Lack of religious knowledge leaving Arab youth vulnerable

  • 8 February 2016

Ignorance about religion is making young people easy targets for extremist recruiters attempting to persuade them to join terror groups.

Egyptian writer and political scientist Dr Ammar Ali Hassan said there is a great need to teach young people in UAE and other Arab nations about the values and principles of the Islamic religion in addition to the misleading ideologies of extremist groups in order to tackle the problem of Islamic radicalism.

He says terror groups like Al Qaeda, ISIS, the Al Nusra Front and others have adopted Islam as an ideology to attain political power, wealth and social status.

“These groups have linked religion with terrorism, causing great damage to Islam,” said Hassan during a lecture that was organised by the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) in Abu Dhabi. He suggested that the central objective of these groups is achieving power by employing religion.

“This is a common theme for all such groups,” said Hassan. “But a lack of knowledge about Islam makes Muslim youngsters more vulnerable to the wrong kind of information about their religion, such as they might find on the internet. They [extremists] present the caliphate system as a form of government. So religion becomes a means or a tool of their rule or political opposition.”

Hassan said that militants who blow themselves up in attacks on military or civilian targets and kill dozens or even hundreds of Muslims and non-Muslims do not care about the human and material losses they cause. Their main goal is to send a specific message, at any cost. And Hassan believes the question of religion should not be subjected to the lies and fabrications of extremist groups, which are trying to discredit Islam and the relationship Muslims have with God.

“What these groups propose doesn’t mean the existence of a different version of Islam beyond what everyone else knows, but they use distortions in religious interpretation for the purposes of exploitation for the benefit of these opportunistic groups.”

He advised students and anyone interested in the subject to read The Mirage by Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi, Director General of the ECSSR, in order to understand how these groups seek to overturn the nation state and return to a time of empire.

The book revolves around the main idea of a warped philosophy that is promoted by extremist groups in Arab and Muslim nations. Al Suwaidi says in his book that a ‘mirage’ is employed by these groups to achieve their goals and further their political interests by manipulating religion as well as people.

He explained that since the attacks of September 11 and the American invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the Arab and Muslim worlds have witnessed a surge in the religious current, reinforcing the conflict between Islam and the west and fuelling extremism.

The UAE opposes Islamist groups and has prosecuted several people at the state security court for joining ISIS and other terror organisations. In January this year, a 19-year-old was sentenced to death in absentia after he was found guilty of joining ISIS.

And last year, the UAE executed an Emirati woman after she was convicted of stabbing to death an American nursery teacher at Abu Dhabi’s Boutik mall and trying to bomb an American-Egyptian doctor in militant-inspired attacks. Her husband is still on trial on charges of plotting bombings and other attacks on targets including hotels, malls and a UAE leader.