KARACHI: “People here use religion to justify intolerance and extremism but Islam appreciates diversity,” said former chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology Dr Khalid Masud on the opening day of a two-day seminar on ‘Social harmony, tolerance and education’ organised by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) at a hotel here on Thursday.
“Extremist thoughts and negativity isolate you. You become exclusive, not inclusive. And then when you are alone you only have extremist thoughts to keep you company,” he said.
Adding to that, journalist and broadcaster Wusatullah Khan said that while growing up he would hear that such and such person was Seraiki, or he was Punjabi or Urdu-speaking with a bit of negative information to add about his or her way of living or their past which would make one look down on them. “Then one day I heard a very different name in school, Kanhaiya Lal. I was told that he was Hindu, while also being informed about the Hindu-Muslim animosity which led to the partition of India in 1947,” he said.
Promotion of tolerance, social harmony through education stressed
“That was when we started holding poor little Kanhaiya Lal responsible for all the pain and heartache caused to Muslims by Hindus in the past and shunned him from coming near us. But still, I noticed that he didn’t fit the description of Hindu given to us such as their wearing a dhoti or sporting a braid while keeping the rest of the head shaved,” said Mr Khan.
“A child is born with an open mind. But as he grows he hears things and beliefs which turn him into a prototype of his elders. Now my 10-year-old son tells me about another Hindu boy in his school whom no one speaks to and immediately I am taken back to my childhood and reminded of poor Kanhaiya Lal. I know better. I told my son to make friends with the boy in his school but he told me that he was afraid of being isolated too by his friends if he did that. I assured him that it would not be like that and maybe after he befriended the boy, the friends too would make friends with him, which is exactly what happened,” he said.
“I also think about all the people in our country, in our assemblies and in other important positions who must also have got a similar upbringing with all kinds of biases handed down to them. It is the reason behind their intolerance of different races and always seeing them in the wrong light,” he said. “But there is a way out. Just change your peculiar way of seeing things.”
Rumana Bashir, director of Peace and Education Foundation, Islamabad, also said that there were words and labels such as ‘non-Muslims’, ‘minority’, etc, used to make people feel inferior and laws to defend our discrimination such as clauses in our Constitution, which prevent a non-Muslim from occupying the highest office in Pakistan.
Columnist Khursheed Nadeem added that one should learn to appreciate all colours of the spectrum. “The universe is made of so many colours and not noticing their beauty makes us colour blind,” he said.
Scholar and activist Dr Khalida Ghous said that when one spoke of social harmony it did not mean that everything was fine because the conflicts will always be there. “There is no ideal society but you can still have harmony if you have empathy. You also need to give and take somewhere and try and understand why anyone is different,” she said.
“When you agree to disagree, it will open up for you a space in which you can create thoughts and ideas for society needs to throw up new ideas.”
Earlier, speaking on the subject of critical thinking and education, physicist and nuclear activist Dr A.H. Nayyar said that logic and reasoning should be an important part of people’s lives. “But,” he said, “there is no training for critical thinking here, which is our loss as our youth now don’t have the ability to tell the difference between right and wrong. It creates gaps.”
Dr Nayyar said that when people did not know how to use their heads and when they did not have the ability to question, they would believe anything. “This is why extremism spread so rampantly in our society,” he said. “The lack of critical thinking is what has helped leaders such as Hitler rule,” he added.
“Our teachers’ training institutes may teach teachers how to create critical thinking skills in students but they don’t teach them to think in that way also. The curricula too does not have anything that encourages critical thinking and the teachers just follow the course books,” he pointed out.
“Many teachers don’t even like their students to ask questions. They discourage them as questioning seems like being argumentative to them. But reasoning, critical thinking and problem-solving should be a course to be introduced in our schools from class six.”
The seminar concludes on Friday.
Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2019