02/03/2018, 10.13
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Lahore: young people overcome religious barriers together

by Kamran Chaudhry

The "Diversity Summit 2018" took place on January 27th. Six teenagers share experiences of sharing with other young people of different faiths. On 7 February the sentence is expected in the murder trial of Mashal Khan, the student lynched for alleged blasphemy. Student: "Young people are used for political purposes".

Lahore (AsiaNews) - United in diversity: it is the message launched by six young Pakistanis who met last week in Lahore. They spoke of their experiences of sharing with other young people of their age, of different religious confessions. They are all university students, who organize meetings and events on their campuses to promote interreligious harmony and social coexistence.

The meeting, entitled "Diversity Summit 2018", took place on January 27th. It was organized by the Youth Development Foundation (Ydf). The event was the occasion to conclude the "Diversity Camp Project for harmony and inter-religious tolerance" during which six institutes met in Murree, a well-known hill town, in 2017.

Shahid Rehmat, executive director, reports to AsiaNews: "these universities have given students of different faith the opportunity to live together in a single room for four days and attend lessons on conflict analysis, social care and building peace. On their return, the students organized campaigns to collect signatures for peace, filmed documentaries, exhibited posters praising peace, made visits to places of worship on their campuses and in their communities".

Among the six students who gathered in Lahore, Aqsa Shafeeq, a Muslim, spoke how her Sikh friends were amazed "when last year I tied the rakhi (the bracelet that symbolizes the bond between siblings) to their wrists. Celebrating the feast of the Raksha Bandhan [during which the ribbon is offered, editor's note] is almost impossible in Lahore, mainly because I am Muslim. I suprised them with my gift. Among other things there were no treats to celebrate the event, and we were forced to eat the Karah Parshad [pudding of wholemeal flour, butter and sugar, a typical dessert offered to guests in Sikh gurdwara - ed] ".

Civil society and educators have expressed concern about the growing fundamentalism in schools across Pakistan. Last week a 12th-grade student killed the principal of his school accusing him of blasphemy. This week the Multan High Court has released a boy accused of killing one of his Christian classmates on grounds of religious racism. On 7 February, the Abbottabad anti-terrorism court in the northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial court will issue the verdict on the murder of Mashal Khan, the journalism student lynched to death for alleged blasphemy.

According to Aqsa, "students are used for political purposes. Internal politics is responsible [for acts of violence]. The government must share real facts with the public, and make it aware of these [extremist] groups".

Irfan Mufti, deputy director of South Asia Partnership-Pakistan, reiterates the urgency of removing hate material from school curricula. "We have not failed as a nation and as a race - he claims -. Pakistani scientists and doctors occupy the top positions in the best laboratories around the world. Mohenjo-daro, in the Indus valley, is one of the oldest cities in the history of human civilization ". "The politics of religion - he says in conclusion - has destroyed us. The jihad of the 80s has made us human bombs. The only way to move forward is to respect others and build bridges between different [religious] communities".

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