The Rise of Religious Extremism in Western Muslim Youth


Kamran Siddiqui

The rise of religious extremism in Muslim youth is a serious concern and has become a rising issue in Western countries. Often, these youth blame the West for the sufferings of the Muslim world and take actions in an emotional and irresponsible way. Ultimately, this results in the development of misconceptions in Western communities about Islam and Muslims. Such misconceptions are creating hurdles in the acceptance and integration of Muslims in Western societies and their constructive contributions to those societies in which they live in. This trend is alarming for Muslims living in the West and its prevention is necessary.

Among the primary steps required for its prevention, the first step is for Muslims living in the West to recognize that this religious extremism is a reality and its consequences will be detrimental for their society. Perceiving the problem in the ideology that ‘a few bad apples spoil the bunch’ and emphasizing on the peaceful attitude of the majority of Muslims living here, is merely an escape from the responsibilities imposed by the society on every individual to protect it from potential dangers. The inevitable question still remains as to why and how this religious extremism is rising.

Often, Muslim communities deny the existence and their association with these trends of religious extremism specifically, the Imams of mosques who often avoid the discussion of this topic. The denial and avoidance of this issue results in the failure of the identification and timely prevention of religious extremism from occurring. In fact, the continuation of this behavior is making the solution of this problem even more difficult to achieve. Therefore, the Muslims in the West need to recognize this problem and adapt a realistic approach, which is the first step towards finding its solution.

The next step after its recognition is the identification of possible root causes that promoted such extremism. In fact, the primary responsibility of promoting such trends lies on first generation Muslims, i.e. we who migrated to the West. Although it was our own decision to migrate here knowing the social norms of the Western society, from inside, many of us were afraid of this society. We wanted to live in this society but we also wanted to keep our children away from this society. An easy solution we found for this problem was to motivate them towards religion. We thought that if we can keep our children more religiously inclined then we can keep them away from the Western society and culture.

One of the easiest ways to motivate them towards religion is by affiliation with the local mosque. As a personal example from back in Pakistan, we only went to the mosque for prayers and never bothered to stay there longer than ten minutes after the prayer was finished. But here we declare mosques as our second home. We want our children to spend more and more time at the mosque. We also register them in the mosque’s Sunday school and various other activities so that our children not only spend more time at the mosque but also have more interaction with peer Muslim youth.

We felt satisfied with these measures. We were happy that our children were spending more time at the mosque and getting motivated towards our religion. We were also happy that our child’s religious education, which is fundamentally the parents’ responsibility, was now delegated to the mosque. We barely bothered to pay attention to what our children were learning at the mosque and Sunday school. It was this negligence of ours that paved the way for sowing the seeds of religious extremism in the innocent minds of our children.

In Pakistan, our affiliation with mosques was for prayers only, but here they took the role of a learning institution. The position of the Imam of the mosque over there was primarily for leading prayers, but here we regarded them as our leaders. In Pakistan, the position of the Imam of a mosque is a professional employment for which the only primary qualification is a degree from a religious school. Many of these Imams perform their duty of leading prayers reasonably well, but in general, they lack wisdom, intellectuality, rationality and logic.

We imported Imams of this characteristic from Pakistan and other Muslim countries to lead prayers in mosques here in the West but then we also delegated them the responsibility of our children’s religious education. The main issue at hand is that the majority of these Imams have no understanding and comprehension of the Western society, the norms of the people living here and particularly, the mental development of Muslim youth born and raised in the West as well as their issues and dilemmas. Their primary interaction with this society is solely through the Muslims who come to the mosque for prayers. As a result, they mentally remain at the same level in which they were grown and educated back home and continue their duties here (including children’s religious education) with the same mental level. The key aspects of this trend that have long-term consequences on the rise of extremism are stated below.

These Imams tend to have very narrow vision due to the environment in which they grew up and got educated in. As a result, they view everything as black and white. Everything that is in accordance with their faith and belief is correct and true while everything else is wrong and false. In particular, they have a very bias view towards non-Muslims. They consider non-Muslims as impure and their character and actions as sinful.

As a result, when they educate young Muslims here, they sow the seed of hate and disrespect in their innocent minds towards non-Muslims. They intoxicate their minds with the notion that your religion is the only true religion and all other religions and their followers are destined for Hell. They give them a sort of superiority complex and further brainwash them not to socially interact with non-Muslims.

