The problem of ISIS didn’t start two years ago in the midst of the Syria civil war. The doctrine of “puritanical” Islam can actually be dated back to over 1300 years ago in the form of the now redundant Khawarij. ISIS is a virulent strand of Islamism can draw parallels to the Khawarij movement in terms of the efficacy they had in attracting followers and their savageness in meting out barbaric punishments for anybody that dissented against their perspective.
For over a millennium, they have metamorphosed into an array of political and extremist ideological movements reacting to an assortment of conditions that have created an environment for this toxic ideology to thrive.
In its current incarnation they have become ISIS. They’re also called ISIL and “Daesh,” to their detriment which in Arabic sounds similar to “Daes,” and “Dahes” which mean to “crush something under foot” and “to sow discord”. They are an offshoot from Al-Qaeda in Iraq and ruled by the self-anointed caliph, Abu Bakr-al Baghdadi. The callousness in which they rule and frighten their subjects is certainly nothing to be surprised about.
It is precisely this very thing that we as a collective have to do in order to challenge them. We have to understand the poisonous roots from which they derive. We have to confront the very narrative they promote, which steers hordes of people from across the world into their arms. We have to acknowledge their existence and stop burying our heads in the sand.
Muslims have to be at the forefront of this decisive battle to help shape the narrative to win over the hearts of not just the confused Muslims that are joining them, but also the fanatics on the other side of the political spectrum who are using ISIS for their own deceitful promotional activities to tarnish Islam and all Muslims with the same brush.
ISIS in the West is preying upon disenfranchised young people. Youngsters from college and university backgrounds who feel socially excluded and vulnerable. Often students who are yearning for a sense of longing, seeking a utopia that will provide them with a society that caters to their every whim.
Interspersed with an extremely efficient propaganda campaign via social media, ISIS has successfully managed to manipulate young Muslims into joining their jihad, by flying out to Turkey and crossing the borders into Syria.
One cannot underestimate the prominent role the West has played in ISIS’ recruitment drive. The disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which saw millions displaced and hundreds of thousands of innocent Muslims die has certainly been an emotional draw for Muslims seeking to defend their oppressed Ummah, not to mention the terrible bombing of Libya and supporting Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine.
In different regions of world, different reasons have been catalysts in ISIS’ recruitment. Economic factors are a significant driving force in Central Asia, where former Soviet Republics such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Dagestan have provided tens of thousands of foot soldiers for ISIS. Often faced with grim life prospects, poverty stricken folk are flocking to proselytizing missions sent out by the Gulf States, namely Saudi Arabia. Through enhanced social programs designed to lure people, they are constructing mosques and offering employment to these people who driven by desperate measures. As a result many local inhabitants are being indoctrinated through “Madrassas.” Via the toxic teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah, teachings that promote intolerance, hatred of Shia, the stoning of women and other abhorrent medieval practices.
Estimates of how many people in Syria and Iraq under ISIS control vary, but they have a core following with a substantial amount of sympathisers. According to the Soufan Group, some 3,000 fighters from Western Europe have travelled to Syria and Iraq, with 760 of those being British.
How do we fight the gravitational pull of ISIS?
Firstly, we have to acknowledge that a problem exists. There are young Muslims flying half away across the world to commit atrocities, when they should be in our Mosques learning about the Sunnah of the Prophet and basic etiquettes of tolerance and love.
Our mosque structures are usually comprised of committees run by older men who refuse to conform to 21st century standards by ostracising our youth in a variety of ways. They will often make decisions for the mosque without consulting what the young would want, in terms of the types of lectures they want to hear. Sermons will be held by older Imams hired from Pakistan that speak Urdu and little to no English, leaving young Muslims who don’t understand what’s being said with no options but to avoid the mosque at all costs. The same can be said for other groups who bring lecturers in other languages other than English.
Young Muslims, both men and female, need to be incorporated into the decision making aspects of our respective mosques to help facilitate inclusion and social bonding. Setting up youth clubs, organising protests and marches together and going on summer camp trips to promote Islamic ideals are a number of ways talked about to enable our communities to move forward, however their importance to the fabric of our communities is often overlooked.
Our Muslim representatives in the public eye need be more active in the media and promote the message of Islam being a tolerant religion as much as possible. If one was to ask who our British Muslim Members of Parliament were or who was the head of the British Muslim Council, many would be left stumped. This has to change rapidly. The campaign for young British Muslim hearts and minds is perceptive and needs to be fought with intellectual vigour.
As communities, we need to come together as a grassroots movement. Organise events that galvanise youngsters from across different faiths and backgrounds. Encourage interfaith dialogue as the weapon of choice to counter the destructive narrative ISIS promotes for recruitment. Using social media, advertising and faith groups across the country can be a simple but very effective measure to help tie the noose around ISIS and its rabble-rousers who spout their rubbish. Taking on board the practical tools at our disposal, ISIS can be defeated. It will certainly be arduous but with a bit of hope and courage, this is a battle for hearts and minds that needs to be won. The future of young British Muslims depends on it.