04/17/2012, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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For Paul Bhatti, concrete steps needed in interfaith dialogue in Pakistan

A conference opens tomorrow in Multan. More than 500 scholars and experts will participate, from Pakistan and abroad. The event is organised by the imam of Lahore's Badshahi Mosque. For the prime minister's special advisor, it is necessary to go beyond the "dialogue on great principles" and promote instead concrete steps like fighting intolerance and promoting the study of all regions, not just one.

Lahore (AsiaNews) - A common effort towards dialogue must be made in Pakistan by taking "concrete steps," starting with the "causes of discrimination" like intolerance and hatred towards other religions. Education, including religious education, must be improved so that it is open to the all of the country's religions, this according to Paul Bhatti, special national harmony advisor to the prime minister. He spoke to AsiaNews on the eve of an important meeting in Multan tomorrow.

Grand Imam Syed Muhammad Abdul Khabir Azad, from Lahore's Badshahi Mosque, organised the event in cooperation with the Inter-religious Council. The conference will be held in Multan's main mosque. More than 500 participants drawn from different schools of thoughts and religions will come from Punjab, the rest of Pakistan and around the world. Religious leaders from different faiths, diplomats and lawmakers will also attend, as will representatives of civil society groups.

"My goal is to hear what conference participants have to propose and understand how we can improve things in Pakistan," Bhatti said. At present, the country suffers from such widespread "intolerance and discrimination that people are getting killed in the name of religion."

For this reason, it is necessary above all "to stress the value of human beings per se," Premier Gilani's special advisor said, and then promote the idea that faith belongs to the personal sphere. At the same time, "Concrete steps must be taken because engaging in dialogue on great principles makes no sense if nothing real is done."

Paul Bhatti is the brother of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic and the Minority Affairs minister who was slain on 2 March 2011 by Muslim extremists because of his fight for the rights of non-Muslims and his strong opposition to the blasphemy law.

Speaking about this 'black law', the premier's national harmony advisor said that it is important "to go after abuses and violations" perpetrated in its name. "We must change people's mindset and educate them to understand what makes people violent and intolerant."

He is convinced that the problems of Pakistani society "are due or made worse" by the religious sphere. For this reason, it is necessary to "uproot discrimination" based on religion.

Some "imams preach hatred towards other religions". In their sermons, they say, "All religions are false, except for Islam."

Schools should "promote religious education, not only one religion." For this reason, it is important to study other religions.

Thirdly, students "should learn about the fundamental values of other religions, whether Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc."

Finally, "It is with passion and determination that I bear my brother Shahbaz's legacy," Paul Bhatti noted. "Now I want to pursue my personal beliefs and fulfil the mission to which I was called." (DS)

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