WASHINGTON: An inter-faith event in Philadelphia this week with Muslim, Jew and Christian participation stressed the need for all great Abrahamic religions to live in harmony since they all shared a great and common heritage and ancestry.
The Muslim point of view was represented by Dr Akbar Ahmed, professor of Islamic studies at the American University, Washington, and the Jewish by Dr Judea Pearl, father of the slain US reporter Daniel Pearl.
The Pakistan Embassy in Washington sent its deputy head of mission, Mohammad Sadiq, who also addressed the meeting. This was the first time an official Pakistani representative has accepted an invitation to attend and speak at an event sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, one of the most powerful pro-Israel lobbying groups in the United States. It could not be ascertained if the Foreign Office had given the envoy official formal permission to attend.
Mr Sadiq told the meeting that his government was determined to create a moderate Islamic society. He added that the killers of Daniel Pearl had been arrested, and he described them as the same extremists who were allegedly involved in the attempt on President Musharraf's life, bombing schools and killing worshippers in churches and mosques. He said the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl was a ghastly crime that was condemned by every Pakistani.
"There is nothing Islamic about such people who commit such crimes against humanity. The people who killed Daniel Pearl were misguided, who acted brutally and senselessly in the name of Islam, which does not grant or condone such wanton behaviour," he said.
Dr Ahmed told the audience this was a dangerous time in world history and it was essential to break this vicious circle.
Dr Ahmed suggested three steps that could help the world move forward. Religions and communities that were in a state of war with one another needed to gain greater knowledge of each other. For instance, he said Americans must get to know Islam better because ignorance about Islam and Muslims in this country was massive. Many thought Islam equals idol worship and few knew about its great ideas of compassion.
He spoke about the tolerant nature of Islam through history and gave his audience the example of Muslim Spain which saw the flowering of art, culture and learning. He quoted one study which showed that 80 percent of Americans, when asked, said they disliked Islam. In the Muslim world, America was disliked widely. It was, therefore, time to build bridges of understanding, he emphasised.
Dr Pearl said he had lost a son but he wanted to fight the hatred that killed him and this could only be done through understanding. He said Daniel believed in such a dialogue and loved to talk to all, regardless of their religious leaning.
The event at the University of Pennsylvania was sponsored by the American Jewish Committee. This was the second "dialogue," the first having taken place a couple of months ago at which Mr Umar Ghuman, a member of the Pakistan National Assembly, went onstage and apologised to Judea Pearl. "On behalf of the people of Pakistan, I beg forgiveness for the murder of your son, Daniel Pearl," Mr Ghuman said.
Later Dr Ahmed told the Philadelphia Inquirer, "We don't apologise in our culture. For him to apologise in public, that was a huge cultural barrier he was breaking. I was very moved and proud. I was in awe, because I know what it takes to make such a public apology in his environment, where many people perceive that as an admission of guilt. I admired his courage."
More such dialogue is planned in the coming months in other American cities and possibly Europe and the Middle East.