PESHAWAR -- The imam of the holiest mosque in the world is urging Pakistani Muslims to embrace their faith's message of peace and love and to reject violence and extremism.
Sheikh Saleh bin Muhammad Ibrahim, the Imam-e-Kaaba (imam of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, Saudi Arabia) delivered the Friday (April 7) sermon to a huge gathering in Nowshera District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
"Islam is a religion of peace and strictly prohibits violence and chaos in society," he preached at the gathering.
The event was part of a three-day-long (April 7-9) centennial celebration for Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl) (JUI [F]), a religiously oriented political party.
Another attendee, Saudi Islamic Affairs Minister Salih ibn Abdul Aziz ibn Muhammad Al Al-Shaykh, denounced terrorism, violence and anarchy as "intolerable to any nation".
The two men spoke with one voice on the evils of terrorism.
"Those who instigate violence, extremism and disharmony in the name of Islam are responsible for creating chaos and anarchy to achieve ulterior motives,” added the Imam-e-Kaaba.
Those elements who distorted Islamic injunctions have spread hatred and caused disintegration of the Ummah (the Islamic community) in the name of sectarianism, he continued.
"Islam has no relationship with violence or extremism," he said categorically, calling extremists misguided.
The Imam-e-Kaaba urged his listeners to unite under the banner of Islam and to follow the teachings of the Koran and Sunnah.
To illustrate, he recited a Koranic verse: "Hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided."
The cleric called on religious scholars to do their part in forming Muslim unity by preaching the faith's message of love, peace and harmony.
The ulema are the true custodians of Islam, he said, noting that they have a "great" teaching responsibility.
The Imam-e-Kaaba also led Friday prayers and offered prayers for Islamic unity, the spread of tolerance and other improvements to humanity's lot.
"Together we can counter any challenge to our religions and countries," said Al-Shaykh, the Saudi Islamic affairs minister, in his own speech.
Pakistanis and Saudis have deep-rooted relations and profound respect for each other, he added.
JUI (F), the party holding its centennial, supports peaceful struggle for rights and discourages violence, said its leader, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, in his address to the gathering.
Unity is essential to fighting terrorism, the world's biggest problem, he said.
The JUI (F) centennial is an effort to renew the party's resolve to promote Islamic values and to thwart violence and extremism, which damage the image of Islam, he added.
Observers in KP hailed the Saudi cleric's message of tolerance and peace.
"The sermon of the Imam-e-Kaaba will have a very lasting impact in our struggle to quell inclinations toward violence," Prof. Dr. Qibla Ayaz, a religious scholar and former vice chancellor of University of Peshawar, told Pakistan Forward. "People have great reverence for the leader of the Grand Mosque."
The Imam-e-Kaaba'a stature in the ummah (Islamic community) guarantees an audience for his teachings, said Ayaz.
"If he declares that Islam has no room for violence or extremism, the faithful will embrace his message as a true teaching of our religion," added Ayaz.
"Religious scholars dare not express any differences with the Imam-e-Kaaba," said Prof. Abdul Ghafoor, former director of the Sheikh Zahid Islamic Centre in Peshawar, told Pakistan Forward.
"The prohibition of violence by a personage like him will highlight the importance of peace for an Islamic society," he added.
The Imam-e-Kaaba's speech will help change the mind-set of extremists and pave the way for promotion of brotherhood and non-violence in society, he predicted.