LAST_UPDATEMon, 16 Jul 2018 1pm

Taking The Anti-Terror Fight To Islamic Schools In Malaysia

During a recent conference of Islamic scholars from the Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern regions held in Kuala Lumpur, a lecturer from Riyadh’s Saud Islamic University had urged Muslim clerics to utilise mass media in tackling the spread of extremism.

“Some clerics and scholars stay away from mass media, wherein mass media is an important channel to convey the accurate message and keeping the positive image of Islam towards non-Muslims,” Dr Muhammad al-Bashar Muhammad al-Khar’an said to Bernama during the recent Khayr Ummah Conference (KUC) 2017.

His call was also echoed by Mushtak Parker, a London-based economist and writer who discussed contemporary challenges in the fight against Islamic extremism.

"One of the failures of mainstream ulama has been to not robustly counter the warped ideology of extremists, whether on the concept of jihad, suicide bombings and the slaughter of the innocents. The tendency has been to sit on the fence and shy away from engagement," the writer commented in an article published by NST.

Our government has been actively waging a war against the spread of terrorist ideology in Malaysia and recently participated in the inaugural meeting of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) held in Riyadh last month, endorsing IMCTC's aim to will fight terrorism through four domains: Ideology, Communications, Counter-Terrorist Financing and the Military.

The Malaysian authorities are doing the best they can to prevent the spread of such ideologies but as highlighted by scholars, the battle must go to the root causes, by ensuring that religious education is free from radical ideology.

Malaysian Digest takes a closer look at the efforts being made by our local Islamic organisations to curb the spread of terrorist ideology and counter the misconception that religious schools have become breeding grounds for Islamic extremism and recruitment hotbeds for terrorist groups like Islamic State (IS).

What Tahfiz Schools Are Doing To Ensure Their Students And Teachers Are Not Being Influenced

Militant Islamic groups have been known to target those attending Islamic schools in their recruiting endeavours, and spreading their view of the religion on those schools.

To counter the spread of such ideology, the Islamic schools in Malaysia are taking measures to ensure their students, teachers and employees are not influenced by opportunistic militant groups.

Malaysian Digest spoke to Ustaz Muhammad Hafiz Mohd Haneefa, deputy chairman of Selangor Tahfiz Schools Association (PITAS), to know what the tahfiz schools in the state are doing to prevent their school community from being influenced.

Ustaz Muhammad Hafiz Mohd Haneefa.Ustaz Muhammad Hafiz Mohd Haneefa.“We start from the basic Islamic education curriculum itself, in which the religion abhors its followers from any form of violence.

“On top of that, we also hold numerous seminars and courses to educate our students about the dangers of extremist teachings,” he explained.

For example, last Thursday they collaborated with the Selangor state government (SUK) to hold a Selangor Security Management seminar, in which there were 500 attendees including members of the police force.

The police gave a presentation on the extremist activities in the country and how the authorities are doing their best to arrest them.

“Yes, there were previous cases of tahfiz students wanting to leave the country for Syria to join the extremist groups after they were influenced on social media, but they were arrested by the authorities in KLIA.

“This showed how deceiving the militants can be to influence young students that are thousands of kilometers away.”

During the seminar, the police showed photographs and videos of Malaysians who participated in extremist groups and carried out acts of terror, and educated the attendees to be aware of such teachings. Ustaz Hafiz recalled that the material shown by the police during the seminar was strictly classified, and attendees were forbidden from taking photgraphs or videos of the material.Pic: FacebookPic: Facebook

Besides that, PITAS regularly hosts courses for its teachers, dubbed as Pemantapan Murabbi course, to implement positivity and care in their teachings and not resorting to harsh punishments when educating their students.

Next week, PITAS and the Selangor SUK will host another course in Kolej Universiti Islam Antarabangsa Selangor (KUIS) to educate the tahfiz schools in preventing the spread of extremist ideologies. Among those who will present at the seminar include senior Islamic clerics from the state mufti office and the mufti himself, Dato’ Setia Hj Mohd Tamyes.

“While the previous seminar involved presentations from the police, in this course it is themed around theological discussion on why Islam rejects terrorism and blind violence. Tahfiz schools look up to their respective state muftis, hence if we can include the mufti in our discussion, the course will be more influential,” Ustaz Hafiz explained.

However, despite these efforts, Ustaz Hafiz admitted that they can’t control what the students are viewing in social media at home. While students normally are not allowed to visit social media sites while they are in school grounds, they can access pages of the terrorist groups while they are at home, and these groups are known to using convincing internet videos to influence viewers to join them.

As for the teachers, the police has suggested that beginning from 2018, all tahfiz school teachers will be screened by Bukit Aman to ensure that they are not influenced by extremist ideologies.

“The Selangor Islamic Department (JAIS) has expressed their interest in the screening process. Local teachers from within the country as well as overseas will have to undergo a screening process, with foreign teachers will go through an additional layer of screening with JAIS,” he explained, adding that foreign teachers only makes up a small percentage of the religious schools’ workforce.

While the initiative has yet to be executed, Ustaz Hafiz opined that it is a brilliant idea to ensure that the teachers are free from radical influences.

Muslim NGO Says Combating Terrorism Is Everyone’s Responsibility

ISMA often hosts talks to correct the misconception towards Islam, and to educate its members regarding the dangers of extremism.ISMA often hosts talks to correct the misconception towards Islam, and to educate its members regarding the dangers of extremism.

As highlighted by PITAS, while the students and teachers are monitored while in schools, they cannot control what is being viewed on social media at home so it is the society’s collective responsibility to remain vigilant.

