A Christian leader in Pakistan has praised interfaith dialogue meetings for lifting tensions in the region – and even helping diffuse a blasphemy allegation.
Different religious communities are living in greater harmony in Sindh Province in south-east Pakistan than in other regions, according to Bishop Samson Shukardin of Hyderabad.
Bishop Shukardin launched the area’s first interfaith dialogue meetings, which are now organised by Fr Shahzad Khokhar, a Franciscan friar and project partner of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
Bishop Shukardin told ACN that the participation of faith leaders and laypeople from all the major religious traditions – Sikh, Shia, Sunni, Hindu and Christian – in the meetings is significant.
Gazi Salahuddin John, a Shia Muslim who regularly attends the meetings, single-handedly stopped a mob targeting a local Hindu family accused of blasphemy in March this year.
Mr John said: “A Hindu had been unjustly accused of burning the Qur’an. More and more men gathered in front of the family’s home.
“The door was locked, and they tried to place a ladder against the building. There was also someone with a gun, but I was able to take that out of his hands.”
Mr John quoted a verse he had learnt during interfaith meetings: “I once thought religion was something I do, but it is what I am. I once thought interfaith dialogue was something we do, but it is what we are.
“I once thought diversity was something we were, but it is what we do. We are all one, and brothers.”
Father Khokhar said that people in the local community have been getting to know each other better and have handed out cakes and other gifts during the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr.
The Franciscan friar said he joined with other members to speak “to the union of traders on how they can contribute to respect, peace and dialogue.”
He added: “We planted trees, along with students and teachers of various religions, because of climate and water issues in the country.”
Bishop Shukardin said he was grateful to all advocates of interreligious dialogue.
He concluded: “Jesus said, ‘Love others as yourself.’ We respect the other. We have shown that we do that not only with words, but also with deeds.
“I am sure this good work will not be limited but will lay the foundation for helping each other.”