Belfast Telegraph

Serving society is best defence against 'Muslim radicalisation'

By Umar Nasser

Does practising Islam fundamentally undermine a secular United Kingdom? This is the burning question of the day, one which has predominated the press in various guises over recent months.

First there was Birmingham’s ongoing ‘Trojan Horse’ saga, from which two narratives eventually emerged: one of a wider apprehension that Islam intrinsically undermines our pluralistic society, and the other of Muslim communities feeling targeted and unfairly vilified.

Then came Isis, with a story that needed no embellishment to be genuinely frightening. During their lightning fast capture of northern Iraq, the militant ‘Jihadi’ group released a recruitment video featuring young British Muslims trying to convince other young Muslims to join in on their war crimes.

Needless to say, long standing fears over the radicalisation of our youth have never been so relevant or so worrying. What then can we do to stem the trickle of young British Muslims into the hands of hate preachers and extreme ideologies?

Whilst schools can play their part by emphasising the common moral values that underpin all major belief systems, they need help from home to be effective. It is here that Muslim communities can step up and proactively prevent extremism rather than to simply reactively condemn it.

This is easier said than done, but begins by recognising that extremist ideologies thrive on ignorance and a fear of the ‘other’. So what better way to counter this is there than to meet, serve, and laugh with these ‘others’?

A concerted effort to improve the wider social engagement of Muslim youth can help counter extremism, by eroding the premise of extreme ideologies- that 'x group' is fundamentally different to 'us y lot'.

Through volunteering in charity work and social improvement schemes, young Muslims can not only practise their faith, but also engage with the very people the extremists would tell them to hate. Organised volunteerism can also provide the contact the youth need to learn about the true teachings of their religion, one which explicitly forbids the imposition of religious beliefs onto others: “There is no compulsion in matters of religion”, (2:257) says the Qur’an, and when addressing the Prophet Muhammad: “..You have not been appointed to compel them in any way.” (50:46). A careful analysis of Islam reveals that it is indeed a peace-loving, pluralistic code of life, which promotes rather than inhibits freedom of conscience, though the extremists are too blind in their hate to see it.

This is not just a claim, and nor are the benefits of engaging the youth in volunteer work imagined.

They find practical demonstration in groups such as the UK’s oldest and largest Muslim youth organisation, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association (AMYA). Through volunteer work and education of Islam’s peaceful, pluralistic teachings, it is able to ensure that its 7000 youth spread across the nation are given a supportive environment to learn about their faith, whilst ensuring their integration into wider society.

The barriers that have been erected both outside and inside Muslim communities can be broken down with schemes like AMYA’s 'Muslims for Humanity' initiative, which annually raises hundreds of thousands of pounds for British based charities.

One such endeavour was the recent Ride4Peace, where twenty five of its youth cycled 600 miles in six days from Glasgow to London, visiting mosques, war memorials and local communities on the way. They not only raised £100,000, but in the various civic receptions also showed how appreciative the British public is of all efforts to reach out to the wider community.

'Umar Nasser is a public speaker and writer on Islam in Britain and human rights. He is also the national president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association UK and a medical student at Imperial College London.'

Further reading

Isis using World Cup and Premier League hashtags to promote extremist propaganda on Twitter

Derry family distraught as son joins Syria's rebels

Imams urge UK Muslims not to join in 'holy war'  

Isis declares new Islamic state with 'restoration of caliphate'

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