“Never in my forty years of religious and community work have I encountered work as important as was done by this project. We always work within our respective communities and it is almost impossible to find so many diverse groups, both secular and religious, come together and work collaboratively across their differences.”
- A prominent and influential Salafist (conservative/fundamentalist Sunni) leader who participated in the pilot project
Given the lack of any effective government response in Pakistan to address sectarian and militant violence—and the influence of militant organizations in political circles—community-led efforts have a critical role to play in addressing sectarian intolerance.
We recently completed a pilot project, which we co-led with Critical Connections and the Peace and Education Foundation in Pakistan. Together, we tested new approaches to addressing sectarian violence. The project created collaborations among educators, media professionals, religious clergy, and human rights workers, in the capital city of Islamabad.
As people from very different perspectives became more comfortable with each other through our pilot, they discovered unlikely partnerships.
When the Media Working Group wrote and disseminated an article called “The Making of a Sectarian Mindset, ” the article caught the attention of a spokesperson from Sipah-e-Sahaba, a violent anti-Shia sectarian organization. This spokesperson reached out to the author (a Hazara Shia) and requested a meeting to discuss sectarian differences.
At our final conference, we were surprised to meet eight Deobandi teachers who had traveled 75 miles from Jamia Haqqania—the most conservative seminary in Pakistan. Jamia Haqqania is known for nurturing students in the 1990s who later became leaders and members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The Jamia Haqqania teachers engaged openly with secular activists and participants from other Muslim sects during the conference. Afterward, one of them approached our female panelist, Dr. Amineh Hoti, and expressed admiration for her work in countering militancy through education. He said, “We have so much to learn from you.”
Since this was a pilot project with so much demonstrated interest, we are now exploring opportunities to expand and adapt the project into areas of Pakistan with more intense sectarian conflict, such as Lahore.
Program Story: A Mixed Milaad