Look Who’s Fighting Extremism

Austrian imams sign declaration against terrorism.
Austrian imams sign declaration against terrorism. (Photo: ALEX HALADA/AFP/Getty Images)

 

One of Indonesia’s most influential leaders, Yahya Cholil Staquf, is advocating for a moderate, modern Islam. He is the general secretary of the Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s biggest Muslim organization with 50-million members. (See #2 below for more on the work of Nahdlatul Ulama to promote moderate Islam).

In a recent interview, Yahya spoke frankly, saying that to fight extremism, “Western politicians should stop pretending that extremism and terrorism have nothing to do with Islam.”

Yahya explained, “There is a clear relationship between fundamentalism, terrorism, and the basic assumptions of Islamic orthodoxy. So long as we lack consensus regarding this matter, we cannot gain victory over fundamentalist violence within Islam.”

Speaking words that would most likely be branded as bigotry if said by a non-Muslim, Yahya stated forcefully,

The relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims, the relationship of Muslims with the state, and Muslims’ relationship to the prevailing legal system wherever they live … Within the classical tradition, the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims is assumed to be one of segregation and enmity.

Perhaps there were reasons for this during the Middle Ages, when the tenets of Islamic orthodoxy were established, but in today’s world such a doctrine is unreasonable. To the extent that Muslims adhere to this view of Islam, it renders them incapable of living harmoniously and peacefully within the multi-cultural, multi-religious societies of the 21st century.

Yahya noted the damage done by that those who denounce any talk about the connection between fundamentalism and violence as Islamophobia.

“This must end. A problem that is not acknowledged cannot be solved,” he said.

 

 

Yahya’s organization, the 50-million strong Nahdlatul Ulama, is partnering with the city government in Jakarta to train and educate Islamic preachers to spread non-extremist and tolerant messages.

His organization aims to train up to 1,000 preachers in programs beginning in November. The goal is to make the moderate and pluralist form of Islam called Islam Nusantara the dominant form of Islam in Indonesia, the largest Islamic country in the world. The program will especially try to place its preachers in mosques for Friday prayers, which have been targeted by extremists as prime fodder for spreading their ideology.

 

Also in Indonesia, parents have pulled their children out of a boarding school after authorities linked the school to ISIS. The parents further demanded the school be closed.

According to an investigation by the news agency Reuters, at least eight workers and four students in the school either left or tried to leave Indonesia to join ISIS between 2013-2016.

The school denied it supports ISIS or any other extreme groups or that it teaches any religious views that call for violence. One student from the school went to Syria when he was only 11 and died fighting on the front lines for Islamic State. His father, a jailed extremist, said teachers and students in the school that joined ISIS inspired his son to also join the brutal terror group as well.

In the past 10 years since the establishment of the school, 18 people who have links to the school were arrested and/or convicted for planning jihadi attacks inside Indonesia.

 

In the summer of 2017, a group of 300 imams in Austria signed a declaration against “extremism, violence and terror,” and called ISIS the “black sheep” of Islam. The imams gathered outside a mosque in Vienna under a banner called “United against extremism and terror.”

The declaration also stated, “We, the Austrian imams, will continue to do everything they can to maintain peaceful coexistence here in Austria as part of this society.

“Nothing will stop us from using ourselves for peace, freedom, justice, equal opportunities for men and women, and social security based on reason and solidarity, and to make our active contribution to the preservation of society.”

 

Also in the summer, a group of 60 imams from across Europe initiated a “March of Muslims Against Terror.” The imams visited sites across Europe that had been hit by terror, from Paris to Berlin, Brussels, Toulouse and Nice.

The imams traveled by bus, stopping to pray for the victims of terrorism and make a statement that Islam could co-exist with other religions.

 

In Germany this summer, hundreds of Muslims turned out for a peace march under banners of “Together against terror,” “Hatred makes the earth hell” and “Love for all, hatred for none.”

The march was led by Ahmadi Muslims.

 

An anti-extremism summit is scheduled for October in Maguindanao, located in the Philippines. Organizers say that key Islamic leaders will participate along with youth, members of academia, professionals and other concerned sectors. The purpose of the summit is to help authorities “come up with a comprehensive remedy to the emerging growth of religious extremism in Muslim areas.”

 

After many years of closure because of political upheaval, Egypt’s Ministry of Endowments is reopening religious training camps to educate against extremism.

Al-Monitor reports, “In addition to targeting imams, administrative staff and mid-level department heads, the camps will target students of Al-Azhar institutes and, for the first time, female preachers.”

The move also marks the first time there will be female preachers appointed the ministry.

“The role of female preachers is as important as that of clerics,” said Sheikh Jaber Tayeh, head of the ministry’s religious department. “Their influence reaches society and mosques.”

The camps will address three basic themes: ethics and conduct; fighting extremism and raising awareness about plots to topple the state; and raising awareness about the risks of overpopulation.

 

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Meira Svirsky
Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org