LAHORE: Promotion of religious tourism and planning by the current Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf government seems passionate and no doubt the Religious tourism has immense prospect to attract a large number of religious tourists including Sikh and Buddhists to Pakistan which was neglected by the past governments. I think that this government is also neglecting something essential when it comes to Religious Tourism – The Mosques and Sufi Shrines in Pakistan!
I agree that the travelers can experience the heritage of one of the oldest civilizations of the world here in Pakistan and worship at the affluent Hindu temples, Sikh Gurudawaras and Buddhist monasteries but where are the Mosques and Sufi Shrines in the plan? All that I read about the religious tourism in newspapers and watch on TV is focusing on Sikh, Hindu and Buddhists but has anyone at the higher level realized the potential of Muslim Heritage- Mosques and Sufi Shrines?
Let me give my opinion here, Pakistan has not suffered because of any security reasons in terms of tourism, the tourism industry in Pakistan has been worsened by the government policies and neglecting the fact that tourism is important. Many other countries in the world faced terrorism and security threats including Turkey, India, France, the United States, etc, but they did not project their weaknesses and neither restrained themselves from promoting tourism.
What have TDCP and PTDC done to highlight the guided tours or city tours of the Mosques? Or have you ever heard of any Mosque being opened for the tourists other than a few like Badshahi Mosque, Faisal Masjid or Wazir Khan Masjid?
Alright, the Buddhist tourism has a good market when it comes to Pakistan’s Gandhara region comprising Mardan, Taxila and Swat, Haripur and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and for sure these have the potential to attract a major section of the Buddhists in Korea, China and Japan. Also, I read that the Government of Pakistan has worked out a plan to develop a Buddhist trail by exploring religious sites in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab to attract the followers of Buddhism from across the globe.
On the other hand, another market is Sikhs when it comes to Punjab and other parts of Pakistan and yes Sikh Yatrees regularly come to Pakistan on their holy occasions and now the Kartrpur corridor would also add value into the tourism industry.
I think Sikhs and Buddhists are not that big a market for religious tourism if compared with the Muslim population of the world and how much they frequent Pakistan compared to the residents of Europ or Americas. Why are Muslims visiting the mosques in other parts of the world like Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, Putra Mosque and Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin Mosque Putrajaya in Malaysia, Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque in Turkey, Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria, Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, Oman and many others around the world.
Why the several mosques in Pakistan have been neglected for tourism? The government or the Auqaf Department willingly lease out the shops outside the mosques to increase revenue but they have never thought that if mosques are a tourist site, they will be self-sustainable as well as add to the economy.
Let me name a few mosques here which are a speculate in Pakistan but I am sure many of you would have never heard of them or visited them. Shah Jahan Mosque in Thatta, Moti Masjid, Saleh Kamboh Masjid, Begum Shahi Masjid, Chinian Wali Masjid, Dai Anga Masjid, Sonehri Masjid, Bakan Khan Masjid, Wazir Khan Masjid, Badshahi Masjid, Neevin Masjid, Oonchi Masjid and many other in Lahore, Faisal Masjid in Islamabad, Bhong Masjid in Rahim Yar Khan, Mahabat Khan Masjid in Peshawar, Ilyasi Masjid in Abbottabad, Masjid-e-Tooba in Karachi, Shahi EidGah Masjid in Multan, Shahi Masjid in Chitral, Abbasi Masjid, Derawar Fort in Cholistan, Jamia Masjid Eidgah in Gujrat and many other.
To start with religious tourism I think we should embark on with what’s easier for us. I suggest the government open up the mosques for tourists, develop tourist information centers, web and social media portals and start an aggressive marketing campaign on the Mosques of Pakistan. The first target should be the domestic tourism and then we can go for international tourists. This will also build a soft image of Pakistan where Mosques have started to be known as the targets of the terrorists.
If Cairo can be called a city of thousand minarets than why can’t any of the cities of Pakistan be called the city of Shrines or Mosques? At least Multan and Lahore deserve a title!
This is only because we never worked out to endorse and advertise our religious heritage sites and now instead of making these places alive for tourists, we are thinking on Sikh and Buddhist trails.
I am not against this concept. Sikh and Buddhist tourism will surely be beneficial for Pakistan and its economy but my point here is that we should not be undermining the religious heritage in the shape of Mosques and these should also be made a part of tourism activity. We have many ancient mosques here in Pakistan and people really wish to go there but the long procedure of permissions deter them to act on this while, on the other hand, the stunning mosques are so under projected that no one knows about them – what a pity with our heritage!