The Week of Islamic Unity, as its name suggests, is a period of six days from the 12th to the 17th of the third month of the Islamic calendar, celebrated by Muslims belonging to different sects and denominations in an effort to promote unity between themselves. The ritual of celebrating this week was introduced to the Muslim community by Syed Rohullah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Democratic system of Iran. Ever after its introduction, it has been welcomed by many Muslims all across the world as a reason to come sit together despite their differences of thought and opinion.

This week can be of great influence in Pakistani society. Pakistan is not a country one would describe as uniform, whether it’s about politics or public interests, and maybe even religious beliefs. It might come as surprise to most people, but yes, Pakistan has a lot of diversity within itself — not necessarily in race, but in nearly all the other aspects that define the social situation of a region. One of those aspects is religious beliefs, and a sub-topic is what this article was written to discuss in the first place: the celebration of the birthday of the last Prophet of Islam. There are many denominations within the fold of Islam, and in Pakistan, sometimes the gap in between those denominations is wide enough for some of them to announce infidelity on the others. The sectarian situation in Pakistan has more or less remained the same since her independence, and despite the people of Pakistan brushing it off, it calls for measures that would promote unity between the people of Pakistan — especially targeting the growing levels of interdenominational malice. There’s more to add to the background of the fluctuating interdenominational relations in Pakistan, but that’s a topic for later. Today, we are here to look for the solutions, and the Week of Islamic Unity might help us get closer to them.

Cartoon inspired by The Week of Islamic Unity / Ammar International Film Festival

The best possible analogy to explain this week that comes to one’s mind at this point is that if the interdenominational hatred within Pakistan is Cancer, the Week of Islamic Unity is chemotherapy. With reference to many events in the recent past of Pakistani social and religious life, it’s safe to say that bridging the gap between the denominations within Pakistan is pretty urgent — and as the human conscience understands — no effort to achieve such a goal is possible unless the figureheads of the said denominations agree that there is a need to achieve such a goal and are prepared to sit together in the first place. This week might as well provide the opportunity and a second for such religious figureheads to pause and think about the interests of the future generations of their followers, and if they do so, one can be certain that they would definitely vote for peace instead of conflict as long as they share the spirit of humanity.

There have been a lot of efforts made in this regard on the global level, including the organization of the annual International Islamic Unity Conference in Tehran by the World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought (WFPIST). In this conference, a lot of Sunni and Shi’a scholars from all around the world gather together, with delegates from countries like Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Palestine etc. Prominent Sunni scholars that have previously participated in this conference from Pakistan include the deceased Sami-ul-Haqq and Tahir-ul-Qadri.

The 31st International Islamic Unity Conference in Tehran / Taghrib News

This week had been previously celebrated very enthusiastically in Pakistan, introduced in the country by none other than the winner of the title of “Ambassador of Unity”, Allama Arif Hussain al-Hussaini himself. This too happened in no other time than the dark period of General Zia ul-Haqq’s aristocratic rule, where his word was the order of the day. Amidst all the public lashings, executions and the introduction of discriminatory laws against public interest, Allama Arif made sure to meet his Sunni compatriots and scholars on his travel to parts of Pakistan preaching unity between all the Muslim sects and the general need for it against the dictatorship that never missed an opportunity to broaden the gap between the different denominations through the introduction of discriminatory laws for specific groups, in a bid to achieve its aristocratic and westernized goals by way of division within the Muslim community of Pakistan.

Up in the recent past, this week hasn’t been celebrated very enthusiastically in Pakistan, but there have been a few instances that really helped bridge the gap between two of the main sects of Islam, Shi’a, and Sunni. In a landmark victory of unity a few years ago, Tariq Jamil, a prominent Sunni scholar of Pakistan had a visit arranged of a prominent Shi’a seminary situated in the Punjab province, meant to explore the place and meet with the principal of the seminary, Syed Jawad Naqvi, who is a well-known Shi’a scholar and enjoys a special position in the view of Shi’as all across the country. This meeting and the entire visit in general, did a lot more to bridge the gap between the two denominations that many motivational speeches about promoting unity put together. The meeting resulted in a very positive view of both parties in each other’s minds and there was a very noticeable change in the approach of the followers of both parties towards their compatriots who happened to belong to a different sect. In the years to follow, Tariq Jamil was heard talking about unity and better understanding with the other sects in his speeches, which was praised by many.

The overall sectarian situation in Pakistan is not very good and might as well deteriorate if proper measures are not taken on time. Even if it does not achieve much in the name of short-term goals, it can most definitely be seen as a step forward to the goal of establishing unity across the country.

Photo: Ali akbar Jafari

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