by Zia Ur Rehman

January 19. 2-16

Karachi: The Sindh government announced on Monday that it would issue uniform Friday sermons to mosques to curb extremism and promote sectarian harmony in the province.

However, religious leaders and civil society activists said the step was infeasible.

Abdul Qayyum Soomro, the adviser to the Sindh chief minister on religious affairs, said the government would issue Friday sermons to mosques across the province.

“One of our key objectives is to promote sectarian harmony,” Soomro told reporters.

“The Sindh government has been planning to legislate it and a bill on the issue will soon be presented in the provincial assembly,” he added.

After a National Action Plan was announced in the wake of a terrorist attack on the Peshawar Army Public School in December 2014, the federal and provincial religious affairs authorities have been working together to counter hate speeches and extremist material.

A religious affairs official said the draft of the bill on government-issued Friday sermons was ready to be presented in the Sindh Assembly in the coming weeks.

“For Friday prayers, the government will release sermons containing purposeful messages, mainly about humanity, peace, morality, and sectarian and interfaith harmony,” he added.

However, religious leaders belonging to different schools of thought said the government’s decision was impractical.

Mufti Muhammad Naeem, the principal of the Jamia Binoria International, a key Deobandi seminary in Karachi, wondered how the decision would work.

Talking to The News, he said that government had not taken religious leaders into confidence while making the decision.

“These are only suggestions without practical steps which are not enough to curb sectarianism and will only create more confusion among the masses,“ Naeem added.

“We don’t know how the government will enforce it. It hasn’t explained it yet.”

Allama Amin Shaheedi, a prominent Shia scholar, said the provincial government had continuously been hoodwinking the public.

“The National Action Plan was introduced to curb militancy and sectarianism, but the Sindh government, instead of taking strict action against militant groups, has been discussing petty matters, he told The News.

Shaheedi added that the PPP-led government should tell the public as to how many seminaries involved in militancy and brainwashing youth had been shut down and how many terrorists arrested.

“The Sindh government’s lack of seriousness in dealing with militancy has caused a rapid increase in and lawlessness in the province.”

Civil society activists praised the Sindh government’s decision but also criticised it for being ambiguous about its implementation.

Last year, the federal government had announced that it would implement the Nizam-e-Salat in the federal capital. Under the plan, the azaan (call for prayers) and salaat (prayers) were to be offered at a fixed time. However, no progress was made in this connection.

“When the government couldn’t even enforce the Nizam-e-Salat in federal capital, how would it be able to implement the decision of state-run Friday sermons in the province,” said a civil society activist.

In the past, the Milli Yakjehti Council, an alliance of various religio-political parties including the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Jamia Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl, had worked to monitor Friday sermons in mosques so that prayer leaders could be restrained from delivering hate speeches but failed to achieve success.

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