Amid a string of sectarian attacks in Pakistan, a newly built mosque in Islamabad's Margalla foothills is calling upon its followers to stop discriminating along sectarian lines and to start praying together -- in whichever way they like under the same roof.
Darul Iman Jamia Masjid Qurtuba, is the first sect-free mosque in Pakistan, a country that has seen thousands of lives being lost due to sectarian violence.
Zahid Iqbal is a local businessman who conceptualised the idea of a sect-free mosque in 2010, the Dawn daily reported. He bought the mosque plot Islamabad's E-11 sector but the road to the realisation of his dream wasn't easy.
At first, authorities refused to register it as a sect-free mosque. Under Capital Development Authority rules, every mosque has to declare its sect following, before being granted permission to build the mosque, the report said.
The procedure involved some complicated manoeuvring: To bypass the strict rules, he registered a trust, and then sub-registered the mosque under the trust's banner: The Al-Kitaab Foundation Trust.
Iqbal has already found an imam for the mosque -- Qari Jehangir, who is currently doing his master's degree from the Islamic University. The coordinator of the mosque is doing his MBA from Preston University. Both are young men in their twenties. The imam and khateeb are both from different sects -- and the mosque administration says it will have no problem if a Shia imam leads prayers.
Calling his prayer hall a "model mosque", Iqbal added, "This is God's house. Even non-Muslims are allowed to come and seek the light."
In addition, the mosque not only invites all sects, but also has a separate section for women, and a library filled with religious books from all sects. The report said Iqbal is so far thrilled by the reaction he has received from people.
"There has been individual criticism but overall a collective acceptance amongst the community is settling in," he said, adding that people from different sects are already praying there together, although the number is not yet big enough to cover the 350-people prayer hall.
Iqbal recalled how on one recent evening, more than ten members of the Taliban came to his mosque and argued with his thinking and "not adhering to his sect". The businessman claimed that he debated the Taliban for hours and convinced them to stop opposing his interpretation of Islam. But he knows that they may come back.
For the coming Eid, the mosque is planning to hold its first multi-sect gathering for Eid prayers. A bigger gathering, the mosque administration hopes, will be one more step towards tackling sectarianism.
Image: Representation picture