Local Counter-Narratives to Sectarian Violence in Pakistan

Beginning in 2015, ICRD has been working with a network of Pakistani religious actors from across all major Islamic sects to develop a locally-informed response to the pervasive sectarian prejudice that has divided Pakistani society and fueled numerous extremist movements. Working in concert with indigenous partners, ICRD brought together prominent religious stakeholders from the Deobandi, Ahl-e-Hadith (Salafi), Barelvi, and Shi’a communities, who collaboratively designed a Narrative of Sectarian Reconciliation that identifies and refutes the most prevalent and divisive beliefs about other sects. To build support for that shared narrative at the community level, and to foster inter-sect tolerance, ICRD has trained and mobilized local religious leaders representing each sect. These advocates have written numerous articles and conducted dozens of local programs to disseminate this unified message of inter-sect harmony in major cities in Punjab, Sindh, and KPK. Their efforts are supported by inter-sect groups of respected religious leaders who can mobilize rapidly, as needed, to address flashpoints of sectarian conflict.

Integrating Conservative Religious Actors into CVE

In light of the growing threat of violent religious extremism in the Middle East and North Africa region, ICRD has been exploring innovative strategies to counter the appeal of Jihadi-Salafi groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. Specifically, ICRD aims to critically examine the constructive role that might played by conservative religious actors – who often possess unique influence with and access to those at-risk of radicalization. Drawing on field research with Salafi and other conservative religious actors (imams, religious students, and educators), ICRD has been developing recommendations for national and international policymakers and practitioners on how to more effectively integrate a range of religious actors and institutions into future initiatives.

In Pakistan, ICRD implemented a pilot research study with input from over 40 scholars, civil society activists, and conservative religious actors. ICRD’s 2016 report, Countering Violent Religious Extremism in Pakistan, summarizes the myriad of CVE strategies that have been employed or promoted in recent years, and provides guidance for enhancing engagement with a full spectrum of religious actors.

Pakistani Women Countering Violent Extremism

Recognizing the crucial role women play in both reducing and fueling violent extremism around the world, ICRD has developed a network of Pakistani female civil society leaders and religious educators from girls’ madrasas (religious schools) who are working to implement countering violent extremism (CVE) initiatives in their communities. Through this project, ICRD has trained four teams of women (in addition to some male counterparts) on CVE tools and practices to enable them to design and implement local initiatives in four cities across the country, which have reached over 2,500 individuals to date. This effort has not only empowered these women to increase their role in the community, it has fostered collaborative relationships between religious and nonreligious leaders and connected Pakistani participants with mentors and partners in the U.S., establishing the groundwork for an international network.

Religious Education in Pakistan (Completed Program)

Since 2004, ICRD has engaged teachers and faculty from over 5000 Pakistani madrasas (religious schools) in teacher training programs that promote the enhancement of pedagogy and curricula, with an emphasis on religious tolerance, human rights, and critical thinking. To meet the growing demand for this program, ICRD successfully transferred ownership to a local organization, which we continue to support. In local hands, the program has continued to grow and recently achieved two significant milestones: (1) the development and implementation of teacher training certificate programs for madrasa teachers at several prestigious universities in Pakistan and (2) the development of new resources for teaching peacebuilding and conflict resolution, based on Islamic principles, which have been used in newly established Teacher Training Centers.