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Express Tribune

Published Date: Dec 15, 2011


Liberating shrines and mosques from the clutches of the government is vital for spreading public awareness about Sufic beliefs for peace and harmony, said participants of a conference on Wednesday.
Researchers and academics from across South Asia are taking part in the SDPI conference on “Redefining Paradigm of Sustainable Development in South Asia”. Speakers, divided on various aspects of Sufism, unanimously called for an end to the political exploitation of shrines by state institutions and top politicians. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Makhdoom Amin Faheem and Faisal Saleh Hayat were named for exploiting their relationship with Sufi saints.
When asked what the relevance of centuries old shrines had in the contemporary world, Dr Karamat Ali replied, “There are many people who do not like socialism or ‘mullaism’, but we can promote Sufism to counter modern challenges.” Ahmed Salim stated that the surge in militancy and terrorism is the direct result of ignoring the Sufic message of love and peace. Heinrich Boll Country Director Britta Petersen, however, insisted that it could be dangerous to follow Sufism as it could lead to a disconnect from everyday life.
During the session, documentaries written by Salim and Humaira Ashfaq on the role of shrines and Sufi saints were aired. Particular focus was on Dr Kamran Ahmed’s ‘Spiritual Heritage – The Hidden Face of Pakistan,’ which highlights the contributions of shrines in promoting social harmony and tolerance. He also focused on the various elements of the Sufic way of life, including family and community relations, submission to God,  tolerance towards others, beauty and creativity and the sacredness of all life.
Earlier, the conference addressed a redefinition of the South Asian region’s approach towards poverty reduction to enhance regional cooperation and integration. Oxford University’s Poverty and Human Development Initiative’s Dr Sabina Alkire said that according to the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) 2011, as much as half the Pakistani population is poor and the country must adopt a national poverty line that takes into account disparities in education, health and living standards.
Various solutions were proposed to improve standards of living and alleviate poverty in the region, from increased cooperation and partnership between India Pakistan and China, downplaying ethnic conflicts, using literature to create awareness and the use of information technology and communication.
In a discussion organised by ActionAid Pakistan in collaboration with SDPI, the importance of education was highlighted as the key to tackling security challenges, with speakers demanding an increased budget allocation for the sector. Speakers stressed the need to contextualise the issue and said extremism was seriously threatening educational institutions.
ActionAid Country Director Jamal Ahmed stressed for easy accessibility, affordability and acceptability of education for all to bring about a change in the lives of the poor. Other recommendations included compliance with article 25A of the constitution which guarantees provision of free and compulsory education to all children between five and 16 years of age should be enforced. The session concluded on an emphasis to mobilise resources for promoting education.