Promoting peace through religious sanctuaries; how the youth of Pakistan is creating a difference

July 20, 2020

“We cannot turn a blind eye towards the ills of our society. We all have the responsibility of making our communities just and peaceful for everyone, irrespective of caste, religion and ethnicity.”

Maimoona Akhar is a 25-year-old young woman from Peshawar who holds a Masters Degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from University of Peshawar. Although Maimoona is fortunate enough to have lived a comfortable life, she always felt uneasy about the religious intolerance around her. Her life’s mission completely changed when she learnt about a Christian boy in Burewala, Punjab. who was brutally beaten to death by his class fellows for drinking water from the same glass as a Muslim back in 2017. She found the incident extremely upsetting and wanted to play her role in bringing tolerance in her society.

Mainmoona applied and got selected for the six-months mentorship programme by UNDP’s Youth Empowerment Programme, implemented by Insan Foundation Trust for young women on Peace and Security. After a residential workshop she had to design a Social Action Project. She believed that forming a community and network of like-minded young people would be a good start towards addressing this grave issue.

Maimoona created a Facebook page called ‘Peace Promoters’. The concept behind the page was to create a platform where young peace and tolerance activists from across the country —belonging to any religious or ethnic groups— could come together and highlight the commonalities of various religions. She was mentored by leading women peace and security experts in order to ensure her efforts were effective.

Soon, young Christian, Hindu, Sikh and representatives of other religious and ethnics groups started joining, and the network started growing. Only within a couple of months of initiating this page, over 200 members joined and actively started engaging with each other on ways to promote peace and tolerance.

Maimoona and the other members of Peace Promoters decided to practically expand on the peace dialogue and came up with the idea of visiting religious sanctuaries in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with anyone willing to join and learn about different religions and their values. With the support of the network, within  afew months, Maimoona was able to organize multiple visits to mosques, shrines, temples, churches, and gurdwaras. Before Covid, these visits were taking place on a monthly basis.

Her efforts are being recognized at National and International level and Peace Promoters has been picked by numerous TV channels and newspaper outlets including Voice of America. Maimoona now wants to formally register Peace Promoters, so that she can apply for grants and expand on her practical work of fostering tolerance and peace in the society. She is thankful to UNDP for giving her the opportunity to learn how she can play her part in ensuring an inclusive society.