Last November in Islamabad, Mehlaqa Samdani of Critical Connections and PEF staff facilitated a launch workshop of 24 influential participants representing four sectors: human rights, education, the media, and religious clergy. The workshop brought secular human rights activists, media professionals, and educators together with leaders from diverse schools of thought in Islam—Sunni (Deobandi and Barelvi), Shia, and sect-free. The participants developed common ground and dismantled stereotypes about one another. They divided into teams that are now creating practical, grassroots projects to foster tolerance in Islamabad. They are working to build more resilient communities that can withstand the manipulations of powerful people who incite violence.
“The idea of putting people from such diverse social and religious backgrounds together in one room for three days was brilliant. The person to person connections established challenged all prejudices and stereotypes.” – program participant
Since the program was launched, the group has been working within each sector, but using their connections with other workshop participants to expand their reach. The Media Working Group has been using interactive theater activities to generate dialogue on conflict, peace and harmony among youth. They just held their first youth theater workshop on February 14 (see photo below), the first in a series. That workshop engaged 60 students (ages 10 to 14) from six different schools/madrassahs in theater exercises and dialogue. In that way, the students explored factors that contribute to intolerance and violence in Pakistan, and what they can do to help counter those trends. The next workshop will be for 15-18 year olds.
Meanwhile, the Education Working Group is training 100 teachers at the Federal Government School and College, through workshops the group developed on the following themes: peace and tolerance in Islam; conflict and conflict resolution; critical thinking; and the National Professional Standards for teachers (which include a standard about using widely accepted Islamic ethical concepts to promote peace education and value diversity in the classroom). The group is continuing to develop and deliver this curriculum.
The Human Rights Working Group has been working primarily through a new organization, Victim Rights & Rehabilitation Foundation, which was formally registered in December. They have collected five stories of victims of terrorism, and have published a short documentary with one person’s story (note: video is in Urdu). This is the first part of a more comprehensive documentary project that tells victims’ stories, across sects, as a powerful call for nonviolence.
The implementation of the four seed projects will continue over the next 6-8 weeks, followed by an evaluation and conference before Ramadan this summer, to decide next steps.