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Author: Simon Jacob
Location: Germany
Format: Text
Subject: Religion, Society
Date: 28.01.2022
Text duration: approx. 25 min.
Language: English
Title: Afzal - Peacemaker from Pakistan
Source: Afzal Majeed Butt

Afzal - Peacemaker from Pakistan

In 2020, I was invited by the U.S. State Department to travel to the United States for three weeks, I had qualified for the “International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP for short)” – to get to know religion, culture, politics, social life etc, better. The program had already existed for over 80 years and some world-renowned politicians, journalists, cultural figures, among them former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, were participants, or so-called “alumni” (graduates) of the program.
Two years have passed since then, and I’m still in frequent contact with politicians, institutions, participants and hosts I was fortunate enough to meet during this time. The program aims to connect people from all regions of this world, members of a wide variety of religions, ethnicities and cultures and as such offered chances for me to meet wonderful and extremely interesting people. One of our stops was the beautiful San Antonio in Texas, where I was fortunate enough to witness a “live rodeo” for the first time in my life. Today, you would probably say that Washington D.C. is “woke” and Texas is more “conservative”. Well, I am from Bavaria – a federal state (Germany is a federal Republic) which is also considered “conservative.” In turn, this means that cities like Berlin and Hamburg would be called “woke” as well. But as an objective participant, it was my task to observe and understand; regardless of the right-left polarization, which is the subject of heated and often very difficult discussions in Europe, as well. And since my beloved camera, a Canon 6D, which I have already taken pictures within the war zones of the Middle East, is a permanent companion of mine, I had to and wanted to take photos of the whole thing, of course. This was also the case during a big meeting of several IVLP groups from different continents, which was organized by the “San Antonio Council FOR INTERNATIONAL VISITORS”, who I want to thank for this wonderful event once again.
On this day, where so many different guests invited to the USA came together to eat, share and talk, I noticed that there were different flags in the fixtures at every table. The colors of China, Iran, Russia were among them, just like the variety of colors of other European, African or even Asian countries. Even then, I tried to picture how great the world would be if we, as inhabitants of this earth, would jointly strive to make peace and equality possible for all. Maybe all of this, especially given the current geopolitical tensions, sounds like the naïve thoughts of somebody who experienced war and doesn’t want to relive it. And maybe it is. But should we give up because of that? No… I don’t think so. We should regard the circumstances from the point of view of a single individual. If we do that, if individuals can start something, it can result in a rainstorm that fills entire oceans. We just have to want it; like I do; and like my cherished friend does, who I met during this relaxed and pleasant evening.
Source: Simon Jacob, IVLP Gahthering 2020, Texas, San Antonio
Afzal Majeed Butt from Pakistan, is a media professional, journalist and has 20 years of experience, which shows in his easygoing manner, suiting the man in his mid-forties perfectly. Afzal has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science from Punjab University. His friends call him the “Load Bearing Wall”, which, if I understood correctly, means that he is extremely resilient. Well, in a country like Pakistan, which I only know from the news, in the context of the Taliban and terrorist attacks, you surely need nerves of steel to be a journalist. All the more when you are responsible for Pakistan’s largest news channel, ARY, as assignment head of Lahore, the cultural capital of Pakistan. During this relaxed evening in San Antonio, I took countless photos of the guests, which I send to them later. Afzal and the members of his group were among them, who all were from different countries in Central- and South Asia. I especially liked one picture I took of the Pakistani journalist. His impressive and extremely well-groomed beard reminded me of the clergy of my church, I am part of the Syrian Orthodox Church. He reminded me of one bishop in particular, who I value very much. Anyway, Afzal and his colleagues made an impression on me. I am still in contact with the Sunni Muslim and another member of the group. I also have an exchange with Rajagopal Yasiharan from time to time, who calls Sri Lanka his home, is also a journalist and, as far as I could gather, is an Atheist. His Facebook posts are usually very interesting to read; full of color, pictures and sometimes even philosophic touches, as well as funny videos. And so, it happened that evening that a Christian from Europe with Middle Eastern roots, a media professional from Pakistan and an Atheist from Sri Lanka crossed paths in San Antonio, Texas, USA, to talk and get to know each other. Perhaps it shows naivety, if we believe in peace together – or we’ll start with facing the barriers and prejudices by taking the initiative.
