KARACHI, Feb 14: The former chancellor of the UK exchequer, Lord Norman Lamont of Lerwick, criticized the French government for putting a ban on headscarves in schools despite the fact that France has the largest Muslim population in Europe.

He was delivering a lecture on "How the West sees the Islamic world" at a convocation ceremony organized by the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (SZABIST) on Saturday at which the business school conferred degrees upon over 1,200 students.

"Muslims in Europe have many anxieties regarding the practice of their faith, the retention of Islamic identity in particular for their children and the preservation of family life and values. These include the ability to take time out from work to pray daily, to attend mosque on Friday, to celebrate the two feasts of Islam and the right to wear the headscarf - barred this week by the French parliament," he said.

Mr Lamont said his sympathies were with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Head of the Church of England, who attacked the "aggressive secularism of the French government."

He observed that 9/11 dramtically increased awareness in the US and Europe of terrorists who claimed to be acting in the name of Islam. "Most Muslims are not fundamentalists, and most fundamentalists are not terrorists, but most terrorists are Muslims and proud of it. When Muslims ask why are Irish terrorists and Basque terrorists not described as Christian, the answer is simple. They do not describe themselves like that. Many in the West react in an enormous information vacuumm. Many see only media stereotypes portraying Islam through distorted lenses focussing purely on terrorists, religious extremists and oppressed women. Others see the religious revival of Islam throughout the world. They fear that fundamentalists, who too often they equate with extremists, want to turn every Muslim society into a theocracy fanning the flames of hatred against the West in order to wage Jihad and restore the Caliphate throughout a large part of the world," he said.

Mr Lamont said: "Islam's attitude towards other religions is more tolerant than that of Christianity. The Prophet (PBUH) and his community in Medina accepted the co-existence of Muslims, Jews and Christians. The Prophet (PBUH) discussed and debated with, and gave freedom of religious thought and practice to, Jews and Christians. When the Catholic rulers of Spain, Ferdinand andIsabella, drove out the Jews many found refuge in North Africa and the Ottoman Empire. When Muslims conquered Byzantine they were welcomed by some Christians who were persecuted as heretics. The Muslim conquerers proved to be far more tolerant than imperial Christianity had been. During the Crusades despite the conflict Muslims tolerated the practice of Christianity, an example not emulated by the other side. The Ottoman Empire, for the most part, is an example of the positive treatment of religious minorities in a Muslim majority context."

Mr Lamont observed that there was great hunger for knowledge about Islam in the West. He said: "Sameul Huntington has dramatically characterized the situation the world faces 'as a clash of civilizations'. But in the modern world civilizations have to co-exist. No one civilization can triumph over another. In talking about Islam and the West it is as well to remind ourselves that Chiristianity and Islam have a common heritage. Jews, Christians and Muslims, we are all 'Children of the Book'. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is prominent in Islam. Mary is mentioned more times in the Quran than in the entire New Testament."

Speaking to the students at the convocation ceremony, the federal minister for education, Zubeda Jalal, said she had been following the progress of SZABIST very closely since its inception. She added that she was more than happy with the performance of the business school.

The acting president of SZABIST, Javed Leghari, also spoke.

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