The Youth Development Foundation is behind "peace camps" for young people of different faiths. Prejudices against other religious traditions are fuelled by "semi-illiterate and biased preachers who are responsible for misleading worshipers in our mosques."
Lahore (AsiaNews) – The Youth Development Foundation (YDF) organised a meeting held yesterday in Lahore to focus on how faith can help build harmony and promote social cohesion among young people of various religions.
The Youth Tolerance Summit drew more than 250 students from various universities and madrassas, as well as activists and religious leaders. Muzni Fatima, 21, was one of them.
Speaking to AsiaNews, she said that after nine years studying in a madrasa (Quranic school) in Multan, she had become very critical of Shiism.
“My religiously conservative family always warned me against becoming friends with girls from sect other than mine. I developed several misconceptions like if they had a different Quran. Similarly, some of their mourning practices like turning off lights during Shaam-e-Ghariban, the night following Ashura seemed quite odd,” she said. The event commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
The young woman studies at Jamia Hafsa Lil Binaat, a madrasa for girls and young women in Multan. In the past she was even more critical of female students studying in the nearby university. "Their clothing and lifestyle seemed too Western to me and against the true teachings of our faith."
Yesterday's meeting followed "peace camps" the YDF holds in Punjab every year. Fatima attended the February camp, along with 24 other women aged 18 to 27 with different religious backgrounds.
“My parents only allowed me to attend the camp because our elderly teacher accompanied us. During the five-hour journey, I was made to sit with a university girl. We didn’t talk all the way,” Fatima said noting however that she made many friends during the group activities and peace sessions.
For her teacher, Mawlānā Abdul Majid Wattoo, the differences between religious traditions are one of the main factors in the radicalisation of young people.
"A madrassa student will meet other university students, but will never visit the madrasa of a rival sect. Semi-illiterate and biased preachers are responsible for misleading worshipers in our mosques."
"Cultural sensitivities and religious barriers make it more challenging,” said YDF executive director Shahid Rehmat. In fact, “Most Church-run groups avoid peace programmes in the madrasas. Even we have to be very careful when speaking of interfaith harmony. We do not discuss religion."
"Our goal is harmony between religions and the promotion of human relationships. Organising visits to various places of worship can help counter extremist narratives."
The demilitarisation of madrasas is one of the main goals of the National Action Plan launched in the wake of an attack against a military school in Peshawar in 2014, that left 150 people dead, including 132 students.
Pakistani Armed Forces spokesman, General Major Asif Ghafoor announced last month a government plan to rein in the network of over 30,000 madrasas and place them under government control.