Simon Jacob, IVLP Gahthering 2020, Afzal Majeed Butt
January 2022
Afzal took the initiative. A few weeks ago, he told me of a deed in the context of a brutal murder in Pakistan, which touched me deeply and which is the essence of what peace, sincere peace between the nations and religions means. Afzal and his friends did something you don’t read much about in European media. And that is wrong. Of course, it’s important to report of negative events and this is the task of any media professional who believes in honest media. The family man escaped a terrorist attack in Lahore just a few days ago and reported on the events. Western press picked up on the topic, but still, this is very far away for most people. But not for people in Pakistan. They have to cope with the situation, their worries and the resulting fear on a daily basis. But because of this, it’s even more important to report on ambassadors of peace, who extend a hand towards others in an extremely tense conflict, especially one fueled by social media, often putting themselves in danger while doing so. That’s what peacemakers do!
And I want to report on such a “peacemaker” and his story; respectively, Afzal Majeed Butt will do it in his own words and in the following interview.
Afzal´s Christmas Visit to a Church
After an incident in Pakistan in 2021, shortly before Christmas, where a Srilankan Christian died, Afzal made his way to a Pakistani-Christian church to talk to a priest about the events that had touched him so deeply.
At the same time, Afzal asked me to comment on the events that he had publicized in a Facebook post. Stunned by the initiative of my friend the Sunni Muslim, who I had been fortunate enough to meet in the USA, I offered to translate the post into German as well and share it with a wider audience in German and English.
Afzal´s Facebook post – Link
The following report is the original post from Facebook and in it, the Pakistani journalist describes in his own words, which initiative he and other journalists took after the events, in connection with the murdered Christian from Sri Lanka.
“Once upon a time…
there were Sunni, Wahabi and Shia (different sects of Islam) Journalists, who went to a church (infact a Cathedral) and felicitated merry Christmas to a Christian Priest. They ate cake from the Father’s hand and the Father from their. Surprisingly neither the cake tasted bad, nor the talk tasted sour. Even during the two session of Chai (Milk Tea) and Green Tea neither the cup nor saucer urged us to quarrel. Father Shahid Meraj told us that few years ago Ruler of the time President General Pervaiz Musharraf was scheduled for 15 minutes stay in Cathedral and ended up spending two hours. Such was the friendly personality of Father Shahid Meraj that we as well didn’t know how the time flew by. In this meeting despite my intention an event that was in my mind could not come up to my tongue.
Source: Simon Jacob, IVLP Gahthering 2020, Rajagopal Yasiharan 
Few days ago Priyantha Kumara; a Srilankan Christian manager of a factory; was lynched by a mob in Sialkot. After the incident I was avoiding talk with my Srilankan younger brother Rajagopal Yasiharan. When the news made it to international media I received a whatsapp message from Yasi. He had forwarded a twitter video showing the lynching of Priyantha Kumara and wrote:
“I was deeply saddened to hear the news today.”
I had no words to reply, with a broken heart and words I wrote:
“My apologies to u[you], the family and Nation.”
Even after that my heart was not content, this apology was insignificant/insufficient. And in circumstances like these actions; not words; matter.
In consultation with ARY colleagues Nazir Ali Bhatti sahib, Ajaz Maqbool sahib we tried to take a cake a day before Christmas, but because of the busy schedule of Father Shahid Meraj the meeting was postponed. On 29th December when we finally met, special mention was made of noble hearts who worked diligently for interfaith harmony like Late Qazi Hussain Ahmed sahib, Bishop Alexander John Malik sahib, Qazi Abdul Qadeer Khamoosh sahib.
Cathedral Church of Resurrection; situated on the Mall road Lahore; is also known as rooster church (because of the old weather-vane shaped like rooster), a piece on its glorious past is put on hold, may be till tomorrow.”
Source: Afzal Majeed Butt
From left to right:
Ajaz Maqbool, Senior Assignment Editor ARY News (Ahl-Hadees)
Father Shahid, Meraj of Cathedral, Church of Resurrection, The Mall, Lahore, Pakistan
Afzal Majeed Butt, IVLP Alumnus, Senior Assignment Editor ARY News (Sunni)
Nazir Ali Bhatti, Senior Reporter ARY News Lahore (Shia)
After our conversation and Afzal´s reports of the events, which he told in his own words, I conducted an interview with him, with the goal of understanding the social, religious, and political developments better.
