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Pakistan’s Drive Against Islamophobia

Image Credit: Institute for Policy Studies
Pakistan's Drive Against Islamophobia

Today, one can observe widespread hatred and uninformed fear of the Islamic faith and its adherents. There are everyday incidences of hate crimes against Muslims. Though the state of affairs is painful for the citizens of Islamic countries, it is especially troublesome for the Muslim minorities living across the globe. Considering the mounting anti-Islam and anti-Muslim sentiment, Islamabad has taken it upon itself to spearhead the drive against Islamophobia in the world.

Urging the Global Actors for a Plan of Action

Pakistan has remained a constant supporter and frontrunner of the worldwide initiatives to combat religious bias and faith-based violent acts. The state has been urging global actors at various platforms to take note of the alarming situation. Prime Minister Imran Khan emphasised the matter at the 14th session of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) held in Makkah, Saudi Arabia in June 2019. He reiterated the fact that the reaction of the Muslim leadership in any event of a blasphemous attempt against the Holy Prophet (PBUH), always seems somewhat deficient. At the culmination of the session, the OIC asked the members to conclude an all-inclusive OIC Strategy on Combating Islamophobia that would be enforceable by law.

Similarly, at the United Nations (UN), Pakistan’s permanent envoy Dr Maleeha Lodhi moved the UN Strategy and Plan of Action to combat Islamophobia and hate speech. Islamabad submitted a six-point agenda in the UN against anti-Islamic narratives in June 2019. The state’s representative highlighted the need for countries to take on laws to address the issue.

Likewise, in an attempt to highlight the increasing anti-Muslim incidents in India, Pakistan has contacted the delegates of OIC member states based in UN during the first quarter of this year, to contemplate the convening of an urgent online meeting. Islamabad has iterated that such state-backed cornering of a particular religious community or minority may snowball into genocide. Prime Minister Khan has called the Islamic bloc to deliberate on the oppression faced by Muslims in India and the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJ&K).

Acquainting the West of the Muslim Sensitivities

During his keynote speech at the International Institute of Islamic Studies, Malaysia in February, Mr Khan stated that the failure to eliminate Islam from the West’s notion of terrorism had exacerbated the situation for the Muslim world. The phenomenon of Islamophobia has grown as the Muslim states did not reject the linkage between their faith and terrorism. Also, Islamic leadership has mostly remained unable to convey that targeting the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and the Holy Quran would be painful for the Muslims. In the absence of such an explanation, the West ends up viewing the Islamic faith as intolerant. Therefore, the Prime Minister stressed the need to communicate to the masses regarding the actual religion and the false impressions about it.

A counter-narrative to Islamophobia can provide empowerment and agency to the Muslims who face marginalisation across the globe.

In this regard, the Pakistani leader also wrote to Mark Zuckerberg in October, who can be considered as a powerful actor in International Relations today, being the Chief Executive of the major social media platform, Facebook. In his letter that he shared on Twitter, Mr Khan mentioned a recent pronouncement by Facebook to ban any content that refutes or misrepresents the Holocaust. The Prime Minister asked Zuckerberg to bring about a similar action plan to tackle anti-Islam content as well.

Also, Pakistan has plans to suggest to the Muslim world that the 15th of March should be declared as an International Day against Islamophobia. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi will forward the suggestion during the session of foreign ministers of the OIC.

The Prime Minister of Pakistan has also recently raised the issue at the 20th summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) held in November 2020. He emphasised that all the member states ought to work together to combat politics of division and concentrate on forming bridges across faiths and cultures.

 Emphasising the Need to Make an Islamic Counter-Narrative

While ensuring the implementation of a global plan of action against Islamophobia is significant, Pakistan also realises the need for Muslim states to come up with an Islamic counter-narrative. Counter-narrative is the account from the viewpoint of those who have been cornered through history. The word “counter” signifies resistance against the prevailing thought. A counter-narrative to Islamophobia can provide empowerment and agency to the Muslims who face marginalisation across the globe. For dispelling the misconceptions regarding the religion, and countering Islamophobia, work on a Pakistan-Turkey-Malaysia joint television channel is underway.

Pakistan is engaging with the world to ensure that the international actors are aware of the Muslim sensitivities, informed of the actual standpoint of Islam, and implementing appropriate laws against faith-based hate crimes.

Nevertheless, Muslims today have grave concerns about the recent instances of desecration of the Holy Quran, re-publication of the blasphemous caricatures of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and the Islamophobic statements made at the state level in the West. Prime Minister Khan has therefore asked Muslim Heads of States to work together to tackle the increasing trend of anti-Islam acts. For this reason, he has recently written letters to the leaders of the Muslim countries. Mr Khan has opined that the growing acts of Islamophobia, primarily in the non-Muslim states, might be attributed to their lack of awareness regarding the devotion, the followers have for the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and the Holy Book. He has restated the need to explain to the West that the ethos varies for various communities. Consequently, as the Muslims respect the sentiment associated with the Holocaust, similar respect should be accorded by the West to the mass killings faced by Muslims.

Also, the Prime Minister has proclaimed that a new regulation will guarantee obligatory learning of the teachings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) within the state to ensure a better religious understanding. Overall, Pakistan is engaging with the world in general and the Muslim leaders, in particular, to ensure that the international actors are aware of the Muslim sensitivities, informed of the actual standpoint of Islam, and implementing appropriate laws against faith-based hate crimes.

Fareha Iqtidar Khan

Fareha Iqtidar Khan

Fareha Iqtidar Khan is Associate Editor at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research. She is also Visiting Faculty at the International Islamic University, Islamabad.

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