There is no doubt that the economies of peace-loving countries in the modern era are heavily dependent on tourism. To attract international tourists, such countries tend to brand themselves as a tourism-friendly societies. It is, therefore, a good sign that Prime Minister Imran Khan mentioned the importance of promoting tourism in the country in his first speech to the nation.
In the top trends of international tourism, religious tourism holds a prominent place. According to a report, every year more than 300 million people visits different places all over the globe for religious purposes. This generates collective revenues of more than $18 billion annually.
Visionary leaderships engage universities to conduct research that can help formulate positive policies. Faith tourism also helps promote our local industries, people-to-people contact and cordial diplomatic relations.
Every year, many tourists reportedly visit the Philippines, which is a Catholic-majority Asian country. In order to increase the number of international tourists in subsequent years, the government of the Philippines is also focusing on religious tourism. The government is keen to seek the attention of international tourists through the popular religious festival of Sinulog.
One of the largest religious festivals of the world is India’s Kumbh Mela, which is attended by 10 million devotees. However, the most well-managed sacred festival is Haj.
A popular spot for religious tourism among people in America and other Western countries tourists is the historical city of Jerusalem. The followers of Islam, Christianity and Judaism frequently visit the city. A large number of Hindu pilgrims also visit River Ganga in India. Similarly, the shrine of Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer Sharif also attracts followers of various religions. Every day, almost 100,000 people visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
Muslims pilgrims also travel to Iran, Iraq and Syria to visit their sacred places. Turkey also welcomes around 32 million international tourists every year. There are many places of religious importance in Turkey, which include mosques, monasteries and buildings constructed during the Ottoman Empire.
Pakistan also holds considerable importance for the followers of four major world religions: Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism. The presence of Sufi shrines in Sindh reflects that those who speak the language of love never die. In fact, they live in people’s hearts forever.
The Hanglaj Temple, Katas Raj Temple, and Anandpur Temple are sacred places. Hindu pilgrims from India, America, and Canada used to visit them in Pakistan. The traces of the ancient Mohenjodaro and Gandhara civilisations also reflect the impact of Hinduism and Buddhism on the region.
Taxila also had historical importance during the era of Hindu emperor Chandragupta Maurya and also holds significance as a major site for learning in Buddhism. The great philosopher Chanakya was also a teacher at an ancient university in Taxila. Takht Bhai, another historical Buddhist site, is another attractive spot for tourists.
Similarly, Pakistan also hosts many sacred sites for the Sikh community, including Nankana Sahib, Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hasan Abdal, and the Samadhi of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh.
The Bari Imam Shrine and Golra Sharif Shrine in the federal capital are teeming with visitors every day. An impressive religious gathering can be witnessed at the Raiwind Tableeghi Ijtemah. Without visiting Badshahi Masjid in Lahore and Faisal Masjid in Islamabad, an international tourist’s visit is considered incomplete.
We must think about why our country lags behind in terms of religious tourism even though it has so many important religious sites. Political appointments in key posts and the performance of the Evacuee Trust Property Board have made it difficult for the state to protect sacred places of religious minorities. The law and order situation in the country is satisfactory due to the sacrifices of our armed forces. It is now the responsibility of the present government to promote a positive image of Pakistan at the international level and devise strong policies to promote religious tourism.
Our foreign policy must ensure a soft visa regime for international religious tourists. Faith tourism is so important that we should establish a separate department. In this way, we can secure millions of dollars every year by allowing religious tourists from South Korea, Japan, Malaysia and other countries to visit Pakistan. The revenue generated from religious tourists can help us get rid of foreign debts and ensure a bright future for our coming generations.
The writer is a member of the NationalAssembly and patron-in-chief of thePakistan Hindu Council.