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August 20, 2020

Kartarpur Corridor: Interfaith bricks and mortar

Opinion

August 20, 2020

The recent reopening of the Kartarpur Corridor on the Pakistani side following its closure in the wake of Covid-19 marks the continuing, but often underplayed, significance of religion in international affairs. The Corridor, which connects the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan to the Dera Baba Nanak Sahib in India, clearly displays the part that religion plays in developing international ties between the two countries.

Initially completed on 12th November 2019 — the 550th birth anniversary of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak — it literally paved the way for interfaith dialogue and harmony as the initiative was sanctioned by Muslim-majority Pakistan and Hindu-majority India. Relations between the two counties have often been polluted by religious division that bears no reflection on Islam or Hinduism.

Various academics, such as Iqbal Singh Sevea, have suggested that the Corridor could mark movement towards better relations between Pakistan and India because of the “goodwill” that the Corridor will likely foster. Indeed, goodwill is an inherent characteristic of all major world religions best exemplified through acts of religious charity.

Despite various critics suggesting that there are ulterior motives on either side for the completion of the Corridor, it is an act of charity because it allows Sikhs from India visa-free access to the site of the foundation of the Sikh community. Such a gracious move would be comparable to providing access for Muslims to complete Hajj to the Kaaba in Makkah if they had been blocked from doing so.

The completion of the Corridor is thus evidence of the healing power of religion and how it has the potential to improve diplomatic ties. But such acts of goodwill are overshadowed by the rhetoric of hatred and this cannot be regarded as the true manifestation of religion. Rather, religious language is employed by adherents to invoke and arouse a strong fervour against a people who are different to themselves and considered ‘other’.

The use of religious language to belittle others is a symptom of a fundamental illness within the global community: hatred of an entire religion based on stereotypes or the acts of a minority. This illness is exemplified in the global response to religious extremism in which extremists are not distinguished from the remainder of adherents to that religion. For example, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, Muslims in India were accused of waging ‘Corona Jihad’ by spreading the virus to allegedly wipe out other religious populations.

It is one of the tasks of interfaith dialogue and action, such as the completion of this Corridor, to dismantle such discriminative religious rhetoric. By encouraging initiatives and conversations between adherents of different religions, people begin to see that everyone has more in common than they do differences. Dialogue will thus go some way to healing communal division.

The Kartarpur Corridor is a brilliant initiative and a force for good because it embodies the importance of interfaith dialogue, but it also represents respect for minorities. Sikhs are a religious minority in both Pakistan and India and so the decision to allow them to travel between two sites of great significance within their religion honours their right to freedom of religious expression.

David R Smock, an expert on interfaith matters, once stated: “One of the biggest challenges for people involved in interfaith dialogue is to break down the stereotypes of the ‘other’ that exist within their own religious traditions and groups. Religious groups need to first acknowledge and confess their own role in fostering and contributing to injustice and conflict.”

The Corridor is a chance to dismantle this concept of the ‘other’ because it normalises and legitimises Sikh pilgrimage. The Corridor, if successful, will foster a newfound respect between all the religions of South Asia with the potential to heal international division through a fundamental respect for humanity and the diverse manifestations of religion.

The writer has just completed her MTheol degree at the University of St Andrews in Scotland and now works as a researcher.

Twitter: @MaryFloraHunter