The interview is preceded by a brief description of political and social events in Pakistan in relation to the interview I conducted, so that individual aspects can be better understood in terms of content. All sources are linked accordingly, as in the entire article.
Explanation – Development and Origin of Pakistan
1. Qazi Hussain Ahmed:
Quazi Hussain Ahmed was a Pakistani theologist, politician and at the same time, from 1987 to 2009, he was the politic and religious leader of the Islamic community Jamaat-e-Islami, an islamic-political movement. During his political career, the politician intensely promoted exchanges between the religions.
2. Bischof Alexander John Malik:
Bishop Alexander John Malik was the bishop of Lahore for 32 years and intensively worked for religious peace between the religions.
3. Qazi Abdul Qadeer Khamoosh:
Qazi Abdul Qadeer Khamoosh, born in 1960 in the district of Gujrat in Pakistan, is a Founding Chairman of the Muslim Christian Federation International (MCFI). Oazi Abdul, represented by the organization he founded, draws on the commonalities of Christian and Muslim believers.
4. Islamic Republic of Pakistan:
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is located in South Asia and borders Shiite Iran, Afghanistan, the People’s Republic of China and India.
In 1947, when the British gave British India its freedom, especially because of the peaceful independence movement led by Mohandas Karachmchand Gandhi, the predominantly Muslim part of the subcontinent split off and the state of Pakistan was formed. A territorial issue between India and Pakistan still is the region Kashmir, which is predominantly inhabited by Muslims and is of strategic importance. In 1971, East Pakistan split off, essentially due to linguistic differences, and established its own state Bangladesh.
With a territory of 796,095 square kilometers, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is the ninth-biggest state in Asia. This is equivalent to a little less than twice the size of Austria and Germany together. The country has about 216 Million inhabitants, many of whom are of very young age. In 2020, the gross national product amounted to 263 billion U.S. dollars. About three quarters of the inhabitants live in a Punjab river plains region, where the land is exceptionally fertile. The country is struggling with a massive number of refugees from Afghanistan and has already taken in 1.3 Million Afghans.
More than 50 languages are known in Pakistan. Indo-Aryan Urdu, which is also spoken in Iran and Afghanistan, is the official national language. Urdu had been kind of a “lingua franca” for Muslims on the Indian subcontinent before its independence. Apart from Urdu, English is widely spread as an educational language. According to the most recent census in 1998, 96,3% of Pakistan’s inhabitants are Muslims, who belong to different Sunni and Shiite faiths, which are partly conflicting. Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and other religious groups form a minority in the predominantly Sunni-Muslim country. Among the Sunnis, on the other hand, Sufism is very popular, a mystical and widely interpreted form of Islam, which is based on the Hanafite school of law. Few Europeans know that the Sufi approach to Islam, which is also very pronounced in Turkey, for example, has a deeply spiritual basis, which is a clear and conflictual contrast to extremist groups like the so-called “Islamic State.”
The nuclear weapons state has the sixth-biggest army in the world and struggles with instability. Ethnical-religious conflicts, terrorism and corruption make life difficult for Pakistanis. But there are positive things to note. The country has a young population, which is getting more active in the fields of media, design and IT with a focus on software development, and which is growing into a big competitor for India. As a result, a growing middle class is emerging, giving rise to hope.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of the Republic, died in 1948. In March 1956, Pakistan was given a constitution that called for an active and passive right to vote for all adults from the age of 22. In that same year, both men and women received a full right to vote. On October 27, 1958, General Muhammed Ayub Khan seized power in a coup, causing a turning point in the still relatively young history of the country. Several other military regimes followed and caused the secular thought that Muhammed Ali Jinnah had once put forth as the founding father of the Republic to fade.
In 1971, president Yahya Khan resigned, which led to a cautious democratization. Khan’s successor, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, enacted a new constitution in 1973. In 1977, the establishment of a democratic government failed. Following this, General Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq invoked martial law and continued the military dictatorship. During this period, there was stronger Islamization. Among other things, Sharia law was established as the body of law. Zia-ul-Haq died in 1988, which paved the way for free elections once again and made Benazhir Bhutto the head of state as the first woman to ever assume this role in an Islamic State. Nawaz Sharif’s regime followed in 1990, Bhutto returned to power in 1993, and Nawaz Sharif took over again in 1997. 1999-2008 was characterized by a military dictatorship. In 2007, General Perves Musharraf declared a state of emergency and rendered the constitution inoperative. Elections were to follow. The preparation came to a tragic climax when the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto died in an assassination on December 27, 2007. The Pakistani Taliban was responsible for the attack. In 2008, Yousaf Raza Gilani was elected as prime minister by the Pakistani major party. More difficult political circumstances followed. Since August 18, 2018, the former professional cricket player and Chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party (PTI),  Imran Khan, is the officially elected head of state.
