While it is sad to hear of the recent announcement by Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs on the detention of the first female Singaporean for radicalism, it is nonetheless not surprising. Given the recent spate of arrests of self-radicalised individuals, it was probably just a matter of time. Afterall, females have been an active target of recruitment by ISIS and the likes of it since their inception. However, in the current climate of attacks in modern cities, such a development is still indeed unsettling.
Radicalism doesn’t happen overnight
The 22-year old Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari was not radicalised overnight. Radicalism is a process that involves a multitude of dimensions. Exposure to the wrong kind of Islamic theology and the ideology of hatred are certainly important factors, but there are other surrounding factors that push or pull the person towards a radical belief. Family intimacy and social cohesion are also absolutely critical because some young people feel a void in their family or social life, and they may end up filling this emptiness through befriending radicals online and offline. Other factors at play include economic and political issues that affect Muslims around the world, resulting in the perhaps already radicalised individual to develop an unmanaged fervent empathy towards the oppressed Muslims. All these factors, combined with a lack of a channel for them to gain guidance, will accelerate their path towards radicalism.
It is precisely for this reason that the founders of SimplyIslam.sg decided to establish itself more than 10 years ago – to provide a safe space for our young ones to learn about Islam from established Islamic teachers and scholars from Singapore and abroad. Centres like SimplyIslam.sg, and others centres associated to Mosques/MUIS, and organisations like Jamiyah, PERGAS, Safinah Institute, Muslim Youth Forum, and many other Islamic learning centres across Singapore provide a safe space for students to study and interact with authentic and well trained Islamic religious teachers, and that gives children and youths the avenue to channel their queries and anxieties about Islam and Muslims, and receive appropriate responses from an authentic and orthodox Islamic standing.
Stop demonising her
Apparently there are a number of pseudo online field investigators, making an exposé on Syaikhah Izzah and her family, pushing all kinds of allegations, with ensuing crude and malicious comments from keyboard warriors. STOP demonising the poor girl. We are not aware of her background, her social and psychological issues, the void she must have felt leading her to fill the emptiness befriending strangers and radicals. There are a lot of complexities and a multitude of dimensions involved in her path towards radicalisation. Instead, make a supplication (du’a) for her and family – it is a difficult time for them all. Syaikhah Izzah is a bright young girl, and she can have a great future ahead of her, just like you and me. Wish her well, please.
Self-Radicalisation – so, what can we do?
So coming back to the issue of self-radicalisation, what can we do?
1. Detect changes
This incident presents a good opportunity to emphasise the importance of detecting behavioural changes that can eventually lead to radicalism or even crime, among your children, family members or peers. In the case of radicalisation, these changes can be sensed through a change in an individual’s Islamic theological outlook, a variation of their outward appearance or behaviour, and even in their social media conduct. So what can parents do?
We must strengthen the institution of our family. Parents and siblings should play a key role in maintaining a close-knit family nucleus. Changes in behavioural patterns of a family member cannot be detected early if the family is dysfunctional.
3. Structured Islamic learning
It cannot be overemphasised on the importance for our children and youths (and even the parents!) to undertake a structured and continuous Islamic learning with Mosques and established Islamic educational institutions in Singapore, in order that they can understand Islam, appreciate its beauty, and most importantly fully grasp the merciful conduct of Prophet Muhammad, Allah’s Peace and Blessings be upon him. A good Islamic learning environment presents a great opportunity for the children/youths to have access to qualified Islamic teachers and scholars. The children and our youths are intellectually curious and if they cannot find answers from their closest family members and their teachers, they will navigate the Internet and social media to seek answers in that realm, and that may just end up ugly, and when that happens, it might be just too late for some who may be sucked into the attractive jihadi propaganda, anti-western rhetoric, and adventure stories from jihadis.
4. Equipping Islamic religious teachers
Islamic religious teachers and scholars should not be stuck in a time warp. They must be equipped with knowledge and skills to make their lessons and talks attractive for the young. They should galvanise tools of the modern age to reach out to the inquiring minds. Institutions like PERGAS (Singapore Islamic Scholars & Religious Teachers Association) have a key role in this area, and we must continue to support them.
5. Social cohesion and support
And finally, at the community and society level, it is absolutely crucial that we maintain a strong social cohesion in order that we can provide what may be life-saving support for those who may be affected by the rhetoric of ISIS and its likes. If you notice something amiss about your children, siblings or friends, do discuss your concerns with accredited Islamic teachers and scholars, or contact relevant agencies like the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), MUIS or PERGAS. In fact, I would recommend that you go and visit the RRG, located within the compounds of Masjid Khadijah at Geylang – you will be surprised at what you, your children or your friends can learn. SimplyIslam.sg conducts regular visits to RRG with our weekend Islamic school students to educate them on radicalisation, extremism, and terrorism.
Together as a community, we can make a difference to the lives of people who may be on the path of self-radicalisation. We can overcome this as a community and as a nation.
Keep our nation safe. The responsibility is ultimately ours.