Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday delivered a progressive and inclusive message to minorities in the country, saying "no one can force others to adopt a certain religion".
Nawaz began his speech with a message of inclusiveness, saying his foremost duty as a ruler is to serve followers of all religions and not one in particular.
“God will not ask a ruler what he did for followers of a certain religion,” said Nawaz. “He will ask people such as me: what did we do for God’s creation?”
"Some people wear a turban. Some wear a chogha. Others wear a suit and tie, and some wear shalwar kameez."
"These are all creations of God," the premier added. "And that's fine. This is a freedom given to us by God. Who are we to take it away?"
He also quoted Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) and said, "If a place of worship of a non-Muslim is damaged in an Islamic country, Islamic government... I will fight their case myself on the Day of Judgment."
“I am a follower of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), if there is anyone in unjustly treated, it is my duty to stand by them,” said the prime minister.
He said if people were to see a "prosperous Pakistan", they have to "think as a Pakistani".
"One the one hand, there are people who want to see the country prosper; on the other, there are people who want to create divisions," Nawaz said, warning the people to watch our for the latter.
"All religions in the world teach respect for humanity. Islam teaches respect for all religions," said Nawaz while reiterating his message of tolerance and inclusiveness.
"And it is a matter of great satisfaction that the Pakistani nation has always rejected politics of hate," the premier added.
"No matter what religion or beliefs you follow, or what part of the country you belong to, you must be provided equal access to progress and development," said the prime minister while addressing the gathering.
"Pakistan was not made so one religion can dominate over others."
"Religion does not force anyone to do anything, let alone forcing anyone to adopt a certain religion," said the prime minister.
"Forced conversions are considered a criminal practice according to our religious teachings," he added.
Nawaz, reiterating his message, paused his address and asked audience members to try and carefully understand what he is saying. "These are important things," he said.
Speaking on the law and order situation in Karachi, the prime minister said that things have greatly improved since 2013, particularly in reference to the decrease in reports of abduction of members from the Hindu community, many of whom were business owners.
The prime minister, who appeared to be in a celebratory and jovial mood, made the address at a hotel in Karachi on the occasion of Holi, the spring festival celebrated by the Hindu community.
"I am so happy to be here. The energy, the passion, the fervour is amazing in this hall," the premier remarked. "Happy Holi!" he wished the gathering as the crowd cheered him on.
The prime minister’s remarks come at a time when the Sindh Assembly passed a landmark bill criminalising forced conversion of minority community members. The Sindh governor is yet to sign the legislation.
An alarming numbers of reports have surfaced in recent years about the forced conversion to Islam of Hindu girls by landlords in rural Sindh. Members of the Hindu community families had said they have no legal recourse for registering the crimes.
The bill, which was passed by the Sindh assembly at the end of last year, invited the ire of religious scholars who believed some of its clauses were against the teachings of Islam and contrary to the Constitution.
Nawaz Sharif is in Karachi on a two-day visit where he is expected to preside a high level security meeting.
The premier will leave for Gwadar on Wednesday, where he is scheduled to chair a high level meeting on development projects in connection with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
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