Interview with Afzal Majeed
How religiously diverse is Pakistan?
Pakistan is ethno religious diverse country, as was the sub continent from whose womb Pakistan came into being. The majority of Pakistani are Muslim, with Hindus and Christians as two major minorities. Hindus are mostly concentrated in Sindh, a province of Pakistan, while Christians are distributed throughout Pakistan. Many members of minorities rose to prominence. Pakistan’s first cabinet included a Dalit Jogendra Nath Mandal (lower caste hindu) while the fourth Chief Justice of Pakistan Alvin Robert Cornelius was a Christian. But the untimely demise of its fore father Muhammad Ali Jinnah; known as Quaid E Azam or great leader; and constant failure of democratic forces unleashed ethno religion intolerance under different Martial Laws. In 1971 a large populous area of Bengali ethnic majority known as East Pakistan separated itself and renamed itself to Bangladesh. Among many differences, language was the main separating force. The majority population of Pakistan concentrated in now Bangladesh was Bengali speaking, but the rest of West Pakistan was made up of different ethnicities. Yet despite being in minority Urdu was awarded the status of national tongue and Bengali never rose to prominence, which caused deep resentment between two wings. 
Why is there a distinction in Pakistan between "Sunnis", you are a Sunni yourself, and Wahabis ? It is difficult for Europeans to differentiate here.
Shia and Sunni’s are two major sects of Islam which are further divided into sub-sects. In Middle East; mostly where Saudi Arabia is considered leader; Wahabism is the major sub-sect and hence the term sunni is applied to them as whole. In sub continent another sub-sect Bralvi is in majority and the term sunni is applied to them, and are differentiated by wahabi sub-sect. Though they have much in common, visit to shrines of saints is one of the dividing point. 
Islam is the main religion in Pakistan. How does coexistence with other religions such as Christianity, Bahai, Hinduism or Buddhism work?
As I have said earlier that the Founding Father of Pakistan Muahmmad Ali Jinnah was a great visionary leader. He was known as ambassador of Hindu Muslim unity in his earlier years, but as the events unfolded, he in the end demanded an independent Muslim state. When partition became inevitable he offered Sikhs of Punjab to join him as most of their religious places were now to become part of Pakistan. He inducted a lower caste Hindu in Pakistan’s first cabinet and was very tolerated to other minorities as he had studied and lived for number of years in abroad. After his untimely death unfortunately Pakistan political and military elite failed its homeland time and again. A short example would suffice that when Z A Bhutto was overthrown, the unpopular dictator Zia Ul Haq banned politics for many years, later on held elections on non party basis. These elections were fought not on the basis of ideology but on the basis of ethnicity, sectarian and religious divide, thus further undermining any attempt to bond relationship with other communities. Had Pakistan flourished under the democratic rule situation could have been much better. 
When it comes to religious freedom, Europeans have the example of the Catholic Asia Noreen (Bibi) in negative memory. Noreen was the first woman in Pakistan to be sentenced to death for blasphemy by a court in Nankana on 8 November 2010. What leads to such a verdict and how is it to be understood in perspective?
When it comes to religious freedom we in Pakistan are not as tolerant as the western world. That is a fact, and one should not be ashamed to admit what is wrong with one’s house. Accepting a problem is the first step toward treatment. But I would like to point out that less than hundred years ago Europe as well was suffering from religious intolerance. Particularly in Germany under the Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich things were pretty horrible and it culminated into worst ethnic cleansing of Jews known as The Holocaust. I think many developing countries should learn from such experiences of how these democracies grew out of these dark ages and matured into the tolerant societies of the today. I would further like to point out that unlike the Jews of younder years, the Asia Noreen or commonly known Asia Bibi is still living, thanks largely to the efforts of international and local communities. It is easy to raise voice in civilized western world without the fear of repercussion, but two member of Pakistan soil Salman Taseer (a muslim governor) and Shahbaz Bhatti (Christian Minister) had to lay down their lives for the release of Asia Bibi. When we see the intolerance of so many, the kind heart efforts of the few should not go unappreciated.  
