The Power of Dialogue: How an Ugly Situation Brought Two Pakistanis Together

I shared a story yesterday about a Pakistani Television actor who said some nasty things about Pakistani Ahmadis. Since then, a lot has transpired.  Arjumand Hussain, the activist and actor in question, reached out to me through a mutual friend. We exchanged numbers and spent two hours on the phone. I have never been on the phone this long. Phone conversations are not my thing. I prefer text and email. But in the end, it was all worth it.

We talked my personal beliefs.  We talked our respective theologies. We talked Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan. We talked how to make Pakistan a great country on the world map. We talked about the anti-Ahmadi apartheid and the laws that deny Ahmadis the right to religious freedom. We talked about Karachi, Baltimore and Dubai. We talked about interfaith harmony and need for dialogue. We talked about our families. We talked about improving health and education in Pakistan. We talked a little about foreign policy. We talked about the far right and the menace of religious extremism. You get the idea. We talked a lot.

Arjumand Hussain with veteran Pakistani actor Shaan on the set of “Waar”

And during these two hours, Arjumand Sahib (who is almost my dad’s age) had the humility and integrity to admit his ignorance of Ahmadiyya beliefs and theology. Other than beliefs, he also did not know Ahmadi Muslims could be jailed for 3 years for reading the Quran or reciting the Kalima, etc. We are all ignorant of one thing or another. None of us has knowledge of everything. I am sure I am ignorant of many things as well. It takes courage to admit one’s ignorance and make amends. He explained what he meant by his words and that they were completely uncalled for and based on misinformation and paranoia. He apologized to the community for hurting any sentiments and expressed his regret on the outrage.

He then went on to post the following in the relevant thread on Facebook:

“I have had a long and fruitful discussion with Kashif. What a lovely and intelligent person he is. A lot of musunderstandings were cleared.. Faith is such a delicate subject that its always better not to indulge in these discussions. Pakistan does have laws which need to be addressed and debated and changed. Pakistan is for all Pakistanis and everyone has to be treated equally and fairly. At least thats what the Quaid e Azam wanted in his address of Aug-11-1947. So lets figure out how we can resolve these issues through dialogue and not through conflict . Stay blessed….”

What we realized during our discussion was how much we had in common. We realized we were both very passionate about Jinnah’s vision, and that we were both patriotic Pakistanis.

We plan to work together to promote dialogue within the Pakistani community and help bring different faith communities to break bread together. Because in the end, it is lack of dialogue that fosters misunderstandings and reinforces misconceptions that lead to such suspicion and mistrust of minority faith communities.

If there is one thing Pakistanis can take away from this story, it is the power and the need for dialogue. Instead of blindly believing whatever you are told about a community, reach out to its members and seek clarification directly. Embrace your fellow countrymen. Do not believe anyone who wants you to hate your own people. This is my message to fellow Pakistanis with regard to Pakistan’s marginalized Ahmadiyya community and it is this same message I give to fellow Americans when I speak at campuses and libraries about Islam in an effort to build bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims here. The importance of outreach and dialogue cannot be emphasized enough. Let us stand united against misinformation and prejudice.

Here’s to a stronger and more united Pakistan. #PakistanZindabad