FAISALABAD: Pakistan has often made headlines in international media and triggered debates in liberal intellectual circles for its controversial treatment of religious minorities. The condition of minorities is always described as deplorable, but residents of a neighbourhood in Faisalabad city have proved that sweeping generalisation is wrong.
Nazimabad, a lower-middle class residential colony, is a shining example of religious tolerance, interfaith and peaceful coexistence, where a church and a mosque are separated by a thin wall; and where muezzin’s call to prayer and church’s bells ring at their specified times every day. It has been 22 years that believers of the two faiths have been praying at this place, but there has never been any misunderstanding or feud among them.
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Nazimabad Colony, which is spread over an area of 13 acres, was built in in Lal Singh Wala of Chak No220 RB in the late 50s by the then Lyallpur Improvement Trust to accommodate lower middle class families. It was named after the second governor general of Pakistan, the late Khawaja Nazimuddin.
About 40 residential plots had been allotted to Christian community members for building single-storey houses, comprising two bedrooms, a bath and a small courtyard, while the rest of the plots had been allotted to Muslims.
Back then, most of the Christians – who were employed as sanitary workers in the then Municipal Committee – used to live in mud-houses without basic amenities. Along came Rev Fr Paul Andretti, who established the Lyallpur Housing Society and purchased land from the Lyallpur Improvement Trust under the patronage of Catholic Mission.
Afterwards, residential plots had been allotted to Christian families against a payment of Rs1,000 as the price of land and Rs6,000 as construction cost. The entire amount was recovered in monthly installments of Rs25 after which they were handed over allotment deeds.
Although Muslims had also been allotted plots in Nazimabad Colony, but most Christian families lived in Street No13 and Street No14 along with a few Muslim families. In early 1965, Fr Paul Andretti built a two-storey building where he set up a primary school on ground floor while its upper-storey was used as a church.
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In 1994, Haji Gul Muhammad, a resident of the same locality bought a four-marla house from a Muslim family for building a mosque. “Originally, the mosque and church were separated by a distance of about 300 feet, but when the number of worshippers increased, the mosque was extended, with its peripheral wall touching the church,” Haji Gul, who is now 79, told The Express Tribune.
Haji Gul said that over the past 22 years, believers of the two faiths have shown a remarkable increase in tolerance and religious harmony.
Father Bashir, the custodian of the church, endorsed Haji Gul. “About 22 years ago, when our Muslim brothers planned to build a mosque next to our church, they sought our consent and we readily agreed,” he told The Express Tribune.
“When the mosque opened for prayers, we changed the timings of our morning service to avoid any misunderstanding in true spirit of religious harmony and peaceful coexistence which is the true spirit of all religions,” he said.
“True kindness is to serve mankind. Before being Muslims and Christians, we are all human beings and this brings us closer as we pray together,” Father Bashir added. “Over the past 22 years, there has been no dispute or violence. With open minds, we are closer to each other as we continue to pray together.”
The Imam of the mosque, Qari Zubair, told The Express Tribune: “We mutually changed the prayers timings to avoid any inconvenience. The mosque and the church are both unique because both have not installed loudspeakers to avoid disturbance.”
Shaban Gul, the chairman of the Union Council 117, Nazimabad, said: “If someone wants to see exemplary harmony among Muslims and Christians, he should visit this area. The credit goes to all residents who stay away from controversies. There is even a park in front of the two places of worship where Muslims and Christians freely intermingle.”
Qari Zubair, who has been serving as the mosque’s Imam for the past 15 years, cited a Hadith, saying: “Islam is a religion of peace. It accords due respect and rights to all minorities.”
Courtesy : Express Tribune