12/20/2008, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Christians and Muslims: triumph on extremism through education and religious freedom

by Qaiser Felix
An interreligious seminar at the Christian Study Center. Muslim lawyer Aslam Khaki: "We have to think twice before sending our kids to madrassas." Fr. Bonnie Mendes: "A total overhaul of school and college syllabi."

Rawalpindi (AsiaNews) - The population of Pakistan must confront religious extremism without simply waiting for government intervention. Revision of school textbooks, which foster hatred and disdain; concern over the spread of Islamic schools; education of the young generations: these are some of the steps that Christian and Muslim leaders are suggesting to stop Islamic extremism, which is suffocating the life of the population and pushing Muslims away from their faith.

This judgment was expressed in the course of a seminar organized in Rawalpindi on December 16 by the Christian Study Center, on the theme: "Religious Extremism and Fundamental Steps to Reduce its Effects."

Muslim lawyer Muhammad Aslam Khaki (in the photo), known in Pakistan for his battles against fundamentalism, lists the many negative effects of extremism: from the widespread fear of being found together in public places, to the difficulties citizens have in obtaining visas, to the repercussions of the lack of security of the economy.

"Islam itself is facing many threats because of extremism," the lawyer affirms, "internationally, conversion to Islam has decreased, and the number of people who go to mosques has also declined rapidly because of fear."

In regard to the involvement of many young people in suicide attacks, Aslam Khaki issues an appeal to his fellow Muslims in Pakistan: "We have to save our youth from being used by religious extremists to safe our future." "We have to think twice before sending our kids to madrassas." "Mothers who spend most of the time with children should have to teach them about religious extremism and children should have more exposure of interfaith gatherings and peace activities."

Fr. Bonnie Mendes, involved in activities in defense of human rights, agrees on the importance of the education of the young generations, "for change at the grassroots level," and adds: "We all have to change ourselves and our attitudes if we want to get rid of religious extremism." Schools are decisive for combating the emergence of extremism, "because real formation of children is only possible at primary levels." To the spread of textbooks inciting to hatred and disdain, Fr. Mendes responds with the request for a "total overhaul of school and college syllabi."

Khursheed Nadeem, a Muslim scholar at the Council of Islamic Ideology, says that extremism comes when we ask for religious rights and freedom for ourselves, but are not ready to accept the same thing for the believers of other faiths.

The Muslim scholar identifies the causes of Islamic extremism in the teachings of some of the madrassas. This indoctrination also creates fractures within the Muslim community. A certain style of prayer, and even the construction of mosques, offers a foundation for the development of these ideological currents. "Unfortunately, the state has admitted all these differences,", Khursheed Nadeem says, "and as the state has admitted all this, solutions and harmony have become more difficult."

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