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Engaging Teachers for Diversity and Dialogues in Peshawar

Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) under the project Engaging Teachers for Diversity and Dialogues, funded under the Direct Aid Program of Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), conducted the 1st dialogue session with the teachers of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa including erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Peshawar. The 2-days dialogue session was held in Peshawar on January 16 and 17, 2020 in Hotel Shelton Rezidor, Peshawar. A total of 30 teachers from public sector colleges and universities of KP including erstwhile FATA were invited to Peshawar for this 2-days dialogue session which aimed at engaging faculty of compulsory subjects through dialogues on social cohesion and religious tolerance to influence the pedagogical methods of these teachers which will help them transmit positive narratives among students about social harmony and religious tolerance.

Geographic spread of the province and gender representation were given special consideration in the recruitment of teachers for this session. The selected participants included representation of regions such as Swat, FR Kohat (erstwhile FATA), Swabi, Mardan, Abbottabad, DI Khan, and Peshawar. 11 out of the total 30 participating teachers were female, which in the cultural context of KP, demonstrates excellent gender representation for such an activity.

Eminent scholars and experts, that have previously undertaken similar dialogue sessions with teachers from the platform of PIPS, were engaged in the dialogue session held in Peshawar. These speakers are considered as an authority on the topics/subjects they were given to deliver. The speakers/experts included Prof Dr Qibla Ayaz – Chairman Council of Islamic Ideology, Dr A.H Nayyar – an acclaimed educationist with focus on critical thinking, Dr Rasheed Ahmed – Associate Professor, Sheikh Zaid Islamic University Peshawar and a renowned scholar on the subject of extremism, Dr Minhas Majeed Marwat – HoD International Relations Department of University of Peshawar, Dr Khadija Aziz – HoD Islamic Studies, Shaheed Benazir Bhutto University for Women, and Ms. Romana Basheer – Human Rights activist and member of Punjab Commission for Status of Women. The speakers followed an interactive style of sessions followed by a brief Q/A round.

Session Report
Day 1 of the dialogue included 4 sessions on topics ranging from extremism, role of gender in societal peace and social cohesion, role of teachers in promoting social harmony and positive attitudes, and issues faced by minorities in Pakistan. PIPS’ Manager Projects, Mr. Ahsan Hamid Durrani gave the inaugural address in which he explained the background, purpose, objectives and format of the dialogue session.

Extremism and its Impact on the Society
The session was conducted by Dr Rasheed Ahmed – Associate Professor, Sheikh Zaid Islamic University Peshawar. Dr. Rasheed has worked extensively on the subject of Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) and counter radicalization. He started his session by describing the stages of fundamentalism, extremism and terrorism. He started-off by debunking the myth that Muslims are associated with terrorism. He traced the roots of terrorism to the Fall of Granada in 1492, Fall of Khilafat in 1924 and the events of 1979. He then moved on the explain the historical context of extremism in relation to the history of Khawarij. Dr Rasheed also thoroughly uncloaked the political, social and religious aspects of extremism in his session. He then concluded his session with exploring the impacts of extremism at sectarian, individual, societal, and national level. He asserted the role of teachers in preventing and countering the phenomenon of extremism by using their classrooms as a platform for dialogue and inclusion. Dr. Rasheed also discussed the how effectively can Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) play a role in curbing the menace of extremism in Pakistani society.

Role of Gender in Societal Peace and Social Cohesion
The second session around the topic, “Role of Gender in Societal Peace and Social Cohesion” was conducted by Dr. Minhas Majeed Khan. Dr. Minhas began her session with setting the tone that acceptance in the key to social cohesion. She thoroughly explained the issue of patriarchy in our society. She then touched upon the various roles of a woman in our society: individual, family and political. Dr. Minhas asserted that for a woman to play an effective role in societal peace and cohesion, she herself should be empowered first. She also discussed the problem of limited woman mobility and how that is impacting their role in promoting social cohesion. The session concluded with a very interesting Q/A round in which a very engaging dialogue took place amongst the participants and speaker on the nature of gender equality and woman’s place in Islamic society.

