Tackle spread of violent extremism with education and reform

For the Muslim world, the year 2014 has been regularly punctuated by tragic and brutal massacres that have been committed in the name of our religion Islam.

Such violent and tragic incidents range from abduction of school girls in Nigeria by Boko Haram, to kidnapping and killing of thousands of people, including public executions, by ISIS /ISIL/ Daesh, to massacring of school children in Peshawar, Pakistan, by Taliban.

From Pakistan to Nigeria, from Afghanistan to Syria, schools have been targeted in bloody conflicts across the world.

What is desperately needed, amongst others, is re-focus on every child being educated and reform of education system of madrasas (Islamic schools).

Muslim scholars must re-affirm their community’s belief in education and its sacredness. Education is the only ray of hope for bailing out an ailing society. Every single male and female should be provided with the opportunity to acquire knowledge.

“Seeking knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim” says Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) [Sunan Ibn Mâjah (224)].

In parts of the Muslim world, schools have become sites of horrific terror instead of temples of learning. Further, a tiny minority of activists seem to have declared “war on education” and, in particular, are female gaining education.

This dissent and baseless voice must be dealt with amicably but vigorously.

The religious narrative taught in certain madrasas across the world must also be amended.

Hate filled clerics, funded by certain governments, are indoctrinating generations of young Muslims with hatred.

Terrorist sympathizing clerics must be re-trained in religious jurisprudence. There is a need for one religious education system, which is based on orthodox teachings as interpreted by traditional scholarship, and is equipped with the ability to deal with modern challenges.

A formal mechanism for inter-action and coordination between public or private madrasas and the government or among the various madrasas themselves, must also be developed. Such a network would also create a positive image of madrasas and also remove the criticism that some madrasas are breeding grounds for religious hatred and recruitment bases for militants.

Through regulation and reform, the Muslim leadership can enhance its oversight over the madrasa sector and what is taught in  schools.

A key component of consolidating the education system must be embracing diversity and pluralism.

The practice of excommunication, one Muslim declaring another Muslim an unbeliever (takfir) must not be taken lightly.

The practice of takfir is a cancer that is breading hatred and alienation. It is preventing peace and stability amongst the Muslims.

God is a sufficient Judge and therefore the matters of the heart should be left to Him.

Muslims must learn to manage differences and embrace diversity in religious and political ideology; co-existence between different communities and schools of thought is part of the Divine plan.

Learning to tolerate and accept ‘the other’ is the chosen path of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Such reform requires a consultative and inclusive process conducted with sensitivity and respect for diverse interests.

However, respect for ‘diverse interests’ should not dilute the objective, which is to get rid of such interpretations of Islam which are not backed by the overwhelmingly majority traditional scholarship.

The proposal for madrasa reform should not be seen as one of government interference and control over religious education or governments hoping to create ‘moderate’ or ‘tamed’ Muslims.

This reform in religious education should be led by Muslim scholars of the highest calibre. Such reform will only take place once Muslim scholars realise their responsibilities to build castles of peace in people’s hearts and minds, and not caves of hate and detestation.

There will need to be continuous engagement between various stake-holders in a process of dialogue, consultation and collaboration.

This proposed reform must not be about creating ‘moderate’ Muslims, as opposed to fundamentalists or extremists; rather Islam is the moderate way and extremism, hatred and intolerance has no place in our faith.

Muslim leadership must build institutions for youth and preachers which train them in different forms of dialogue and learning.

Compassionate dialogue with youth and the application of proper legal reasoning in sharia will prevent hatred and extinguish the darkness of extremism.

There needs to be consolidation of peaceful values, security and brotherhood through dialogue and educational programmes for the youth so peaceful practices become the natural choices in the daily lives of the new generations.

Islam has provided a curriculum which teaches that every human beings’ precious life must be safe, every man’s honour and dignity must be preserved, everyone’s freedom, so long as it is exercised with due responsibility, must be respected.

The Muslim leadership must do more to preserve these Islamic values. Parents in every corner of the world must be able send their children to school in the morning secure in the knowledge that when they are in schools they will be safe, and they will be trained to be good, moral and caring global citizens and not indoctrinated with intolerance and hatred towards each other.

Lack of tolerance towards others, disregard for pluralism and cultural differences, are all breading hatred amongst young people.

Faith leaders, through a reformed and unified education system, must work towards reconciling hearts and enhancing harmonious coexistence of humanity.

About the Author
Qari Asim MBE is the chair of Mosques & Imams National Advisory Board, the deputy chair of Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group, senior Imam at Makkah Mosque Leeds and the Independent Adviser to the Government on the definition of Islamophobia.
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