We believe that in a civilized society the only way to settle conflict is through dialogue. We cannot eliminate the differences because they are natural and according to the divine scheme. We have to know the art of living with differences. The Qur'an says “……If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but [His plan is] to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah. It is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute; (5:48).We should appreciate this divine wisdom.These were the initial remarks of Khurshid Nadeem, the executive director of the Organization for Research & Education (ORE), when I interviewed him with reference to the ORE Dialogue Forums.
ORE is trying to establish a society where differences of opinions are honoured and dialogue is considered as a means for conflict resolution. In Pakistan, ORE feels that no comprehensive and sustainable effort has been made to promote a culture of dialogue and peace. Therefore, Nadeem thinks that social reforms are pre-requisite for any substantial political and economic change; ORE Dialogue forums are a first step in this context.
Since March 2010, ORE has organised dialogue forums in 12 major cities of Pakistan, including Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Faisalabad and Islamabad. In the first phase, the organisation emphasized the necessity of a culture of dialogue; “We deliberately did not address any specific issues. First of all awareness and understanding of this culture is required and we are successful in this effort”.
ORE selected the participants on the basis of previous knowledge and relations. Similarly, with the help of already known persons the organisation identified new people to involve in the project. Mr. Javed Hashmi and Mufti Abdul Qavi, renowned political and religious personalities, not only participated but helped in identifying new people for the project. In the Multan forum, representatives of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid) and different religious sects came together first time in any such forum.
According to Nadeem, ORE is determined to unite all Pakistanis in dialogue, irrespective of their religious and other affiliations. In Mianwali, church representatives were for the first time invited to any kind of national forum. Similarly in Abbatabad, Sargodha and other cities Christians participated in ORE forums. In the second phase, ORE intends to address specific issues such as the interfaith harmony. With the first phase completed, ORE is planning to extend it to other cities. The organisation is also planning to regulate the activities of already established forums.
When asked about the challenges faced by ORE in relation to the implementation of dialogue forums, Nadeem said, “Yes. The traditional religious groups did not like this effort and they have been sceptical about these activities as a Western agenda. Anyhow, with grace of God we were able to manage it”.
Most of the participants of the dialogue forums, such as the representatives of political parties, religious scholars (ulama) and others had positive views regarding the project. The politicians and ulama who participated in these forums appreciated the idea and extended their full cooperation. For example, Maulana Zahid ur Rashidi, a famous Deobandi (a Muslim sect) scholar, from Gujranwala addressed the forum and supported the idea. By the same token, Mr. Javed Hashmi of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) participated in the first forum in Multan and in the last one in Islamabad. This demonstrates their interest in ORE initiatives. Nadeem said, “I think now politicians and religious leaders have realised that we have to combat with extremism. They consider it as a threat to society and the state. They are looking for an alternative and there is no other way than dialogue”.
In his concluding remarks on behalf of ORE, Nadeem shared the following thought provoking thoughts:
In the entire history of Pakistan, we do not find any concrete effort aimed at integration of minorities. Our religious elites’ approach has been polemic in this regard. The concept of co-existence has been alien to the society in spite of very clear guidelines from the founder of Pakistan, Quid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. This was due to lack of communication and social interaction. The majority does not know about other faiths. We believe that dialogue is the only way to know each other which is first step towards the establishment of a pluralist society. Generally, differences are based on misunderstandings and misconceptions about others. When we do not address them for a long time they have the potential to be converted in conflicts. If we have a uninterrupted process of dialogue, we can minimize these conflicts. ORE Dialogue Forum is a serious effort to commence dialogue among different religious, political and social groups which is helping in understanding others and talking to each others.