Importance of Critical Thinking in the Process of Education
Dr. A.H Nayyar conducted the 3rd session of the dialogue around the topic “Importance of Critical Thinking in the Process of Education”. Dr. Nayyar started his session with the preamble that logic is central to any scientific inquiry and methodology. He exhaustively elucidated the lack of critical thinking in students and teachers. He lamented that our students don’t even know how to formulate a question. He argued that our students believe in everything uncritically and thus they easily fall for conspiracy theories. He also said that our students don’t accept facts/realities without the approval or corroboration of an authority. Dr. Nayyar also challenged the fancy literature and poverty which captivates the minds of our students without them critically understanding or analyzing it.

At the teacher’s level, Dr. Nayyar deplored the way examination papers are set in our institutions that only rewards the reproduction of existing text and lack any emphasis on critical thinking or innovation. In the end of his session, he described the following essential ingredients of critical thinking before moving onto the Q/A session:
• Skepticism
• Curiosity
• Skills
• Keeping away prejudices
• Seeing things holistically
• Seeing the fallacies of arguments

Issues Faced by Minorities in Pakistan
Ms Romana Bashir started her session with giving a historical background of minorities’ role in the trek to Pakistan. She narrated the quotes of the nation’s father Muhammad AII Jinnah about the rights of the minorities in Pakistan. She lamented the exclusion of minorities’ contributions to the making of Pakistan from our history books. She then moved on to explain the political exclusion of minorities in Pakistan. He reminded the participants that Pakistan’s first law minister in Mr. Jinnah’s cabinet was a Hindu and that too from a lower caste. Today’s Pakistan has forgotten Quaid’s vision, she said. Non-muslims has been barred from becoming the head of the state.

Ms. Romana then shed light on the use of derogatory slurs for minorities in our society. She asserted that the first step in changing social attitudes is addressing people respectfully and not by racial, ethnic or faith-based slurs. Prophet (PBUH) has set an excellent example of co-existence with minorities through his life, she said. The role of teachers in promoting values of inter-faith harmony and co-existence was stressed upon during her session with special emphasis on the de-toxifying the minds and hearts of young generation through pedagogical approach. Her session concluded with explaining the difference between dialogue and debate: in dialogue, everyone wins; in debate, everyone loses.

Inter-faith Dialogue and its Impact on Society
Day 2 started with the session of Prof Dr Qibla Ayaz, Chairman Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), around the topic “Inter-faith Dialogue and its Impact on Society”. Dr. Qibla Ayaz started his session by maintaining that the discussion on inter-faith dialogue, also called multi-religious discourse, was once considered a taboo in Pakistan. He said that the debate on inter-faith dialogue in this region started at the pinnacle of British Colonialism. The British wanted to find commonalities among different faiths owing to which they started this debate, he said. Dr. Qibla Ayaz asserted that it imperative for societies in the post-globalized world to foster an environment of coexistence among different faiths to reap the full economic potential. He argued that the Western notion of inter-faith harmony is rooted in the same concept of economic benefits. Dr. Qibla Ayaz stressed that in today’s Pakistan we need inter-faith and sectarian coexistence more than ever, especially in the light of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). He then elucidated this argument by mapping the conflict ridden areas, from Gilgit Baltistan to Gawadar in Balochistan, along the CPEC route that could jeopardize the materialization of this project. Dr. Qibla Ayaz’s session concluded with the note that social, political and economic dividends of inter-faith harmony and coexistence are enormous for Pakistan, followed by a very interesting Q/A round which included questions about the role of CII, role teachers in promotion of inter-faith harmony, among others.

Role of Teachers in Promoting Social Harmony and Positive Attitudes
Last session of the 2-days dialogue session was conducted by Dr. Khadija Aziz- HoD Islamic Studies, Shaheed Benazir Bhutto University for Women. Dr. Khadija eloquently drew an analogy of how a range of different colors add to the beautification of our surrounding to the diversity of faiths, sects and ethnicities in Pakistan. She stressed how teachers can channelize their role model status for the betterment of their societies. She highlighted the best practices in this field. Her session also revolved around the need for mutual acceptance in our society and how that be achieved.

Closing and Certificate Distribution
Mr. Ahsan Hamid Durrani gave his closing remarks by summarizing the activities and dialogues of two days. He thanked the speakers and teachers for their participation in the dialogue. Afterwards, a brief closing ceremony was held in which certificates were distributed among the participants of session.