With growing fears that South African youth are becoming sympathetic to the violent and misguided brand of Islam propagated by the Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, a new youth organisation is mobilising young people to tackle this contemporary Islamic challenge. Muslim Youth United (MYU) was established in Ramadan of 2014 in Cape Town. Their aim is to create a comprehensive youth movement that works to unite Muslim youth under one banner whilst accomplishing a positive change in society.
MYU ultimately has four main goals, one of which is fundamental to the development of youth today. Their concerns stems from the fact that youth need to be invited to join more organisations with a legit cause.
“Our goal is to spread awareness about issues which are important to our ummah,” says Khalid Elhadaad, the chairperson of MYU.
In recent months, there have been two known cases of individuals attempting to flee South Africa to join ISIS. Subsequently, this has put pressure on the community to be aware of the powerful influence of militant organisations such as ISIS, an organization that claims to be acting in the path of Islam in establishing a caliphate. Experts say ISIS has especially ramped up its efforts to lure young women — seen as potential brides for its fighters — into the territory under its brutal control in Syria and Iraq.
In April, a15-year-old girl from Kenwyn, Cape Town was stopped while trying to leave the country to join the ISIS group from OR Tambo International Airport. In a similar incident, State Security Minister David Mahlobo revealed a few weeks later that a second girl was apprehended at the Cape Town International Airport while she was trying to fly to Iraq and Syria.
While some ulema and educators at Muslim schools have been reluctant to acknowledge the growing radicalisation of teenagers in Cape Town, Elhadaad feels its an issue that needs to be confronted.
“I do agree that we have a growing problem where more and more youth are becoming attracted to this extremist group. This problem is due to the fact that many young Muslims are sincere and loyal to their religion , yet however lack understanding. Being sincere with the wrong understanding has extremely dangerous consequences, one of which is the growing sympathy towards extremist groups like ISIS.”
ISIS may be understood by the people they are trying to influence, however the individuals that are not aware of their professional propaganda techniques find an attraction to this group. The impact they have on outside individuals highly outweighs the impact they have on their own people.
“Firstly, people need to be taught about the true message of Islam. The main reason that we have this problem is because our young Muslims do not truly know their religion, which makes them easy prey for such extremist views,” says Elhadaad.
According to some analysts, ISIS can appeal to young people’s religious idealism and to a desire to escape the frustrations of life in the West.
“ISIS provides a utopian political project, the so-called caliphate, the centralized Islamic rule,” says Fawaz Gerges, a scholar in Middle Eastern politics.
“ISIS provides these deluded young men and women with an adventurous trip.”
The question that comes to mind is the rate at which these numbers will increase. There have been several other reported cases of people from around the globe that have successfully joined the group and with the numbers increasing, MYU believes more youth should be active in educating their peers about the negative effect of ISIS ideology.
Although ISIS has taped and broadcasted beheadings as well as re-introduced slavery and the immoral treatment of women, most people in South Africa still have this misconception about ISIS being an Islamic organization. By misunderstanding their political and religious ideology, many seem to be in favour of what they are implementing, and agree with the aims of this extremist group. Therefore in opposing the growth of ISIS, Elhadaad believes the organisation needs to educate youngsters and make them understand what it means to actually have a “khalifah” and the conditions of a “true khalifah”.
“We should also ensure that we answer the questions which these young people have regarding such topics, so that they do not go seek their answers elsewhere. All of this needs to be done timeously and we need to be quick with our response and not delay it until it reaches a stage which makes it difficult to reverse,” Elhadaad explains.
Elhadaad stressed that social media is the most effective way to inform people as it is immediate and can be accessed anytime.
“Running an aggressive awareness campaign on social media to target this issue and expose the extremist group would be very effective.”
At the height of the media coverage on the two Cape Town girls, ulama across South Africa addressed this in a unified khutba which was praised by the Muslim community. Elhadaad added that this is a topic which should be placed on the priority list of Muslim scholars and leaders who have significant influence over the community. VOC (Amina Waggie)