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A Psychological Take

Radicalization of Muslim Youth – Who Is to Blame?

When Hopelessness Prevails

“All Muslims Are Terrorists”

Negative messages they may hear daily such as “All Muslims are terrorist”, or “Go back to your own country..” mayYouth become a self fulfilling prophesy. It is similar to the Blacks, Latino’s and other people of color in the West who hear racial, ethnic slurs and negativity daily while trying to acclimate and be successful in an environment, which is constantly striving to de-humanize them.

It is this sickness of society, of the world at large, that is in part, responsible for the formation of gangs and radicalized groups. If racism, religious bias, economic, educational and social stratification were addressed in a way, which was meaningful and produced results, our youth may begin to have hope. While we cannot immediately change this on a large scale, we can begin by doing this within our homes and communities, and by communicating, ensuring our Muslim youth feel loved, valued, have a sense of hope and direction, and know the true teaching of Al Qur’an to hold tightly to.

The American Psychological association identifies psychological traits or emotions which may precipitate one to perhaps consider joining a radicalized group. They are described as a subconscious fear of death and a desire for meaning and personal significance; fear of cultural annihilation, feeling angry, alienated or disenfranchised, belief that their current political involvement does not give them the power to effect real change (hopelessness), being able to identify with perceived victims of the social injustice they are fighting, feeling the need to take action rather than just talking about the problem, belief that engaging in violence against the state is not immoral, having friends or family sympathetic to the cause; belief that joining a movement offers social and psychological rewards such as adventure, camaraderie and a heightened sense of identity”.

McCauley & Moskalenko describe an in depth analysis in which acculturation outcomes show significant importance when considering whether someone may be prone to radicalization. They found that negative acculturation leads to isolation, marginalization of identity, lack of being heard in social area’s as well as political, as well as cases of victimization.The question is, are countries doing enough to make young Muslims feel that they are a part of that country? That they are valued, heard and considered a vital component to that county’s growth? Are opportunities available for educational and economic growth, or do they face ostracism & racism?

In light of the 9/11 events and others, Muslims worldwide have been victimized, feared, hated and left on the fringes in a lot of countries. For a young Muslim growing up in a country that does not value Muslims, it can become a great stigma as well as act as a deterrent to try to assimilate, while holding on to one’s traditions and sense of identity.

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Additionally, hearing about, and seeing the endless wars being waged on Muslim countries; the hate propaganda that is prominent in media and other places against Muslims; the issue of the terrible suffering and genocidal incursions on Palestine with no end in sight, as well as other variables, can lead otherwise grounded youth towards a more radical path.

Psychology Today identifies several risk factors contributing to youth being vulnerable to gang or radicalized group recruitment. These include: lack of success in life, history of abuse, presence of gang members or affiliates in the neighborhood; a need for a sense of belonging, a need for control, protection, financial gain, peer pressure, and poverty.

The Journal for Gang Prevention outlined several criteria to use for creating programs within communities for disfranchised youth. These included providing support in the homes, religious institutes, schools, and civic places. Setting up support groups, job training seminars as well as forming alliances with youth as mentors.

Muslim youth have additional needs such as correct guidance and implementation of Al Qur’an. Some of our youth today have take radical roads because they do not understand fully, the teachings of Al Qur’an, and in most cases they do not understand the true missives, or who is behind radicalized groups such as ISIL.

All they see is a path towards a sense of meaning in life, belonging and perhaps financial gain and often in their eyes, prestige.

Countries, states and communities must work hard to present clear cut ideals and boundaries. Youth cannot be sent contradictory messages. One cannot let citizens go off fighting for the cause of Israel, while forbidding fighting for other countries. This sends conflicting messages to youth, which can be assimilated as racist, bias or a display of favoritism. Uniting in a radicalized organization/gangs is one way youth may overcome prejudices and gain a sense of belonging and protection.

Countries also must not marginalize a segment of their population to the advantage of another. While this is a political point for another discussion it is worth mentioning due to the fact that this is what youth are seeing and citing as contradictory. We need to start listening to the youth, to what they are saying from a young age on, so we help affirm, or correct it if in our power, and if not, support them in the best way we can to help them understand.

We need to create Countries, states, communities and homes where Muslim youth feel valued, welcomed, and are able to feel secure in their person, future, abilities and worth as a human being. Thus far, many countries and communities have failed them miserably.

The cause of Muslim youth joining groups such as ISIL is not so much of a political issue, as it is a social and psychological one. It’s a sign that an imposed and socially projected self-fulfilling prophesy is occurring. It’s a sign that we have failed to do our jobs as human beings.

The creation and maintenance of a just society, wherein everyone is valued regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender or socioeconomic status, but valued by the content of their hearts, is lacking.

In the meantime, let us encourage our Muslim youth to hold fast to Allah SWT, His teachings, and strive to live a life as the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).

First published: January 2016

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About Aisha Mohammad
Aisha has a PhD in psychology, an MS in public health and a PsyD. Aisha worked as a Counselor/Psychologist for 12 years at Geneva B. Scruggs Community Health Care Center in New York. She has worked with clients with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, panic disorder, trauma, and OCD. She also facilitated support groups and provided specialized services for victims of domestic violence, HIV positive individuals, as well youth/teen issues. Aisha is certified in Mindfulness, Trauma Informed Care, Behavioral Management, Restorative Justice/ Healing Circles, Conflict Resolution, Mediation, and Confidentiality & Security. Aisha is also a Certified Life Coach, and Relationship Workshop facilitator. Aisha has a part-time Life Coaching practice in which she integrates the educational concepts of stress reduction, mindfulness, introspection, empowerment, self love and acceptance and spirituality to create a holistic healing journey for clients. Aisha is also a part of several organizations that advocates for prisoner rights/reentry, social & food justice, as well as advocating for an end to oppression & racism. In her spare time, Aisha enjoys her family, photography, nature, martial arts classes, Islamic studies, volunteering/charity work, as well as working on her book and spoken word projects.