Return to the spirit of Independence, Rowan Williams urges Pakistanis
Leaders of the Pakistani Community in Britain have been urged to return to the vision that accompanied their country’s independence in 1947 so that intolerance, whether it’s aimed at Christians, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists or any other minority is one day eradicated, writes TREVOR GRUNDY.
Rowan Williams - a "sense of heartbreak" over religious intolerance. Picture courtesy Creative Commons.
Speaking at a gathering of leading Muslims and Christians who had gathered at Westminster Abbey to launch a new undertaking called the Connecting Communities Project – aimed at putting members of different faiths together to further the cause of tolerance in Pakistan – the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams declared: ”Can you not realise that vision now? When Pakistan was born in 1947, it began with a compelling vision of a society where people’s religious convictions would be tolerated, a compelling vision of shared citizenship, despite religious differences. “
But in recent weeks, people who love Pakistan had experienced “a real sense of heartbreak – a sense of possibilities being squeezed out.”
Referring to the horrendous attacks made by Muslims on Christians in Pakistan, Dr Williams said the time had come for members of all religious faiths to stand as one and leap to the aid of each other in times of crisis and persecution.
He told over 70 religious leaders, social workers, politicians and journalists that a mark of spiritual maturity was when a man, a woman or a child stood for the rights of not only his or her own community but also the rights of the stranger’s community.
“To be there for The Other. For the Christian to spring to the defence of the Muslim and for the Muslim to spring to the deference of the Christian. For Hindus to spring to the defence of the Jew and for the Jew to spring to the defence of the Buddhist,” said Dr Williams.
The former leader of the world’s 77-million Anglicans said that Britain should be proud of itself for creating a society where members of different ethnic groups and religious beliefs enjoyed the same rights, adding – ”We have seen something in this country of what it’s like for a minority to be able to flourish, to expand and to live comfortably. We know it can be done. I praise the way guests from other countries have woven their way into the fabric of British life.”
Anything between one million and one and a half million people who have Pakistani origins now live in Britain. The total Muslim population of the UK is an estimated 2.8 million.
Dr Williams visited Pakistan when he was Archbishop of Canterbury in November 2005 and spoke of the warm welcome he had received from the country’s leaders and thousands of ordinary people, Muslims as well as Christians.
During his address, Dr Williams spoke about the large number of men and women originally from Pakistan who had risen to the top of British life.
He recalled that it had not happened without challenges. “The number of people in both Houses of Parliament from the Pakistani Community has grown dramatically. It was a great achievement and one that has not come easily.
“You don’t have to suppose that the presence of someone with a different conviction is a threat to you. All societies are bigger than one religious group. Minorities do not have to be seen as threats. They can be seen as friends. That’s the vision and that’s the possibility.”
The Connecting Communities Project is based on enhancing, focusing and activating the power of communities who are of Pakistani heritage and who are citizens and permanent residents of the UK.
One of the key men behind the project is Fiyaz Mughal, founder and CEO of Faith Matters (www.faith-matters.org). He listed the main objectives of the Connecting Communities Project:
* To promote equalities for minority faiths and communities in Pakistan through utilising international and diaspora links in the UK
* To engage in grass roots discussions on issues affecting Pakistan and how diaspora communities can assist. Eight regional discussions will take place in the UK with a minimum of 60 attendees per session. Key speakers will attend and then group discussions will take place.
* To ensure that Christian and Muslim faith leadership promotes joint social action in the UK on issues of relevance both in the UK and Pakistan, to reinforce equalities in both countries.
* To target national and satellite media sources to promote minority rights with voices of religious tolerance and moderation in the UK, and to influence media reporting in Pakistan.
” We will deliver a project team of faith dignitaries in the UK consisting of leading members of Christian and Muslim communities. This project team will come together and with politicians in the UK who have an interest in Pakistan, issue public statements, undertake symbolic joint events and speak when there is persecution of ‘the other’ in Pakistan,” said Fiyaz Mughal.
Other speakers included Revd Rana Youab Khan, an Anglican born and brought up in Pakistan (and a close friend and adviser to Rowan Williams), Sadiq Khan MP, Javed Khan – Chief Executive of Victim Support which responds to the needs of victims and witnesses of crimes, and Tafheen Sharif – Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for Bedfordshire who has been active reporting on hate crime and the activities of the English Defence League.