By: Mariana Baabar
IslamNews – Pakistan Monday welcomed OIC’s unanimous support for observing for the first time the “International Day to Combat Islamophobia”, when the OIC Group will hold a High-Level Event in New York on March 17.
“The designation of this Day is a reflection of the sentiments of billions of Muslims around the world. Through the observance of this Day, we want to build better understanding of Islam and Islamic precepts. We intend to send a message of international solidarity and cooperation. We remain determined to promote values of peaceful co-existence as well as inter-faith and cultural harmony”, said the Foreign Office in a statement.
It pointed out that the scourge of Islamophobia, fuelled by populism, hate speech, and lack of knowledge and disinformation, is causing unimaginable suffering to Muslim minorities around the world.
“Islamophobia has taken many forms including inter alia negative profiling, mob lynchings by cow vigilantes, discriminatory laws, attacks on women for wearing hijabs, ban on minarets, negative propaganda and disinformation campaigns, manifestos of far-right parties, deliberate vandalism of Islamic symbols and holy sites, and attempts to link and equate Islam with terrorism. Such acts imperil our shared aspirations for a peaceful world and harmonious future for all”, it added. Pakistan says it has always supported and continues to lead international efforts for building bridges between cultures and civilizations.
Meanwhile, in a surprise move Pakistan Monday publicly criticized a close ally, saying that recent steps taken by Sri Lanka were ‘divisive’ and would ‘injure’ the feelings of Muslims.
While the Foreign Office here has been silent while studying the situation for several days now, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Maj Gen (R) Saad Khattack tweeted, “The likely ban on Niqab by Sri Lanka will only serve as injury to the feelings of ordinary Sri Lankan Muslims and Muslims across the globe”. Khattack was reacting to some major steps taken by Sri Lanka to ban the Burqa and other face coverings in public on security grounds. Also, 1,000 Islamic schools were also to be closed.
“At today’s economically difficult time due to pandemic and other image related challenges faced by the country at international for a, such divisive steps in the name of security, besides accentuating economic difficulties, will only serve as a fillip to further strengthen wider apprehensions about fundamental human rights of minorities in the country”, the High Commissioner added.
In the background is an announcement a few days back in which Sri Lanka’s Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekara told the media that his government was going to permanently ban the burka as “this was a sign of religious extremism that came about recently and was affecting our national security. I have signed a cabinet order and it will be implemented very soon”.
He also spoke about closing down all Islamist schools. “Nobody can open a school and teach whatever you want to the children. It must be as per the government laid down education policy. Most of unregistered schools teach only the Arabic language and the Koran, so that is bad”, he said. However, while observing “International Day to Combat Islamophobia”, on Monday, the Foreign Office noted in its statement, “the scourge of Islamophobia which saw attacks on women wearing hijab”. Sri Lanka’s strict measures come at a time when it has approached Pakistan and other friendly countries to support it at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHR).
The UNHR will be voting for a resolution calling on the UN human rights office to investigate allegations of war, crimes by all sides during the final months of Sri Lanka’s civil war. Pakistan was re-elected in January to the UNHR Council for another three years with the highest numbers of votes and in the past Pakistan has supported Colombo by voting against the resolution.
However, after this recent policy change by the Sri Lankan government, speaking to officials it has as yet not been decided which way Pakistan’s vote will go.
Pakistan had recently approached the Sri Lankan government to lift the ban on burial of those dying because of Covid, as only cremation was being done which angered Muslims and followers of other faiths which bury their dead. The issue was taken up by Prime Minister Imran Khan in a closed door meeting with the Sri Lankan leadership on a visit last month. Sri Lanka the day after Khan returned to Pakistan announced that it would allow burials as well as cremation of people who died of Covid to take place. “I thank the Sri Lankan leadership & welcome the Sri Lankan govt’s official notification allowing the burial option for those dying of Covid 19,” Khan had tweeted.