In a world where mobile internet and social media has dominated the way we communicate and learn things, it’s not hard to understand why today’s youth are becoming more politically conscious and engaged in global socio-political spaces. In the age of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, political engagement through social media is easier than ever.
But while young people must be encouraged to become active citizens in society, social media also creates a platform where adolescents are exposed to a plethora of cult and extreme ideas. In the current discourse, the Islamic State (IS) remains a talking point and has dominated the news agenda for the past year.
While academics argue over the underlining issues of who the Islamic State are, ordinary folk understand it as a group aiming to establish a “caliphate” – a state ruled by a single political and religious leader, according to Shariah law. Islamic State (IS) fighters have already seized large swathes of territory in eastern Syria and across northern and western Iraq. Its inhumane tactics – including mass killings and abductions of members of religious and ethnic minorities, as well as the beheadings of soldiers and journalists – all documented in slickly produced internet videos.
Recently, VOC News chatted to some Cape Town teenagers to understand how much they know about the elusive Islamic State. This exploratory exercise comes in the wake of allegations that a 15 year old girl attempted to leave the country and her family to join the Islamic State fighters in Syria.
The students, who attend a local Islamic high school, asked to remain anonymous but were willing to share some insight into their worldview. VOC News interviewed five students, three boys and two girls from between the ages of 16 and 17 years old with the focus on their awareness of ISIS and its ideology. During the conversation, the group openly discussed why they think ISIS is not a representation of Islam.
“ISIS is a radical Islamist movement operating within the Middle East and their mission is to establish an Islamic Caliphate in the region. I know that their international recruitment agencies are strong and they have one of the strongest social media campaigns out of all the so called “terrorist” movements currently,” said 17 year old student, Ebrahim Petersen*.
While all the students interviewed considered ISIS to be a terrorist group, they also shared their concern for the fact that so-called recruitment agents could be lurking on their doorstep.
“We have talked about this among our peers but very little of our friends really show interest. We all just disagree with ISIS and are upset about the fact that they are going around and beheading innocent people in the name of Islam,” added Yaseen Ahmed*.
Amina Hartley* shared her frustration with the distorted image of Islam that ISIS is perpetuating.
“It makes me very uncomfortable. This is not the religion that we as Muslims follow. It puts our religion in a bad light now the rest of the world thinks we all are like that but it’s not true. Islam is about freedom, acceptance and peace and what they believe in is the exact opposite,” Hartley added.
While the discussion continued, all five students showed a collective understanding and an informed idea of what ISIS is and stands for. The students shared their fears for the easy access recruiters may have to the youth in South Africa but most of all, called on other young people to become equipped with the knowledge to differentiate between what is Islam and what ISIS is preaching.
“As a progressive Muslim youth, I feel disappointed at the fact that ISIS’s cause, which they claim is under the banner of Islam, is further dividing the Muslim ummah. Muslim unions should rather focus on uniting rather than dividing. Over 15 000 people globally have already pledged allegiance to the group, that is very disappointing,” Petersen said, shaking his head in disbelief.
The students engaged in the discussion with a research based and well informed mind on the topic.
Muzamiel Ismail* however, called on other youth to not find solace and comfort in the promising words of recruiters.
“I’d like to call on the Muslim community as a whole to combat ISIS, not through violent means, but through awareness. So that we do not lose our young people to the illegitimate movement,” Marwaan Shepherd* added.
In the same breath, Rifqah Muhammed said that many young people are experiencing difficulties in their lives. And for youth with very little self-esteem or with a lost sense of identity, it could be very easy to be swayed by the “comfort” of the Islamic State.
“My advice to my peers who are in this situation is that they need to be strong in their Imaan, talk to a relative and just remember what you were taught. Believe in that to not fall prey to ISIS manipulation.”
Without holding back, all five students, as if singing in unison, said they would never be recruited by ISIS due to their strong belief in a peaceful Islam. VOC (Ra’eesah Isaacs)