While living in this society, the interaction with non-Muslim youth and adults as neighbors, school friends and teachers, etc. is inevitable. This creates confusion in the minds of Muslim youth. Those who take these teachings lightly, continue their normal social interactions with non-Muslims but with a guilt in their subconscious. However, those who take these teachings seriously, start to isolate themselves from non-Muslims and adapt towards the path of religious extremism.

Due to the unawareness of the norms of this society and the lack of their own personal intellect, wisdom, rationality and logic, these Imams do not have the abilities to provide proper guidance to Muslims in the West, particularly to the Muslim youth who want to integrate into Western communities and contribute to the well-being of their society.

As a result, in sermons, they avoid addressing these issues and due to their narrowed vision and bias, the topics of their sermons are limited to sufferings of the Muslim world, particularly the condition of Muslims in Palestine, Kashmir and more recently Syria; glorification of the Muslim past (over thousand years ago) and the accusation of non-Muslim, particularly Western governments, for the misery of the Muslim world.

The brains of the Muslim youth growing in the West are the most fertile to get inspired by these sermons for two main reasons. The first reason is that their schooling in this society makes them intellectually honest. As a result, they sincerely trust everyone unless it is proven otherwise. Hence, whatever is propagated through these religious sermons, they assume it to be the truth. The second reason is that these youth typically spend their whole lives in Western society with limited or even no exposure to other societies, so they assume other societies especially in the Muslim world to be as honest, open and law abiding as the Western societies.

Hence, they are not able to perceive the true causes of the decline and chaos in those societies which are primarily due to their own corruption and weaknesses. As a result, they start to believe in the accusations of the Imams and start to blame the West for the sufferings in the Muslim world. This approach then takes them to the path of extremism. It may be true that the West has manipulated and taken advantage of the problems and corruption in Muslim countries however the original issues lie within the countries themselves and have existed long before the involvement of current Western governments. Therefore, it is necessary to not overlook our own fundamental issues within Muslim countries and first correct them before passing the blaming onto anyone else.

In the preceding, we have identified the causes for the rise of religious extremism in the Muslim youth. Now let’s discuss the measures to prevent these trends. In this regard, the first step has to be taken by us, the parents. Instead of keeping them away from exposure to the Western society, we should assist them in their integration into the society. Any effort to keep the youth away from the social norms of this society is a wasteful exercise since they will eventually become part of this society regardless.

Our guidance plays a key role in their adaptation of the positive and constructive norms of this society while prevention from the negative attributes. The import of Imams from Pakistan and other Muslim countries must stop. Those Imams who are already here must be forced to participate in social and educational programs organized by the government. This will enable them to interact with other people of this society who belong to a different race or religion, as well as to observe the social norms of this society and learn to respect the faith and customs of other religions.

Their sermons should then be focused to concentrate only on the affairs of Muslims living in their Western society. They must present the teaching of Islam to Muslim youth in a logical and rational way so that it will not conflict with their mindset and mental growth. The issues faced by the Muslim world must be avoided, in particular, the religious spin to the political or social issues. Absolutely no disrespect or hate towards other religions. Keep in mind that only God has the right to decide whose beliefs are right or wrong and He has not delegated this right to any human being.

There is no doubt that in the last decade or so, there is a significant decline in the import of Imams, and Muslims brought up in the West have started to assume the role of Imams in various mosques. However, unfortunately, the religious training of this new breed of Imams is generally done in the same conservative religious institutes where the imported Imams have been trained. Hence, in spite of this generation change, we do not see much difference in the religious sermons and religious education in mosques.

The large majority of Muslims living in the West are against violence and religious extremism. However, religious extremism is still somehow slowly penetrating into the Muslim communities of the West, which is not only creating a negative impact on the integration of Muslims in the Western society but is also detrimental for the overall society as a whole. We escaped this fire of hate back home and came to live peacefully in the West.

We should not let this fire burn this society as well. It is our responsibility to come forward with no hesitation to prevent any actions that promote religious extremism. Especially by strictly scrutinizing the curriculum taught at Sunday schools and watching for any activities that may promote extremism. The Imams of mosques can guide you in religious affairs but do not assign them the role of leaders in your general life.

Remember that Western society provides personal freedom for everyone to practice their own religion. A freedom that in several Muslim countries for various religious sects is on the verge of being taken away. We must honor the religious freedom here by avoiding to cross the limits where religious practices start to interfere with the norms of the society.

Kamran Siddiqui is a Professor at the Western University, Canada

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مغربی مسلمان نئی نسل میں مذہبی انتہا پسندی کے رجحان

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