CAIRO – In a country gripped by sectarian violence, Pakistan’s top body of Islamic scholars has called for ending hate speech, approving the country’s first code of conduct.
“If we don't put an end to such fighting, Pakistan will suffer, and the rest of the world won't be spared either,” Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, the head of the Pakistan Ulema Council that is pushing for enforcement of the code of conduct, told Christian Science Monitor.
Pakistan has been suffering from sectarian disputes over the past years.
|It Is Politics, Not Religion, That Teaches Hate|
In 2012, at least 537 Pakistanis were killed in attacks related to religious sect, a 71 percent increase from the previous year, according to the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies.
In a bid to curb the disturbing phenomenon, 32 groups representing the major Islamic sects in Pakistan signed on to a code of conduct last month that prohibits hate speech against other sects.
The approved code also restricts the use of mosque loudspeakers, and bans incendiary literature and graffiti.
Signatories of the code agreed not to declare others as non-Muslims as well as stayin away from controversial topics.
They have also agreed to protect the mosques of Ahmadis along with churches and temples.
Announced on December 2, the code follows lethal riots in Rawalpindi, a garrison town outside Islamabad in which eleven people died after a procession organized by Shiite worshipers ended in clashes with students at a Sunni seminary.
After the code approval, violence reignited on January 1 when a suicide bomber killed two Shia pilgrims returning from Iran, and on Jan. 3, gunmen killed two senior Sunni leaders in Islamabad.
Pakistan, home of 180 million people, is a Sunni majority country with 85 percent Sunnis.
Shiites make up 10 percent of the total population.
Pakistan has had a decades-long history of Sunni-Shiite violence that have claimed thousands of lives during last 30 years.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are often blamed for using the Pakistani soil for their proxy war by patronizing the hardliner Shiite and Sunni groups respectively.
Though the effort has been praised for its goals, there is widespread skepticism that it can be enforced.
“Ashrafi does not necessarily represent the mainstream perception,” Ayesha Siddiqa, a security expert based in Islamabad, said, referring to Ashrafi’s past as a former member of Sipa-e-Sahaba, a Sunni group banned in 2002.
He was also criticized for continuing to associate with Sunni leaders like Malik Ishaq, who spent the last decade in and out of prison for allegedly overseeing attacks on Shiites.
A series of assassinations in the 1990s gave rise to armed Shia and Sunni groups that have had trouble controlling their members over the past two decades.
Sunni militants formed Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and Shiites Sipah-i-Muhammad. The Pakistan government banned these groups in 2001, but both still operate. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for attacks on Shiites in Quetta that killed hundreds last year.
The code of conduct is not the first to be adopted in Pakistan.
In 1997, in a bid to stem the violence, senior clerics signed on to an agreement similar to the one being promoted by Ashrafi today, but no legislation was ever passed to make it a binding commitment.
“The books that were banned in the 1990's are still around” says Ahmed Ludhianvi, head of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, the group that formed after Sipa-e-Sahaba was banned.
”Just the name of the publisher, and maybe the title, has changed.”
Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, has a 1965 law on its books that prohibit the use of a mosque's loudspeakers for anything except the call to prayer and an Arabic portion of the Friday sermon.
If that law had been enforced in Rawalpindi last month, said an intelligence agency inquiry into the clashes, the violence could have been prevented.
“Implementation is 95 percent of the resolution of the issue, and that is not there,” Siddiqa noted.
“You can't just have a few mullahs get together and say they agree...the government has to be on board as well
Yet, the new code of conduct was welcomed by Muhammad Amin Shaheedi, the head of Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen, one of Pakistan's largest Shiite political parties.
“Even if we sign 50 agreements, it just takes one suicide bomber, one man to come and blow up a mosque or attack a procession, and this agreement can't harm him at all.”
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