Countering religious extremism | Daily News


Countering religious extremism

Several months on since April 21, the country on the surface seems to have moved on to calmer waters. That is an illusion. The anti-Muslim wave and direct targeting of Muslims, the irrational call to target Muslim owned enterprises, the continuous targeting of women and clothing are racial profiling of the worst kind. It would be impossible not to radicalize some segment of Muslim society by these overt forms of racism and sectarianism. How and in what form its impact would be felt is left to be seen. Lessons from the past and contemporary developments from the world need to be closely watched.

This piece features two pieces drawn from the work of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) Singapore. Formed and officially launched in April 23, 2003, RRG is a voluntary group consisting of individual ulama and a community of asatizah (Islamic scholars and teachers) in Singapore. Their work is invaluable if replicated in Sri Lanka respond to misconceptions and some of the practical necessities which extend to counselling Muslims who have been brutalized.


Jihad and its correct interpretation

Whosoever kills an innocent human being, it shall be as if he has killed all mankind, and whosoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind. (Qur’an 5:32)

The word jihad is derived from the root juhdorjahd (jahada), which means to exert the most effort. The definition of jihad in the Quran is a general one; an individual can exert effort in a variety of areas, from work and study to striving towards the peace and security of the humankind.

Jihad is divided into two levels – Akbar (major level) and Asghar (minor level). The major level of jihad is jihad al-nafs or the internal struggle against one’s self and its lustful desires in order to seek self-improvement. The minor level of jihad is jihad al-qitalor armed struggle that is subjected to strict rules and regulations in the Islamic law.

The concept of jihad in Islam is widely misunderstood and has been manipulated to the extent that it is now often associated with terrorism and violence. The term ‘holy war’ has also become synonymous to jihad. This supposition originated as a propaganda among non-Muslims during the Salib War to invoke hatred against Islam, which was ignited again after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Terrorists often exploit the concept of jihad to justify their violent acts by subscribing to distorted interpretations of the Quran and the Hadith. The Quranic verses are often interpreted literally without making any considerations on the historical context in which it was revealed to Muslims (asbabunnuzul).

These individuals have misunderstood jihad fi sabilillah (for the sake of God) as an obligatory act for every Muslim (i.e. Fardu ‘Ain) when the Quran has stated that it is FarduKifayah, an obligation for only an individual or a group of individuals (9:122). Terrorists have also manipulated the concept of martyrdom or syahidin Islam by extending its meaning to include suicide bombers. In contrast, Islam forbids the act of committing suicide or any other forms of self-harm (6:151).

As mentioned, there are rules and regulations that govern jihadal-qital. Islam permits warfare only for defensive purposes and warns against the use of excessive violence, as stated in the following verses:

“And fight in the way of Allah with those who fight with you, and do not exceed the limits, surely Allah does not love those who exceed the limits… But if they desist, then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” (2:190-192)

One of the important conditions for engaging in warfare laid out by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is that women, children and the elderly should not be killed or harmed. Other conditions are as follows:

1. No personal interests or private gains should be the aim behind which jihad is being waged.

2. Fighting should be only against warriors, not defenseless civilians.

3. Captives should be kept alive and treated humanely.

4. Killing animals or destroying the environment is prohibited.

5. Religious freedom for clergy and worshippers must be preserved.

6. Killing and attacking people by surprise is prohibited.

7. Permission to enter a country is considered a non-verbal security agreement not to cause corruption in the host country.

8. The enemy must be from among those whom Muslims are permitted to fight (i.e. not those whom Muslims have a truce with).

9. It is impermissible to use human shields.

Jihad does not necessarily mean to wage a war. It is a very broad concept encompassing various aspects of an individual’s life. In Singapore’s context, Muslims should carry out jihad in the following areas:

1. Social – to overcome various social problems and challenges (e.g. high divorce rates, drug abuse)

2. Economy – to constantly improve themselves and learn new skills to stay relevant in the job market and keep up with the demands of their jobs

3. Education – to acquire knowledge in both religious and secular schools

4. Moral or akhlak– to protect one’s akhlak by being courteous and showing commendable traits


Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord, and in the race for a garden wide as the heavens and the earth, prepared for the righteous- (the righteous are) those who spend whether in prosperity or adversity, who restrain anger and who pardon all people. For God loves those who do good. (Qur’an 3:133 –134)



Mohamed Bin Ali

In Singapore, after the first wave of arrest of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) members in December of 2001, the authorities have designed a programme that both de-radicalises and rehabilitates the detainees. The programme approached the problem from both the psychological and religious aspects of the problem. The religious aspects have been addressed through the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), a group of 30 Muslim clerics who have volunteered to assist in illustrating to the detainees where their violence-orientated interpretation of Islam is wrong.

The RRG’s success has enabled it to expand its mission. First, it has extended its counselling sessions to the spouses and families of the JI detainees. This is a critical move, as extremism or terrorism usually runs through the family and active methods to break this vicious cycle can prevent the initiation of many future terror recruits. The RRG has also reached out to the public to explain the abuse of Islamic concepts by terrorists, so that other Singaporeans will not unwittingly fall for the terrorist propaganda.

Singapore is not the only country using a rehabilitation model. Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt are all critical countries in the country radicalization effort and have their own approaches. In early September of 2002, a group of Yemeni clerics and judges formed the Committee for Religious Dialogue, which was designed to exchange views on topics of mutual interest, and then using that exchange to rehabilitate detainees. For example, the detainees were challenged to prove to the scholars that the Quran allow indiscriminate killings of non-Muslims, and why they regarded Yemen as a non-Muslim state. More often than not, their views were rebutted by the judges who were well-qualified to deal with religious issues. Unfortunately, due to the large number of extremists compared to the clerics, these mass sessions are usually less effective than one-to-one sessions which can target specific problems of individuals more effectively.

Following the May 2003 Al-Qaeda attacks on Riyadh, the Saudi government begun to adopt a strategic response as part of their security measures to fight terrorism. The programme was initiated for 2,000 detainees who were captured for their terror-related activities. More than 100 clerics and 30 psychologists were deployed to conduct counselling sessions for the 2,000 detainees. These sessions de-radicalise extremists by engaging them in intensive religious debates and psychological counselling. There is also a subcommittee to provide attention to the detainees’ social needs while incentives and benefits are given to those who have successfully undergone the rehabilitation process and have satisfactorily renounced their previous beliefs.

In Egypt, key leaders of the two principle terrorist organisations operating in Egypt, Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiyya and the Al-Jihad Al-Islami, have undergone an ideological reversal as a result of the Egyptian programme. The leaders of the organisation have taken the steps to renounce violence and to promote peaceful co-existence with the government. They have also repented and apologized for the past attacks that led to the killing of many innocent civilians, including tourist. In addition, they have gone to great lengths to counter and argue against Al-Qaeda’s violent ideology and to restrict its influence on Muslims.

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