Durya Nadeem didn’t know what to say when a Hilliard Darby High School classmate abruptly told her that “all Muslims are terrorists.” But it didn’t take long for her to find her voice and the fortitude later the same day to invite him to attend the Interfaith March for Peace & Justice, a national event for which she was recruiting local participants in March 2017. She said the student apologized for the remark, and a year later, he was among those who attended her high school graduation party.
“I know I can change how someone sees things in life,” said Nadeem, 17, a Hilliard resident and Ohio State University student.
That outlook led Nadeem to found Peace-Builders, an affiliate of the Interfaith Association of Central Ohio. Peace-Builders is a “group of young people (ages 13-24) … (who) strive for a unified nation by breaking chains of intolerance and building bridges among different cultures and religions through positive communications and interactions,” according to its website.
Nadeem said she is the first person in her family born in the U.S. after her parents and older sister emigrated from Pakistan.
“We can all be closer if we talk with each other instead of about each other,” she said.
Nadeem, who attends the Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Dublin, began reaching out to the youths and young adults at other local places of worship, such as the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus, the First Community Church and the Turkish American Society of Ohio.
Peace-Builders first met in February 2017 and continues to meet about twice a month at restaurants or a member’s house, Nadeem said. The monthly gatherings allow core members to plan the organization’s larger events, such as the Interfaith March for Peace & Justice, Nadeem said.
Several hundred people attended this year’s march April 29 at Genoa Park in Columbus. It was held at 4 p.m. but marches were held at earlier times in other time zones “so all of us across America were raising our voices at the same exact time,” Nadeem said. This year’s march was meant to raise awareness about and prevent bullying, and last year’s was aimed at stopping hate crimes.
Nadeem said her motivation to create Peace-Builders is grounded in her upbringing.
“Humbleness, peace and acceptance are [some of] my core beliefs,” she said. “If I was ever feeling left out, sometimes in elementary school, my parents reminded me [of those core beliefs].”
Muhammad Nadeem, Durya’s father, said his daughter believes “actions speak louder than words.”
“As she continues to touch the hearts of hundreds with her eloquent speeches of unity and equality, she also acts upon her words and is extremely involved with community service, youth empowerment and interfaith communications,” he said. “Peace-Builders is one of many things Durya has done in order to get her message across about looking past people’s societal identities and realizing their humanity.”
Nadeem plans to study pharmaceutical sciences and world politics at Ohio State, but she also plans to continue her work with Peace-Builders.
“I want to help the new generation in the United States to be one family,” Nadeem said. “Although we may read different holy books and call God by different names, inside each and every one of us we have one heart that can love.
“Love does not see color, races or features. Love sees people. Where there is love, there is balance and harmony in the world.”