25 Jun 2014

How do we engage with young UK Muslims on jihad?

Home Affairs Correspondent

What message should imams give young British Muslims who want to travel to Syria for jihad? This was the debate at Birmingham Central Mosque by a group of scholars and counter-terrorism unit officers.

Detective Chief Superintendent Sue Southern, head of the West Midlands counter-terrorism unit

“Young people who go, perhaps with good intentions, are vulnerable to radicalisation. Some of the groups they join are commiting brutal acts in Syria,”said Detective Chief Superintendent Sue Southern, head of the West Midlands counter-terrorism unit.

She had been invited to speak at the event in response to concerns about the number of British Muslims said to be joining groups like Isis in Syria and Iraq.

“It’s up to people within the community to offer a counter-narrative on jihad. The police can’t do that,” DCS Southern told the meeting.

‘Not Islamic’

There was some discussion about what that counter-narrative should be and why it isn’t getting through to young people.

“It’s our responsibility,” argued Qari Mohammad Ismail, imam and scholar. “Some Muslim groups in Syria are beheading Christians and other Muslims, raping women and looting. This is not Islamic. We need to be teaching this.”

One of Birmingham’s Shia theologians, Sheik Arif al-Hussain, had been invited to speak, as organisers said they wanted Muslims from different communities to participate. He spoke out against the sectarian violence and hatred some groups were preaching.

It is us, their mothers and sisters, who can talk to them about this.

“Verses from the Koran are being taken out of context and taught to our young people.”

But are young people listening to imams? There is evidence that many Brits who have gone to Syria, including the three men from Cardiff who featured in the recent Isis recruitment video, did not attend mainstream mosques.

‘Not engaging’

Some imams claim they are being radicalised elsewhere. “I have been told by Prevent police officers that some of our youth are being promised free holidays in Turkey and Syria by groups and then being recruited to fight,” said one.

A woman in the audience responded by saying “You are not engaging with young people, that’s the problem.”

There has been a huge debate within the Muslim community in Birmingham about people who join the jihad. Some see it as a just war, helping opposition groups and ordinary Syrians in their fight against President Assad.

“It is us, their mothers and sisters, who can talk to them about this,” the woman said. “You should have invited Muslim women to speak today. We have a lot to contribute to this debate.”

What can be done to rpevent the radicalisation of young British Muslims? Have your says on the Channel 4 News Facebook page.