Malaysian Digest spoke to Malaysian Muslim Solidarity (ISMA), an Islamic NGO that was established in 1997, and has since remain as a vocal voice for the Malaysian Muslim community and promoting the true understanding of the religion through various approaches.

“From the beginning, we have made tremendous efforts in explaining the religion, its core values and tolerance towards other religions as taught by the Prophet Muhammad,” said ISMA’s deputy president Haji Aminuddin Yahaya.

Haji Aminuddin Yahaya. Haji Aminuddin Yahaya. Fortunately, none of its members in the 30 ISMA branches across the country as well as overseas have been influenced by extremist teachings.

Haji Aminuddin clarified that ISMA has made its stance clear to its members and the public that they absolutely reject the Islamic interpretations practiced by radical groups such as Daesh and the Islamic State.

“At the same time, we also looked into why these groups existed in the first place. From our observation, they were created as a by-product of Western aggression and interference towards the Middle Eastern countries such as Iraq, Syria and Yemen,” he explained.

Many journalists and international policy experts have opined that the birth of extremist groups such as Daesh are the product of Western interference in war-torn Muslim countries.

American journalist Mark Danner in his essay Iraq: The New War wrote how America’s policy during the Iraq War helped in the creation of the Islamic State, through the mishandling of the Iraqi army as well as the torture of Iraqis by American personnel in the Abu Ghraib prison.

“Hence, the efforts to combat extremist ideologies should not lie only on one side at the Islamic authorities, as the governments must also take action in reducing their interference in Middle Eastern countries.

“A multi-pronged approach must be taken to effectively take down these radical groups,” said Haji Aminuddin to Malaysian Digest.

He admitted that some Muslims were misled by the devious teachings of radical groups, and in preventing more Malaysians from being influenced, ISMA is active in hosting talks and forums to educate the public from joining those radical groups.

“We collaborate with various NGOs all over the country to host educational talks for the public, in which we address issues not only related to extremism, but regarding liberal thinking, pluralisation of religion and atheism.”

Haji Aminuddin relayed that education at the grassroots level is very important, hence the organisation has hosted talks in schools and universities to create awareness among young students about the dangers of extremism.

In a public statement by Ustaz Haji Mohd Hazizi, ISMA’s Information Chief, he called upon Muslims to stay united against extremist teachings that could result in the bloodbath among Muslims themselves.

He cautioned Muslims to be aware of those who only idolises their own imams and not referring back to the original Islamic text in the Qur’an and the Prophet’s sayings.

Ultimately, Education Is Key To Combating Terrorism Ideologies

As the country’s main authority in Islamic affairs, the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (JAKIM) has made countless efforts to correct the misconception of going to fight in Syria or Iraq as the means to jihad.

Taking a multi-pronged approach, the department is actively working with multiple state and federal agencies in waging war against terrorism ideologies.

Its director, Datuk Othman Mustapha said 38 agencies were involved in briefing the public about the nature of extremist groups. In a report by Bernama, more than one million Muslims have attended their events.

He also said focus will be given towards pondok schools and madrasah as it could be a starting point to these ideologies.

“With the development in threat posed by these militant groups, we will collaborate with security agencies to focus on areas that have the potential to be influenced by their teachings,” he said.

JAKIM has also released a fatwa stating it is haram or forbidden for Muslims to join the Islamic State (IS). The fatwa council deducted that the violence and killing promoted by the terror organisation goes against the fundamental tenets of Islam, and they pose a security threat to the nation.

“The IS struggle is not considered as martyrdom as they do not operate within the bounds of Islamic law,” the National Fatwa Council said.

JAKIM deputy director-general Ruslan Said also disapproves of IS’s extreme interpretation of the religion, and publicly condemned the group for shattering Islam’s image.

“Daesh militants are doing useless things and they won’t die as ‘syahid’ (Muslim martyr) if they want to. Their ideology deviates from the belief of Islam, which ironically, is a peace-loving religion,” he said.

In ensuring their message to be effectively propagated among the public, JAKIM collaborates with the Communication and Multimedia Ministry to utilise mass media at its fullest.

“We will work with JAKIM by helping them to produce flyers or articles or capsules on the true meaning of jihad and war in Islam, so that we can broadcast it on any of our television channels,” said deputy minister Datuk Jailani Johari to Bernama.

As for the spreading of the ideologies in the internet, Datuk Jailani said the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), would also continue to monitor Daesh movement in the social media.Publications by SEARCCTPublications by SEARCCT

Even the Southeast Asia Regional Centre For Counter-Terrorism (SEARCCT), an organisation under the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has expressed their concern towards the role of education in combating extremist ideologies.

“SEARCCT, in its efforts to counter the terrorists’ narratives spread online, has been actively involved in developing counter-narratives to specifically mitigate the issue of online radicalisation and recruitment in the Southeast Asia region.

“We have conducted programmes which engage the public as well as the students at higher learning institutions in the country with the purpose of creating ‘mental firewalls’ in the minds of the undergraduates so as to counter radical ideologies in the event that they are exposed to such ideas,” the organisation explained to Malaysian Digest.

With the recent defeat of radical Islamic groups in Iraq and Marawi, the threat of the ideology spread may has slowed down, but authorities are worried that the returning militants will bring home their extremist ideas and influence others to start a new extremist organisation.

Ultimately, it comes down to the battle to strengthen the hearts and minds of Malaysian Muslims in rejecting such ideologies.

As Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein had said during his speech at the IMCTC conference in Riyadh last week, it is the responsibility of Muslim nations to address the problem of terrorists who have tarnished the face of Islam.

"...because if not for us, who else can we rely on to take the helm in this war against terror?

“As fellow Muslims and brothers in the Ummah, it is us who will bear the greatest burden if the cause of peace fails," said Hishammuddin.

-- mD