Ulema on Thursday denounced attempts to exploit religious sentiments for causing a sectarian upheaval in the country and called on the government to categorically criminalize takfir. This was said in a communique issued at the end of an inter-sect harmony meeting hosted by Islamabad Policy Institute, an Islamabad based think tank, in view of the recent sectarian incidents in the country. The meeting was attended by religious scholars from Barelvi, Deobandi, Ahl-e-Hadith, and Shia sects. The meeting was attended by Dr. Abdul Basit Mujahid, Dr. Abdul Ghaffar Bukhari, Dr. Samiullah Zubairi, Molana Haider Alvi, Molana Jahangir Shah Saeedi, Molana Ameen Shaheedi, Molana Sheikh Anwar Ali Najafi, and Dr Sahibzada Ehsan Ullah Chishti. Mr Azhar Abidi moderated the session.The communique noted that although laws like 153-A and 295-A of Pakistan Penal Code were existing that prohibit promoting hate or ill will against others and hurting someone’s religious sentiments, but takfir, the declaration by one Muslim that another is an apostate, was still continuing. This has been fueling sectarian tensions in the country, it noted. The laws that bind every citizen to respect the ‘sacred personalities, places and beliefs’ of all of the religions and sects should be imposed in its true spirit, the participants agreed.The scholars said the government should sternly deal with those who spread sectarianism and do takfir of established sects of Islam. “This august forum affirms that basic teachings in all of the major sects in Islam are same and differences of opinion are merely in secondary matters,” the participants of the session underscored.The meeting proposed that ‘respect for difference of opinion and the manners to differ’ should be included in the syllabi of the seminaries, which must be taught as a subject at different levels. Opening the dialogue, Executive Director IPI Prof Sajjad Bokhari said we need to think why certain elements are bent on spreading anarchy and hatred in spite of the clear call of unity of the Holy Quran and Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAAW) and the clear practice and message of the religious scholars. Such elements, he said, were tools of the anti-Islam and anti-Pakistan forces because their actions were benefiting the enemies.Dr Abdul Basit Mujahid, a renowned scholar, said Pakistan being a strategically important state has been a victim of conspiracies by its enemies. He, therefore, pleaded that in this very vulnerable situation leaders and scholars of different sects have to be very careful and should promote message of peace and harmony by emphasizing commonalities among all Muslim sects.Molana Haider Alvi feared that the latest wave of sectarianism was a result of conspiracy by global ‘imperial fears’, who do not want to see a stable Pakistan. He, moreover, pointed out that hate was being spread on social media without research work. While referring to a survey of mosques and seminaries in Rawalpindi, he said, 90% of the ulema there lacked basic religious education.He questioned state protection enjoyed by the sectarian hate mongers, who move about with security guards provided by the state.Dr Abdul Ghaffar Bokhari emphasized the need for recognizing difference of opinion and addressing those differences through dialogue.Molana Anwar Ali Najfi said sectarian hate in the country cannot be spread without external funding. He said there was difference of opinion in Islam on various religious matters, but no hatred towards each other.Molana Jehangir Shah stressed that the various sects in the country needed to disown those in their ranks spreading hate towards other sects.Molana Ameen Shaheedi said that the real clash is between the West and Islam, but Muslims are being weakened by promoting divisions within them. He said the unscrupulous elements present among us get West’s patronage.Dr Samiullah Zubairi said that instead of blaming each other we needed to introspect and look within ourselves to identify those promoting the divisions.