'Living with each other peacefully is our common duty'

September 19, 2023
Woman holding two SDG signs

Interfaith dialogue is a cornerstone of UNDP’s work to advance Sustainable Development Goal 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions.

UNDP photo


“Living with each other peacefully is our common duty.”

Maalim Abbass Shaha Bakar, a local imam and Chair for the Zanzibar Office of the Mufti’s committee to support Madrassa school teachers in Zanzibar, Tanzania, believes that tolerance and mutual respect are essential cornerstones of peace. 

"No religion insists on conflicts and disparities." he says. 

On Mr. Bakar’s Island of Tumbatu, off the coast of Zanzibar, inhabitants have traditionally been reluctant to engage with their neighbours of different communities and with different views. Katib Habib Ali, the Tumbatu District Administrative Secretary, recalls: “People used to not attend the funerals of those who belonged to opposite political parties. Even family members living under the same roof were divided."

UNDP Tanzania’s Amani Visiwani (meaning 'Peace in Islands' in Swahili) Project creates space for government representatives and youth, community and religious leaders to come together through dialogues. Participants decided to lead by example, explains Reverend Stanley Lichinga, Permanent Chairperson of the Zanzibar Anglican Church: “We started the national ceremonies by inviting everyone to pray, whether Muslim or Christian. That sent a message to our communities that they must also learn to overcome their perceived differences.”

"No religion insists on conflicts and disparities."
Maalim Abbass Shaha Bakar, Chair of the Zanzibar Office of the Mufti’s committee.

Such initiatives for interfaith dialogue are a cornerstone of UNDP’s work, which calls not only for the promotion of peace and tolerance but also to ensure that people from all faiths and beliefs are actively engaged in peacebuilding efforts.

Notable initiatives from other regions include, but not limited to, training young journalists on social cohesion in Iraq, advocating for non-discrimination against ethnic minorities including stateless people in Thailand and increasing digital literacy of young clerics in Indonesia. As such UNDP advocates for an inclusive approach to the fight against hate speech engaging the local media, youth, women, religious leaders and faith-based organizations as powerful allies. As of 2023, under its Global Conflict Prevention, Peacebuilding and Responsive Institution Programme, UNDP works to address the root causes of hate speech in 49 countries, implementing the commitments of the 2019 UN guidance for the implementation of the UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech.

Iman speaking to young woman

Maalim Abbass Shaha Bakar from Zanzibar Grand Mufti Office talking to his mentee.

Photo: UNDP Tanzania

At the occasion of this year’s International Day of Peace, celebrated on 21 September, UNDP emphasizes on the innovative initiatives addressing intolerance and hate among neighbours. In Sri Lanka, for example, UNDP supported the establishment of a virtual museum on religious freedom that guides visitors on a virtual journey with a range of archival documents, community stories, and historical artefacts, inviting them to rethink divisive narratives at the origin of misunderstandings between communities. Tailored for a young public, the virtual museum promotes the respect for religious diversity and coexistence in Sri Lanka. Complementary interventions include workshops that are customized to its audience ranging from children, youth, and public officials from different provinces. Since the launch of the site, over 10,000 cumulated visits have been recorded. 

Similarly, to ensure that work on hate speech is evidence-based and to promote policies and initiatives to address hate speech, UNDP published the guidance note "From Pilots Toward Policies: Utilizing Online Data for Preventing Violent Extremism and Addressing Hate Speech". UNDP also supports national governments in steering their policies on tolerance and coexistence. For example, UNDP supported the Kyrgyz Republic in assessing the social and religious tensions, aiming at preventing and resolving inter-community conflicts. 

Reverend standing

Reverend Stanley Lichinga helps to organize interfaith encounters among neighbours in Tumbatu, Tanzania.

Photo: UNDP Tanzania

In Tumbatu, the local dialogues and joint initiatives between religious leaders are starting to take effect, and formerly distant neighbours and family members are slowly getting to know each other. Leila Khamis Islah, the Coordinator of Women and Children Affairs in Shehia of Mombasasa, Zanzibar says, "interfaith tolerance awareness to adults, has automatically enforced behavioural adoptions to children to live by loving each other and understanding that having different religion is not a reason to be subjected to suppression and oppressions."

Following the joint prayer, Reverend Stanley Lichinga, the Anglican Church representative, added: “The aim is not to turn all Muslims into Christians, or Christians into Muslims, but to encourage values of humanity and tolerance – which are crucial in making Zanzibar peaceful and prosperous.”

For information on UNDP’s work on Prevention of Violent Extremism, Religion, Return and Reintegration, Hate Speech, MHPSS in peacebuilding, please visit www.undp.org/pve or contact Nika Saeedi, UNDP Crisis Bureau Team Leader, Prevention of Violent Extremism at nika.saeedi@undp.org.