Sikh, Christian and Muslim students come together at a three-day Interfaith Harmony Camp
BY WAQAR GILLANI| Kalvinder Kaur, 15, a Sikh student in a school in Nankana Sahib, had one of the most cherished and unforgettable moments of her life in the past week. For the first time she interacted and lived with Christian and Muslim students the same age for three days and nights.
“I never thought of it. It was awesome and lot of fun,” Kalvinder tells The News on Sunday at the end of this three-day camp that brought 60 Sikh, Christian, and Muslim students under one roof for three days to understand each other and their beliefs and to discuss the differences and indifferences.
Seeds of Peace, a youth run non government organisation (NGO), working towards conflict resolution, held this Interfaith Harmony Camp at St Anthony’s High School engaging students in the 14-16 age group from 14 different schools of Lahore and Nankana Sahib (the most sacred place for Sikhs in the Pakistan’s Punjab). The theme of the camp was to enable young students of three religions to develop mutual understanding and trust among each other. Most of the Sikh students, originally, were from Swat, one of the militancy-hit war-on-terror zones in the northern part of Pakistan.
“We enjoyed the comfort level and we discussed the similarities and stereotypes about our beliefs in the society,” says Mubashar Iqbal, 16, a Muslim student based in Lahore. The most interesting part of the camp according to all of us, he says, was meeting, observing, studying and knowing about Sikh culture and religion. “We enjoyed their jokes and asked about the history.” He says the key thing they learned is to live with diversity and tolerate that diversity. “We talked about discriminations, blasphemy laws, Xmas, Islamophobia, and related issues too,” says Malik Raymond John, another participant. Many of the participants saw the Sikh students the first time in their lives.
“‘Treasure hunt’ game was the most interesting part of the camp everybody enjoyed but the biggest treasure we have hunted in these three days is understanding each other, love, tolerance and knowing and respecting humanity,” says Sarah, 15, a Lahore Grammar School student. “We have known that differences exist but we need tolerance to get along with each other.”
The students played football, cricket, basketball, group challenges, team work, scavenge hunt in these three days. The teams comprised of mixed religions (each team had a number of Sikhs, Christians and Muslims together in the same team).
One of the participants in the camp from a Muslim family was not allowed to interact with non-Muslims in his daily life because his parents taught him that ‘they were not good’. He ditched his parents to participate in the camp telling them that he was attending preparatory classes for O level exams and was sitting in mock-exam.
But, one day, he was caught and his father asked him why he was sitting with Sikhs and Christians. He innocently answered, “Sikhs and Christians can also appear in the exam.”
“My parents also stop me from going to a Christian barber just because he has another religion,” the student says. “Now, I have convinced my mother to some extent and she has some acceptance and understanding that we should not behave like this,” he says, adding, “I have come to know that humanity is above all religions. I had never interacted with other religions,” he says, adding, “We should not treat minorities like this. They are just like us — human beings, and believe in God.”
During the camp, arranged in collaboration with St. Anthony’s High School, the students also addressed some of the stereotypes related to their religion and educated the participants about them. Some of the similarities the students noticed in their religion were belief in One Supreme Power, propagate peace, tolerance and give everyone the freedom to practice their own religion. The camp helped the participants to combat the stereotypes which included why Sikhs wore turban, why Muslims did not eat pork and how Christmas was celebrated.
“Through this, we hope to promote a sense of harmony, tolerance, co-existence and respect in these young minds,” said Tooba Fatima, the camp manager. “It also provided an opportunity for our young members to create an atmosphere where students from different religions could sit together and feel comfortable talking about how they could improve the interaction between all three religions,” she further added.
The Seeds of Peace (SOP) is a non-profit organisation dedicated to preparing teenagers from areas of conflict with leadership skills required to promote co-existence and peace. The Interfaith Harmony Camp was part of Seeds’ ventures and Community Outreach Program.