Ayatollah Araki has visited Pakistani religious leaders only to find Sunni-Shia ties ‘surprisingly cordial’ in a land notorious for sectarian violence.
Secretary General of the World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought (WFPIST) Ayatollah Mohsen Araki attended in Pakistan a series of joint meetings of Sunni and Shia major religious leaders organized by Islamic Republic of Iran’s embassy in Islamabad and consulates in different cities of Pakistan. Ayatollah Araki described the meetings very diverse and based on dialogue among Pakistani religious community leaders such as Siraj ul Haq, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, Liaqat Baloch, and other prominent figures of religious movements; “we addressed critical issues and the possibility of cooperation focused in proximity, and they made promising commitments; we invited some of them to Unity Conference to be held in Tehran in the future,” he added.
“A series of meetings brought to us Pakistan’s leaders and elites in Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi we sat along them to address many pressing issues; some of policies, objectives, and viewpoints of the Forum to helping bring unity to the Islamic world,” Ayatollah Araki told reporters. “We also discussed the mechanisms where Islamic elites, experts, and parties would engage in dialogues centered on the proximity; a theme was promoted during the meetings and help and support by Pakistani religious and political leaders were sought; as a general demand, we focused also on the issue of establishment of a union of Islamic countries with first four or five Islamic countries as founders, with the rest of the Islamic countries to follow the suit later on,” he detailed.
Ayatollah Araki described the reaction to the initiative as ‘welcoming’ by Pakistani religious leaders and they had believed that the union would help address and tackle many issues of common concerns for Islamic countries; “the meetings also provided an opportunity to create a dialogue with Pakistani community leaders to improve a committee of ‘cordial cooperation’ to which Pakistani elites and outstanding clerics contribute positively; we had a chance to witness the atmosphere of fraternity and friendly relations between Sunnis and Shiites in Pakistan which affected us with its nature which was ‘surprisingly cordial,’” he rejoiced to say, rejecting the reports of large-scale internecine clashes commonly found in the western media and were to tarnish the image of two major denominations in Islam and fueling sectarian strife and violence in a country wetted by decades of mistrust between Shias and Sunnis.
“Despite the reports in western media about extreme cases of mass killings of Sunni and Shia mosques, we found Pakistan a secure country for both Shias and Sunnis and where they have cordial relations, saying their prayers in mosques run by both denominations; the difference and clashes however are very infrequent and only minority extremist groups engage in sectarian violence,” Ayatollah Araki emphasized.
“We expect to see that media help in repairing the real image of Islam to the Islamic world; this is highly inaccurate that all countries with religious plurality are mired on sectarian strife and hatred; however, much of the fight takes place in politics,” he admitted.