As more than a billion people around the world prepare to observe Ramadan, we want to share information about a collaborative project that builds upon Islamic traditions to promote more peaceful, inclusive societies.
In Lahore, Pakistan, we co-lead the Collaboration Against Violent Sectarianism program with Engage Pakistan and Critical Connections. The project builds upon the success of our earlier pilot with Critical Connections and Peace & Education Foundation in Islamabad. We are not only bringing people together across the Sunni-Shia divide (and differences within Sunni and Shia communities) but just as importantly, bringing religious leaders and secular human rights activists into dialogue.
In Pakistan, violent acts driven by intolerance among religious sects claim hundreds of lives in dozens of attacks each year. The pattern drives cycles of revenge, serves to strengthen violent extremism, and threatens regional stability.
The diverse participants in the Collaboration Against Violent Sectarianism program are actively working together on seed projects in and around Lahore. The projects include:
- An innovative e-health initiative to reach the often-persecuted Hazara Shia minority;
- A symposium series on intersect harmony in the volatile city of Multan;
- The creation and dissemination of compelling podcasts recounting the personal journeys of religious and community leaders toward tolerance; and
- Videos and infographics to educate Pakistanis about the strong tradition of intersect harmony in Islamic history.
Spotlight on the work of Arafat Mazhar
Director of Engage Pakistan, & Recipient of the 2017 Paula Green Peacebuilding Award
Arafat Mazhar, founder and director of Engage Pakistan and Shehri Pakistan, is the recipient of the 2017 Paula Green Peacebuilding Award. We present this award annually to highlight innovative approaches to conflict transformation that support marginalized and conflict-affected communities and reflect karuna, or compassion, as a core value.
Arafat Mazhar is perhaps best known for his public education efforts toward reforming Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws. The politics surrounding these laws have encouraged vigilante violence and persecution of religious minorities. Yet rather than play into existing conflicts among secular and religious groups, Arafat and his colleagues start new conversations. They highlight the ways in which various schools of Islamic legal thought have, throughout history, supported the ideal of a pluralistic society characterized by mercy.
Throughout these efforts, Arafat, Engage Pakistan, and Shehri Pakistan work to build a more just and equal Pakistan by bridging the information gap between “the privileged few and the underprivileged many.” They use short animated videos and other creative means to empower a more informed, critically engaged populace that is not so easily manipulated toward violence along the nation’s dividing lines.
We are grateful to the Ploughshares Fund for their support of the Collaboration Against Violent Sectarianism project.