Professor Fateh Muhammad Malik,
Rector, International Islamic University
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is indeed a unique honour and privilege for me to be here today among such a distinguished gathering of scholars and intellectuals. I wish to congratulate the International Islamic University, Iqbal International Institute for Research and Dialogue and other institutes for hosting this international conference.
The theme of the conference “Pakistan, South Asia and Muslim Societies” is of special significance at this point of time as we are passing through defining moments in the Muslim world and in South Asia.
There are some interesting similarities between South Asia and the Muslim world. Muslim Ummah represents one fifth of the World Population and South Asia hosts one fifth of humanity. Both the Muslim world and South Asia boast a youthful population.
They are home to almost 64% youth below the age of 30 years. The Muslim world represented by OIC and South Asia are part of the developing world and both are economically least integrated. It is aptly reflected by the volume of Intra-OIC and Intra-South Asia trade which remains less than 5% of their total trade.
South Asia and Muslim societies have a long history of interaction and mutual enrichment since the advent of Islam in the South Asia subcontinent in 712 AD. In their association spanning over 1000 year with the South Asian region, which culminated in the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Muslims from the Arab World as well as Central Asia left an inedible imprint on the South Asian art, culture, cuisine, architecture, literature, language and society.
The art of writing history was one of the major Muslim contributions to South Asia. “Kitabul Hind” by Al-Beruni written in the 11th century has been the first formal history of India, its culture, customs and society.
Let me clarify another grave historical misunderstanding against the popular belief in the West, Islam did not spread in the subcontinent through the mighty kings and their swords. We owe this to the charisma and the noble teachings of Muslim sufis, saints and pious men who migrated to South Asia in the thirteenth century AD to escape the Mongol terror. Sir Edward Maclagan an eminent Western scholar writing on the spread of Islam in my own area in the district Gazetteer of Multan states;
“In one respect indeed the devastation of Khurasan and Western Iran was to the benefit of this part of India, for it led to the settling of a considerable number of pious and learned men, most of whom no doubt passed on towards Delhi, but many of whom stayed to bless Multan with their presence”.
Another leading scholar William Crooke observers that:
“The Emperors were too much indifferent towards spiritual affairs, too much engrossed in schemes of conquest and administration to undertake the task of conversion in earnest. Their power was in a large measure dependent on links with the Rajput Princes. The native Princesses whom they married brought a strain of Hindu blood into the royal line and promoted tolerance of Hinduism”.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
These sufis, saints and men of God introduced a brand of Islam which was tolerant in spirit, moderate in essence and progressive in outlook. Perhaps for this reason even today one sees people from all faiths and religions congregating at Shrines of Khawaja Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer, Hazart Nizamuddin in New Delhi and Hazarat Salim Chisti at Fatehpur Sikri to seek their blessings for spiritual and worldly rewards.
All their noble teachings had helped in developing a tolerant, peaceful and prosperous society under Muslim rule in South Asia. Historical data indicates that even during the decline of mighty Mughal Empire in 1750, the South Asian subcontinent contributed 25% of the world GDP. Little wonder that all colonial empires were vying with each other to win favour with Mughal Emperors and dominate South Asia.
The advent of the British colonial rule in the subcontinent created deep religious, social, cultural and political fissures within the society. It also severely impacted upon the economic productivity of the region. As a result by 1900, South Asia was contributing only 1.6% of the global GDP.
We all are too familiar with the situation in South Asia since emergence of Pakistan and India as independent sovereign states. For the past six decades continued tension and conflict over unresolved Jammu and Kashmir dispute has hampered economic and social developments in the two countries.
I have no doubt in my mind that if Pakistan and India were able to resolve the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri peoples at the time of independence or a few years later, we would have been living in a much prosperous and peaceful South Asia.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and ensuing Afghan Jihad which was supported by the entire western world further complicated the situation. Our collective neglect of Afghanistan’s economic, social and political needs was to a large extent responsible for the atrocities of 9/11. Today, we all are trying to cope with the fall out of this horrendous development. In the process Pakistan, as a frontline State in the struggle against extremism and terrorism, has lost more than 30,000 civilians, more than 6,000 soldiers and more than 3,000 personnel of law enforcement agencies.
Our economic losses exceed US$ 70 billion. If we include lost opportunities and damage to infrastructure it might be more than twice this assessment. Apart from this loss to the society in terms of social cohesion and peace has been immeasurable.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The world today is in the midst of a historic transformation. As the western world, which has dominated the globe both politically and economically for the past more than five centuries is witnessing an economic downturn, the economies and societies in Asia (East) are becoming increasingly competitive, robust and vibrant.
The current assessment is that by 2025 the Chinese economy would overtake the US economy which has been the dominant economy for the past more than a century. This transformation would also bring added political responsibilities for the countries in Asia.
South Asia is an integral part of this emerging Asian miracle. Unfortunately, due to prolonged instability in Afghanistan and its impact on the broader region, the Muslim South Asia has been lagging behind.
The situation is not much different in other parts of the Muslim World with the exception of Turkey and South East Asian countries. The main reasons for this backwardness remains regional tensions and conflicts, low investment in infrastructure, education, science and technology and human resource development.
Despite all this, I am optimistic that, even though belatedly, we are on the right track. The ferment in the Muslim youth which we are witnessing in Arab Spring and other parts of the Muslim world gives me the hope that finally we have reached the beginning of a new Muslim renaissance which if channelized in the right direction, would usher in a new era of enlightenment, understanding, peace and prosperity not only for the Muslim societies, but for the entire world and indeed the entire humanity. Let me add a note of caution, it would be contingent upon taking right decisions and making right investments at the right moment.
I shall conclude by quoting a prophetic advice from great Allama Muhammad
For more information, contact:
Syed Haider Ali Jafri
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Government of Pakistan
Tel: +9251 921 0335 and 9056604