult on natural law, President Jefferson established a great precedent of interfaith harmony and built his young country as a safe place for the persecuted people of all faiths.
This model needs to be emulated by all of us today as the need for mutual tolerance and peaceful existence was never greater.
In Pakistan, the government of Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif is committed to the vision of building a truly pluralistic and democratic society where all citizens enjoy equal rights and freedom, including the freedom to practice their faith. The State machinery is jealously pursuing this objective by hunting the extremists and curbing hate speech in line with the priorities identified in the National Action Plan.
Lately we have seen some remarkable examples of resilience and brotherhood in the face of terrorist attacks on our places of worship. When a church was attacked in Lahore a couple of years ago, we saw that the following week, people belonging to all faiths formed a human chain and stood guard to allow the Sunday mass for local Christians. Similar gestures have been shown by the minority groups when the target of attack was a mosque.
These great examples, of standing for those under threat by the extremists, are the beacons of hope for interfaith harmony and co-existence that the founding fathers of Pakistan and the United States envisioned for our respective societies.
Today, more than ever before, we need religion and its common spiritual underpinnings as a unifying force for good. Let us resolve to reject extremism and work together to make peace and harmony prevail for the good of our common humanity and our shared heritage.
May I request you to please join me in a moment of silence to pray for world peace.
I thank you
July 09, 2015