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I Love My Country Beyond Intolerance

10 August 2010 No Comment

Rubina Feroze Bhatti, Photo credit: Institute for Peace and Justice

Rubina Feroze Bhatti

“Pakistan is passing through a very difficult time of its life. This is the time I must support my country.”

Interfaith work is something I’ve been involved with since my childhood. I was born in a religious minority (Christian) community. The first nine years of my life were very beautiful. I lived in a village where my parents taught in two different government schools. My village was a symbol of interfaith harmony and I spent a beautiful childhood with my Christian and Muslim friends. We didn’t have any sense of different religions at that time—we respected each other and enjoyed the beauties of each other’s religious ceremonies.

In the 1980s when Islamization was introduced a package of Sharia laws were also introduced. This included discriminatory laws against women and against religious minorities. In my high school, college, university, and onwards on a daily basis I experienced hatred, exclusion, oppression.

In 1998, I was teaching in college and interfaith understanding was on my mind a lot so I formed a group of students and professors. We started study circle meetings. We discussed the current issues—how journalists were propagating hatred, sectarianism, honor killings, and other types of issues. When we sat together we were deeply analyzing. We tried to not only address the effects of these issues but also the root causes and how we could confront the issues. It was a very small group initially – 25 of us who were Christians, Muslims, and Hindus.

We used local Sufism as a strategy. Sufis are saints born in our region. They have their roots in Islamic teachings but they gave a very progressive interpretation of Islam. They boldly addressed sectarianism, hatred, intolerance and gender issues. Their message is love, harmony, and peace. Sufis have a strong acceptability across Muslim, Christian, and Hindu communities.

Study circle groups are now the backbone of my organization, Taangh Wasaib Organization (TWO). The organization works on three key areas: interfaith understanding & peace building, human rights education, and women’s empowerment.

In human rights education we relate Sufism with international human rights instruments. Many people have the idea that human rights and the United Nations are a Western agenda. The UN is always related with the US because people have the perception that the UN is something controlled by America. When I introduce human rights education there is always resistance. I confront this by saying, “Look, they have taken international human rights concepts from our local wisdom. If you look at the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) it says, “All human beings are equal.” The UDHR was introduced in 1948 but our Sufis said the same thing centuries ago. This shows that the declaration is according to our values and our teachings. Then Asians (including Pakistanis) worked on the preparation of these instruments.” We relate each article of UDHR with verses of Sufi’s poetry and this encourages a sense of acceptability.

On a weekly basis we broadcast programs on public radio. For this, we bring teachers, students, parents, and government officials together to discuss different articles of UDHR, CRC and CEDAW and address how they relate to the situation in our country.

I have learned in my life that media plays a very vital role. If you read daily news related to interfaith understanding, then definitely you will start to reflect on the issue. If a very influential religious scholar is sitting with me conducting a press conference and saying, “It is against Islam to not respect humanity,” his voice is much stronger than mine. The extremists are a handful of people but their voices are so much louder because of the media. Media is not talking about the peace efforts. If I were a terrorist or the relative of a terrorist then daily I would have media people interviewing me!

I came to the US for two months so that I could tell people about Pakistan. I love my country. And I think if you love your country, you love this universe as your country is part of this planet. The planet is like a body. If one part of the body is suffering and you leave it and don’t care about it, then how could you take care of the whole planet?

Anyone can claim, “I love my country,” but the person who truly does, loves their country beyond sectarianism and intolerance. If we really love our country then we need to address its issues honestly. Pakistan is passing through a very difficult time of its life. This is the time I must support my country.

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Rubina was a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

Rubina was a 2009 Woman PeaceMaker at the Joan B Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice. A full length narrative, written by Kaitlin Barker, describing Rubina’s peacebuilding work in Pakistan can be found here:

Rubina is also a finalist for the 2010 World Vision International Peacemaking Award.

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