Simultaneously I would like to point out that the presence of law to protect the honour and prestige of the Prophet peace be upon him is much needed. Again I would like to return to European example of banning anti Semitic prejudice with the help of Law. Current minority under threat are Muslims who have been prejudiced under the banner of Islamophobia. Several dailies of Europe had published blasphemous cartoons of Prophet peace be upon him under the banner of freedom of expression. Would these publications survive the punishment of law if they publish any anti Semitic content? No. Simply No, because a law is there to safeguard the Semitic communities honour. Same is the demand of muslims to have a safeguard in place to deter those who in the name of religious freedom are actually hurting one of the largest religion in the world. 
What does religious freedom mean in Pakistan? Religion is a topic of intense debate and controversy in social media in all cultural areas. What impact, negative as well as positive, do such debates have on society?
Religious freedom in any society means the freedom to excercise ones religious expressions without the fear of any reprisal, in this regards we can see that most religious minorities are free to exercise their religious rituals in Pakistan. No one is disallowed from celebrating Christmas or other religious festivals. With the advent of fighting in Afghanistan things had drastically undergone changes. But these problems were more of sectarian in nature than harming inter religious harmony. We see that in Zia’s regime when western world was heavily investing in anti soviet Mujaheddins, an off shoot problem of money and weapons were used against the religious minorities, mostly of sectarian nature. In Karachi under zia regime worst ethnic clashes also took place one based on the language and place of origin. In those days Karachi the biggest and most commercially advance city of Pakistan witnessed bloodbath between urdu speaking or mohajir community and pathan community. The same period witnessed the shia and sunni clashed intensified through out Pakistan. 
What does fakenews or the spreading of false information, verbally charged, lead to in the respective cultures? For example, many in the West remember lynchings in Middle Eastern countries due to false rumours being spread on social media about certain people.
False information, made up news (commonly referred as Fake news) are propaganda tools that are/were used throughout the history. Almost every nation had tasted propaganda medicine in one way or another and the memories may be old or new. The problem has only compounded in modern age when influx of information grew multi folds, and social media while connecting people has made spread of rumour far more easy with a greater circle of penetration. If we couple it with illiteracy and religious fanaticism the medicine is far more potent and dangerous from its previous ancestors.  In rural areas of Pakistan such rumours can insight mob violence and from these mobs lives of even muslims are not safe. A recent example of this is the case of Mishal Khan, a student of Abdul Wali Khan University situated in Mardan, KPK, who was lynched on the false charges of blasphemy.
What made you go to a Christian priest at Christmas, together with other Muslims (Shiites, Wahabis), to talk to him?
To be honest this meeting had many reason coupled with it. But one of the recent event in Sialkot, Pakistan had made it all the more necessary to create a goodwill gesture. I had visited USA during Feb 2019, and I was blessed to have around 9 countries citizens as my International Visitor Leadership Program co-alumni, one of them belonged to Sri Lanka. Rajagopal Yasiharan had greatest of respect for me during our stay and would always call me brother. When the Sri Lankan Manager Priyantha Kumara was lynched in Sialkot he had forwarded a twitter video showing the lynching of Priyantha Kumara and wrote: “I was deeply saddened to hear the news today.” I had no words to reply, with a broken heart and words I wrote:  “My apologies to u[you], the family and Nation.” Even after that my heart was not content, this apology was insignificant/insufficient. And in circumstances like these actions; not words; matter.
In consultation with ARY colleagues Nazir Ali Bhatti, Ajaz Maqbool we tried to take a cake a day before Christmas, but because of the busy schedule of Father Shahid Meraj the meeting was delayed. On 29th December when we finally met we commemorated noble hearts who worked diligently for interfaith harmony like Late Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Bishop Alexander John Malik, and Qazi Abdul Qadeer Khamoosh. And we believed that these legends would have done the same to heal wounds and bring people of different faiths together by mingling and greeting with each other in time of celebration and pain.
Contact Afzal Majeed Butt
WhatsApp: +923444440508
The interview was conducted by the journalist and Chairman of the Central Council of Oriental Christians in Germany,
Simon Jacob,
Germany, 28th of January 2022
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