A member of the Saudi border guard patrols the kingdom’snorthern border with Iraq on February 23rd. Saudi Arabia has increased its security measures following attacks launched by ISIL against Saudi troops and security posts along the border. [Fayez Nureldine/AFP]
A recently concluded counter-terrorism conference in Mecca has highlighted the need to tackle terrorism at its roots through improved education, conference organisers and participants said.
Around 400 prominent clerics and security experts from around the world took part in “Islam and the Fight Against Terrorism”, held February 22nd to 25th under the auspices of Saudi monarch Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
The Mecca-based Muslim World League, a group of non-government organisations, organised the event.
“The conference was held at a very sensitive time, during which Islam is facing a fierce attack and a systematic plan designed to distort its true image,” Sheikh Mohammed al-Shamly of the conference’s organising committee told Al-Shorfa.
Discussion focused on six key areas, he said: the concept of terrorism, religious causes of terrorism, social and economic causes, educational, cultural and media-related causes, terrorism and global regional interests and the effects of terrorism.
Several white papers on terrorism and how to confront it were presented and discussed during the conference, he said.
“The main feature that united those participating in the discussion was renouncing the precept of takfir,” he said, noting that extremist groups have been labeling people as infidels “simply due to a difference in opinion”.
“Another focal point was the importance of reaching out to youths who are targeted by takfiri terrorist groups and to focus on rehabilitating those who have been brainwashed, whether they have repented and returned to their countries or those that are still in such hot spots like Iraq and Syria,” he said.
The issue of ideologically rehabilitating extremists was the focus of discussion, he said. The Munasaha counselling programme Saudi Arabia has adopted was highlighted, as was the role of society in general and the family in particular in successfully expunging extremist ideology.
Al-Shamly stressed the importance of co-ordination among the security forces, programme officials and families in order to achieve the highest level of success.
Conference participant Abdullah al-Muqrin, who teaches comparative jurisprudence at Mecca’s Umm al-Qura University, said the key points discussed during the conference were those relating to youth and the importance of safeguarding them ideologically and culturally from terrorist ideologies.
“We have to take advantage of all modern technological means, particularly the Internet, in order to make sure that the [counter-terrorism] message is sent and received,” he told Al-Shorfa.
“Releasing correct fatwas and redoubling efforts to use the Internet are key to protecting young people, which should also go hand-in-hand with uncovering the deceitful methods used by preachers of takfiri organisations, especially the terrorist ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ (ISIL), which distorts the interpretation of the Qur’an, hadith and historical and religious events,” he said.
Education key to enlightened thinking
“Terrorists take advantage of religion, money and ideology during their recruitment operations, which is why confrontation must go through these channels by focusing on education at all levels including university education, which is the most important,” al-Muqrin said.
“Special attention should equally be paid to general and religious culture in an attempt to spread enlightened thinking among young minds and to move from there to securing jobs for graduates and academic underachievers so as to protect them financially and avoid them joining for financial reasons,” he added.
“Those participating at the conference reached a conclusion that there are no specific reasons for terrorism, but a host of reasons that are exploited by terrorist groups to spread their ideology,” said Sheikh Mahmoud Abd al-Saadi, a member of the Al-Azhar delegation.
These include financial and economic factors such as poverty and job scarcity, he said, in addition to intellectual, political, social and educational reasons.
“The most important reason, for which everyone takes responsibility, is the obvious lack of sound religious education and the spread of religious ignorance,” he added. “This has opened the door for erroneous ideas.”
“Terrorists were aware of this gap and they decided to step in and implement their plan by spreading a group of unsanctioned preachers and clerics who spread their poison in society, which led some to rely on terrorist thinking as if it represented the correct principles of religion,” he told Al-Shorfa.
Islamic curricula slated for review
Conference participants discussed ways to confront takfiri and terrorist ideology, al-Saadi said, noting that their most important conclusion was the need to conduct a comprehensive review of Islamic curricula in most Islamic countries.
This is intended to eradicate incorrect fatwas that have found their way into religious curricula, he said, as well as to ensure that sound religious principles are spread in Muslim countries and in countries with Muslim populations.
“Recent events showed that ISIL is heavily targeting Muslims in western countries in order to recruit them,” he said.
Conference recommendations also included training a new group of moderate preachers and clerics to serve as ambassadors for Islam.
This group would go on world tours to introduce the correct principles of Islam to both Muslims and members of other faiths in order to assure these groups that Muslims are “partners in life and humanity”, he said.