professor of Islamic Studies and co-director of Contending Modernities at the
University of Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs talks to the Dhaka Tribune’s Abid
Azad about the radicalisation of youth in the first of a two-part interview
a belief that madrasa students are vulnerable to recruitment by violent
extremist groups. Is this the case?
all, it is incorrect to say that madrasa students are being radicalised. The
majority of madrasa students in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan are peaceful and
come from poor backgrounds and serve their communities as basic religious
on issues like defamation and blasphemy, madrasa students are mobilised to
protest offences against the Prophet Muhammad. But the majority of madrasas are
neither involved in violence nor radicalisation. They have a different set of
challenges. Madrasa communities do not share the same level of literacy or
world view as secular people. And that is the fault line.
are New York Times reports that Saif ul Islam, who was a Bangladesh madrasa
student, was arrested in connection with the deaths of bloggers. Yet, we are
not told which madrasa. Did he belong to a Qaumi madrasa? Was he a Deobandi, a
Barelwi or Salafi?
reports lack information that make them difficult to believe. Madrasas appear
to serve as a scapegoat for serious political divisions and political failures
in law and order and security in Bangladesh.
If six well
educated Bangladeshis engage in an IS-influenced terror attack, do we say all
Bangladeshi university students are engaged in terrorism? Obviously not. So why
the double-standard when it comes to madrasas? When madrasa leaders and
students are involved in violence, the media must take their names, identify
their madrasa and identify which orientation of the multiple streams of
madrasas these people belong to.
What's Going On?
Muslims are the biggest challenge today. Especially the rich and elite who
become religious but have a very minimal literacy of Islam.
They do not
understand Islam’s teachings. They have little understanding of Islamic law,
Quran interpretation and lack complex literacy. These individuals suffer from
what I call a poverty of dignity.
interpretations of Islam offer a language to express political grievances.
high levels of education and wealth but do not experience dignity in the
globalised world. So they join a global tribe called Islam and they live in
that Islam [sic] bubble. They begin to see their self worth not within the context
of Bangladesh but within the context of the Umma, as a place of salvation.
IS target them and tell them not all people in the Umma are good and that IS
members are the best. They say they follow the Sharia in its original form and
these elite kids with poor Islamic literacy become persuaded. Many of them
might previously have lived sinful lives of sex, women and drink.
fake-Islam addiction they get from IS gives them a quick path to redemption – a
fallacy in terms of proper Islamic teachings. But they fall for the fake-Islam
addiction. Since these elite kids can read English and are aware of global
issues they witness the destruction in Iraq and Syria, they see images of
Guantanamo Bay prison and their sympathies are cultivated to fight for the
“Islamic” cause, because there is also a global lake of Muslim victimhood from
Iraq to Burma. Anyone can draw the water of grievance from that lake of
victimhood and feel justified in become a Jihadi Muslim on steroids. So these
selfie-taking, Facebook and AK47-toting Jihadis try to make themselves into
about Family Guidance?
families of these elite kids are also not well educated about Islam. Most of
their parents lived secular lives and were hardly religious for most of their
lives. At some point the parents become devout, but devout not based on sane
Islamic literacy. When they see their kids grow beards, pray five times a day
and fast in Ramadan, they become happy and boast: “Oh my son is a practising
Muslim; my daughter wears the Hijab so she is a practicing Muslim and will get
a good Muslim husband.” Meanwhile they don’t have sophisticated literacy. They
don’t know what their kids are doing on their computers and in which chat-rooms
they are talking to Jihadis who are trying to recruit them.
just too happy to a see a beard and Hijab on their children and think they are
Islamic. The moral of the story is this: all Muslim parents must adopt a
sophisticated Islamic education and procure the same for their children. This
do-it-yourself Islam that people get from self-help manuals is most toxic and
dangerous. You need qualified scholars to educate your children. Reading the
Qur’an unsupervised or reading the Hadith unsupervised can create the most
toxic misunderstanding and result in dangerous practices.
toxic element in these elite Muslim families is this: many elite Muslims
believe in conspiracy theories. So if you investigate the family backgrounds of
all elite Jihadis you will find that at home many of them believe in fantasy
stories about the world. They believe 9/11 never happened and that it was
caused by the US government as a pretext to invade Iraq. They believe weirdly
that all the problems in the world are caused by Jews or by Hindus.