This week, the community organisation Minhaj-ul-Quran International (MQI) is launching a “counter-terrorism curriculum” in the UK, which aims to counter Isis recruitment. It is rooted in Islamic texts, drawing heavily on Quaranic verses and the hadith. MQI is run by the Pakistani theologian Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri, who shot to prominence in the west in 2010 when he published the first ever fatwa against terrorism. He is the author of ten books on counter-terrorism, which emphasise the Islamic values of compassion, mercy, and peace.
The central idea of the curriculum is to counter extremist ideology through Islamic theology. It is based on the assumption that young Muslims are particularly vulnerable to radicalisation when they don’t know much about their faith, and fits in with MQI’s overarching aim of educating the masses about their religious rights and responsibilities.
“The curriculum can be used in schools, madrassas, mosques, to teach young people that Isis is completely opposite to what Islam stands for, and what Quranic and Prophetic teachings are,” Shahid Mursaleen, spokesman for MQI says.
There are many reasons why people join radical groups such as Isis. Fervent religiosity is certainly one factor – and it is frequently ill-informed, as the case of the convicted terrorists who went to Syria with a copy of Islam for Dummies shows. But there are other factors too: the desire for adventure and glamour (Isis excels at online propaganda), social or economic disenfranchisement, the feeling of belonging that comes with membership of an extremist group, the attraction of a “noble” cause or mission bigger than oneself.
We don’t have clear data on who joins extremist groups and why, or on what works to prevent people from joining. In the most basic terms, this means that preventing recruitment requires a multifaceted approach. Theological teachings such as MQI’s curriculum may not be the magic answer to the problem, but they can certainly form an important part of the picture.