PESHAWAR -- The Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) is preparing to host the 4th International Message of Islam Conference, a forum meant to declare 2019 as the year to end terrorism, extremism and sectarian violence.
"We are holding a conference on March 3 to reinforce the long struggle for annihilating all forms of violence in the country," PUC Chairman Maulana Hafiz Muhammad Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi told Pakistan Forward January 13.
Participants will issue a statement at the end of the conference to send a loud and clear message to the world that religious scholars stand united against terrorism and will pledge to continue efforts for lasting peace in the region, he said.
"More than 5,000 religious scholars representing all schools of thought will convene at the Convention Centre in Islamabad to mark the end of terrorism and explore a future course of action," Ashrafi said.
Ulema will deliver scholarly lectures on suicide bombings as well as on the issuance of unauthorised fatwas and on the role of security forces in preserving peace.
"We are immensely disturbed by [terrorists'] use of Islam for decrees, but none of the religions allow terrorism," he said. "Young people are misled by the wrong interpretations of the religion, including preparing them to carry out suicide attacks against security forces and the general public."
To prepare for the international conference, the PUC will hold a series of Paigham-e-Pakistan conventions throughout January and February, said Ashrafi.
In one such meeting on January 6, religious scholars issued the "Islamabad Declaration", which denounced all forms of terrorism and extremism and proclaimed 2019 the year for the "eradication of terrorism, extremism and sectarian violence from Pakistan".
More than 1,800 Pakistani religious scholars issued the Paigham-e-Pakistan fatwa in January 2018, condemning suicide attacks, armed uprisings and acts of terrorism in the name of Sharia law.
'Stand up against terrorism'
Pakistanis are sick and tired of militancy and want to eliminate terrorists once and for all, PUC member Maulana Abdul Waheed said.
"Miscreants have fled because they fear the army, but we need to inform the public about its responsibility to swing into action against those abusing religion for their own gains," he told Pakistan Forward.
"We urge the public to stand up against terrorism to protect its own future," he noted.
"Every religion advocates peace and denounces violence in all its forms," he said. "The conference we are holding aims to devise a joint mechanism to deal with the prevailing challenges facing the Muslim world."
The prime responsibility of scholars, Waheed continued, is to counter religious fanatics' lies and to scale up public awareness of terrorism by using teachings from the holy Koran.
"We should use the latest modes of communication to thwart the propaganda of those misusing the name of Islam," he explained.
The international conference aims to present to the world the true image of Islam, said Maulana Hamid ul Haq, chief of Darul Uloom Haqqania in Nowshera, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
"There are misconceptions about Islam that need to be cleared to create harmony among all religious sects and pave the way for peace and stability in the world," he told Pakistan Forward.
"Pakistan has suffered huge losses due to the endless string of terrorism and cannot afford violence anymore," he said.
Ulema, government working together
The PUC supports the government's efforts to end terrorism, including the implementation of the counter-terrorism National Action Plan, said Lahore-based scholar Maulana Qazi Matiullah Saeedi.
"We are also urging the government to incorporate the recommendations of the Paigham-e-Pakistan conference into the constitution to bring an end to terrorism forever," he told Pakistan Forward.
"To put the brakes on sectarianism, we have already declared the killing of others in the name of religion as against Islam," Qazi said, noting that the issuance of baseless fatwas against the security institutions and members of other sects is reprehensible.
"We strongly condemn those who conspire to defame security institutions because our forces are fighting miscreants bravely and have laid their lives for the sake of peace," he said.
The government should implement a complete ban on publications that spread hateful or sectarian messages, including books, pamphlets and CDs, as well as websites and other electronic media, he said.
The government should protect all non-Muslims living in Pakistan in accordance with the teachings of Sharia law, he added.
Changing citizens' mindsets
Pakistanis welcome the ulema's calls for peace.
"We should follow our religious scholars to defeat terrorism permanently," Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah, a Peshawar-based senior security analyst, told Pakistan Forward.
"Militants have been using the name of religion for terrorism, which is untrue," he said. "Religious scholars are required to dispel the wrong impression that Islam allows killing other human beings."
Religious scholars have reinforced peace efforts and terrorists are no longer able to find recruits for suicide bombings, Shah said. "Our clerics have termed suicide attacks haram, which has led to a steep decline in attacks in the past few years."
Enlisting the support of religious scholars in the fight against terrorism will make an impact because ordinary Pakistanis take them seriously, said Abdur Rehman, a political scientist at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
"It is a good step to gather religious scholars from all the countries and send a joint message against terrorism," he told Pakistan Forward. "There are still those who believe that terrorists serve Islam, and we need to change that mindset through ulema."
"The conference to mark the end to terrorism is a positive step and will reduce terrorism," he said. The past year has been peaceful compared to the previous years because of sacrifices made by security forces and the general public, he added.