During the last week of March, Intersections led a group of more than 30 delegates from 12 countries to Pakistan as part of our ongoing US-Pakistan Interreligious Consortium (UPIC) program.
It was remarkable to see how this effort has grown over the five years since a small group of us journeyed to Oman to begin this work. Most of our sessions on this trip numbered more than 100, sometimes two or three times that. In Lahore, we were hosted by the University of Management and Technology and our delegation featured several internationally known experts on Islam. We spent many sessions unpacking the growing trend of Islamophobia in the US, and how uncertainties in the current geopolitical climate impact citizens in Pakistan. It was an engaging and enriching week.
We had an opportunity to honor one of UPIC’s guiding lights, Dr. Mumtaz Ahmad, whose death exactly one year ago was poignantly commemorated as an imam, a rabbi and a priest offered prayers at his rural graveside. During our Friday night stay at the Serena Hotel in Islamabad, Simha Rosenberg, Rabbi Simkha Weintraub and Rabbi Reuven Firestone led us in Shabbat prayers in the hotel’s restaurant—undoubtedly a first.
We reviewed past accomplishments and planted seeds for new programs. Initiatives include a vision articulated by Imam Malik Mujahid, former President of the World Parliament of Religions, to use social media strategies and high-powered names to amplify the voice of American Muslims. This idea echoed earlier sentiments from Riaz Siddiqi, a past UPIC delegate (and an honoree at our upcoming 10th anniversary gala who was unable to attend this trip; but the two are slated to meet later this month.
Long time UPIC supporter Ali Tariq, from the International Islamic University, offered to connect us with the Pakistani madrassa community on our next trip, and plans were initiated to have significant dialogues with madrassa leaders. This has been a goal of UPIC from the beginning; with Ali’s help, UPIC now has the credibility to put this in place and attract respected leaders from more conservative traditions in Pakistan.
Dr. Amineh Hoti offered to gather a local interfaith dialogue group, who could then interface with our international scholars and religious leaders, so that we can explore how the macro-issues we are confronting apply to day-to-day circumstances in Pakistan.
On our last day, we met at the National Defense University where we interacted with more than 200 students and faculty, shattering stereotypes and unpacking our message of humanity as a key ingredient in building bridges across national borders in our fragile world. Our presence carried such an impact that University President Dr. Rizwan Akhtar promised future support for this ongoing work, and Deputy President Faheem Ullah Malik began conversations about visiting Intersections in May with a delegation of senior military officers.
For Christians, we are in the Easter season—a time when we celebrate new life. The kernels of newness were clearly evident as we continued our UPIC mission, deepening our impact and planting seeds along the way.
Photo Credit: University of Management and Technology