Ayub Ayubi - “I Had No Time for Thinking Independently”

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Jun 04, 2018
by Helena Santos and Mirva Villa
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Ayub Ayubi - “I Had No Time for Thinking Independently”

Pakistani social activist reflects on his past leading up to his current work of promoting de-radicalization and preventing violent extremism in his home country A former zealot-turned-social activist, Ayub Ayubi now helps other young people in Pakistan to de-radicalize

Today Ayub Ayubi is a Pakistani social activist dedicated to youth empowerment and to engaging college students from different cultural and religious backgrounds through the Renaissance Foundation for Social Innovation, Pakistan (RESIP). But this story could have been radically different if Ayubi had not attended college. Born and raised in a “religiously fanatic environment” as he describes it, Ayubi’s childhood was marked by hatred and extremist views on how to treat others who didn’t belong to the deobandi – a strict Sunni school of thought.

“My time was divided 40% for school, 30% for madrassa and the rest of the time for my family. In this proportion I had no time for thinking independently or I was not allowed to go around freely with friends not of my culture. The parents belong to a deobandi sector and they didn’t want any friend outside that sector.”

Gaining time to think and his own space is what Ayubi considers as the defining moment in his life. While in college he started to have contact with believers from other Muslim sects and it led him to challenge preconceived notions that were prevalent in his household, like how the Shias are the enemies of Islam.

“At the college time I changed my circle of friends and that was the time I began to change. I improved myself and it was the initial point for me to de-radicalize myself and to have some freedom, for me to have some space for myself. That was the beginning of it and I really love that moment.”

This passion and will to change his extremist ways propelled him to create a safe space for others to go through the same process he had. Hence RESIP was born.

His main goal with RESIP, an organization he founded in 2011 and of which he now serves as its chairman, is to promote de-radicalization and preventing violent extremism in his country. With support from Salzburg Global Seminar, he is now also piloting another de-radicalization project, as part of the Salzburg Global Holocaust Education and Genocide Prevention Program.

RESIP started as an informal way for students to gather and have the opportunity to discuss their own views, and since 2011 it has helped 5000 young Pakistanis. Seven years later RESIP has two nationwide programs, one of which is Mashal-e-Rah.

“Mashal-e-Rah is an on campus campaign for alternative engagement to stop the recruitment of extremist groups like ISIS/Daesh and many of these jihad groups [that] are actively working within the campus. We are trying with this campaign to provide young people a platform where they could share their voices, that could share their grievances against the state, against their own families, against the campus, anyone.”

Issues such as gender equality, Islamic extremism and other religions are discussed by students who have different views so that they have a chance to develop empathy with the other person’s believes and values. Mashal-e-Rah is currently present in 25 campuses across Pakistan.

“We are not judging them; we are giving them an option to speak up [...] We are trying to let them realize that violence is not an option and that you need to tolerate other people’s views.”

Having a space to talk and confront different ideologies is exactly one of the things Ayubi cherishes the most about his time in Salzburg. In his opinion, global meetings are the key to think of the world without any constraints imposed by family, society, governments or media.

“I would call it building empathy with the international community. That’s what we need at this stage. That’s one of the stepping stones toward peacebuilding and this is what I’m learning from here.”


Ayub Ayubi is a Fellow of the Holocaust Education and Genocide Prevention Program. This multi-year series is held in partnership with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and funded by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with further support from Ronald D. Abramson, the Future Fund of the Republic of Austria, The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation and the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung. More information is available here: holocaust.salzburgglobal.org