When someone comes to the mosque or a community center to bear witness to the Islamic testimony of faith, the joy in our hearts can often be seen as tears rolling down from our eyes.
We congratulate this new member of our faith community and express our best wishes:
“May Allah keep you firm on the straight path, which is the correct understanding and application of Islam.”
When we say these words, the joy of the mere fact that this person wishes to walk on this straight path can somehow make us forget the major responsibility we have to support our ‘best wishes’ with our help and guidance.
Even though the final responsibility of every person’s acts lies with that person, we cannot abnegate the responsibility to help prevent this new Muslim from falling into extremism. And often, we fail to do so.
What Does Extremism Mean?
Now ‘extremism’ from a theological perspective can mean a lot of things. When it comes to creed, to deny some of the known characteristics of God could be defined as ‘extremism’. Also, to ascribe divine characteristics to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) could also be described as ‘extremism’.
To walk the straight path often means to be justly balanced, not to add to nor deny what is considered to be confirmed knowledge of creed. This justly balance should be reflected in deeds as well: Not to perform voluntary fasting every single day, but also not to miss out on basic obligatory deeds.
Often when we speak of extremism, the topic is linked to unjustifiable acts of violence, whether it be in the name of Islam or for any other religion or goal. Obviously, we want to do as much as we can to prevent anybody from committing or contributing to such destructive behavior.
The biggest accelerant for unjustifiable acts is unjustifiable acts. Nothing drives people into indefensible behavior faster than the sight of injustice without hope for amendment.
As our Islamic community lives through a time where the most horrific images of cruel acts against our people reach us every day, many respond out of anger and impotency.
Although this could be understandable, that doesn’t mean a response with violence can in all cases be justified from an Islamic point of view.
Steps to Prevent Radicalization
When discussing steps to prevent radicalization, most people state the importance of spreading sound knowledge within the community. They are correct, but the statement needs further clarification.
In order to have any effect on the process of radicalization, there are certain focus areas which need to be addressed. Not everybody may like to discuss all these topics and not every imam may be suitable to cover all these areas, but it’s of key importance that every community find the correct person and correct time to discuss these topics.
The Islamic perspective on personal characteristics such as patience and rightfulness should become part of regular curriculum. Those who lack patience to wait for the long term sustainable results of justifiable deeds are more likely to pursue smaller and provisionally short term results through unjustifiable deeds, especially if they are fighting for what is good.
The Islamic perspective of patience should not only be taught in large groups and based on our classical sources but also within smaller groups and combined with present day examples and methodologies for personal development.
Speaking About Jihad
Also, we should speak out on jihad, its aims, rulings and regulations. Basically, if we don’t teach what is to be considered correct knowledge, someone else will come by and start to teach something else. If our community leaders and preachers ignore this topic, we cannot blame our community members to look elsewhere to find the answers to their questions.
And if we act as if the personal struggle is the only concept of jihad within Islam, if we fail to explain within which guidelines violence can be justified. For example to defend oneself – we will find members in our community starting to be encouraged by others to commit unjustifiable acts.
If we pretend as if all acts of jihad are by definition unjustifiable and those who risk their lives for the wellbeing of our ummah are all ignorant wrongdoers, we cannot blame our listeners for seeing through our false statements.
Self-Fulfillment and Self-Actualization
We need to motivate and support the process of self-fulfillment and self-actualization for every member of our community. It is easier for someone to leave everything behind when there is not much to live for in the first place. This explicitly does not mean we hope to tie ourselves down with material means, or dunya.
It means we should build and support for everybody a life that has a strong foundation in Islam, in which we all perform acts to worship our Creator and seek His acceptance and contentment, to an extent that we would not risk this life of good behavior with the destructive force of unjustifiable violence or extremism. When your acts of correct conduct are bringing you closer to paradise day by day, you’ll have a lot to lose.
The challenge of extremism is widespread, complex and difficult. However, if we aim to work for the wellbeing of our community and to be inspired by a Prophet who was described as a mercy to all of mankind, we must address this topic. These few remarks will not solve the entire issue. And not all pieces of the puzzle are within our span of control, but it does mark some basic outlines to start with.
Who Looks After New Muslims?
So far, the advice is general and not specifically for new Muslims. However, when we look at these few points of advice, we’ll need to understand that the only way we can effectively work on this is to have good, close and personal contact with all members of our society.
This means we need to go an extra mile when it comes to those who convert to Islam, as they lack a lifelong relationship with the mosque and its community and they don’t have an Islamic family who looks after them.
We need to accept the new Muslims in our community. Not only by allowing them entrance to our mosque but also by giving them tasks and responsibilities which will bring them closer to the other community members.
We need to recognize when a convert suddenly separates from the main group and starts to wander of on his own or with just a small group of peers.
And we need to accept new Muslims into our family, and yes that means we should allow them to marry our children.
We need to get to know them like we know those who were born and raised within our community.
And we need to understand the life of the convert from before his acceptance of Islam.
Those who used to be active as public speakers or organizers have a bigger chance to take upon themselves similar responsibilities within our community as they know how to do so. But those who have a background in violence, breaking the law or being unjust towards others – even if they strife for good – have a bigger chance of leaving the straight path with deeds that are common to their past.
I’m not saying that we can statistically forecast who will develop in which way. We should at least learn to understand someone’s past in order to support him towards a better future. We should embrace every new Muslim into our community. But not be so naïve to think that some person’s past has no influence whatsoever on that person’s future.
May Allah keep us all firm on the straight path and help us to support each other.
(From Discovering Islam’s archive.)