Pakistan is struggling to contain rising extremism and polarization within the society. The opaque religious and sectarian madrasah education system that insulates its students from diversity and tolerance is compounding this social division and exclusion. The students of madrasahs hardly get a chance of any meaningful dialogue with the students of the mainstream education system, that is, schools, colleges, and universities etc. This causes polarization and radicalization among the madrasah students.
CODE PAKISTAN embarked on the four-month University Madrasah Interaction Program (UMIP) in October 2015 to bring the madrasah students closer to the students of the mainstream educational institutions through a series of ten discussions between students of Abasyn University and various Islamabad-based madrasahs. The study we conducted among the participating students to ascertain the change in their perceptions after participating in our activity has revealed that we have brought about a certain degree of moderation of views among the participating madrasah and Abasyn University students. The program has also resulted in producing a detailed study on the convergences and divergences—in opinions and logical discourse—between madrasah and university youth that could inform future interventions in the field. Our impact evaluation study as part of the program is another informative document on the perceptions of the students of madrasahs and the target university.
Following is the list of the 10 discussions that we held between the students of the two institutions:
Muslim Ummah and the Challenges of Modern Times (October 12, 2015)
Peace through Economic Cooperation: Can India and Pakistan Move Forward? (October 15, 2015)
Problems of Education System in Pakistan (October 22, 2015)
Causes of Pakistan’s Weak Economy (October 29, 2015)
Who We Are? Pakistan’s Sectarian War (November 04, 2015)
The Shrinking White in the Pakistani Flag (November 26, 2015)
Pakistan’s Cultural Identity: What are the Sources of our Cultural Pride? (December 03, 2015)
Art Forms and Islam: What is Permissible? (December 10, 2015)
Are Reason and Religion in Conflict with Each Other? (December 16, 2015)
The Role of Science in Development and Prosperity of Nations (December 23, 2015)
Besides the discussions and the study based on the discussions, CODE PAKISTAN also conducted training sessions for every participating group of madrasah and university students separately. The training sessions were aimed at introducing UMIP to the participating students as well as training them on having a non-hostile and meaningful dialogue in a situation where there could be serious disagreements in opinions. The participating madrasah and university students were trained on understanding the topic and giving logical arguments in favor of their stance on the topic. They were also trained on keeping the discussion relevant and on refraining from monopolizing time in order to give every participant of the discussion an opportunity to participate. The participating students were trained on how to express a difference of opinion without getting confrontational in a spirit of a logical discussion rather than a competition as well. Since all the discussions under the program were moderated, the students were also trained on the rules and procedures of participation in moderated discussions.
The concluding ceremony of UMIP was held on February 29, 2016.