Islamic Education Key to Preventing Radicalization

I want my daughter to know about jihad. But I don’t want her to learn about it from Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.

While my preschooler may still be young to understand, today’s older Muslim youth are not. Some are being seduced on social media into extremist movements.

Women, too, are taking part. Recently, three American-Muslim teenage girls from Denver were picked up in Germany, allegedly on their way to Syria to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). If true, than their travels represents a troubling trend of young Muslim youth being seduced online to join the fight abroad.


For example, one female European ISIS member, with the handle Um Ubayda tweeted, “But to be honest, wallahi [by God], there is so much khayr [goodness] being here and being a mujahid’s wife. I wish I could describe the feeling, it’s beautiful.”

Many radicalized Muslims, who join militant groups, have shown to be religiously illiterate. They are attracted by such organizations out of political zeal or a feeling disenfranchisement in their personal conflicts and societies.

These three teenagers, Um Ubayda, and others like her on social media, is why I’m sending my daughter to an American-Islamic school. As surprising at it may sound, my hope is that education at this school will prevent her from the influences of future fringe radicals, whose amplified voices are falsely characterized as mainstream.

And it’s through better institutionalization of Islamic education in America that the religious arguments for violent extremism will lose its appeal to an often naïve, younger generation.

Fear of Extremism

American Muslims worry about rising extremism, whether perceived or real. A 2011 Pew poll indicates that Muslim Americans continue to “reject extremism by large margins,” with 60% saying they are concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism. The general public fears us, too, with more than half expressing similar concerns.

Muslims also worry about Big Brother spying, entrapping and alienating them. A Human Rights Watch report cites the government as unfairly targeting Muslims. Andrea Prasow, an author of the report, states, many of these people “would never have committed a crime if not for law enforcement encouraging, pressuring, and sometimes paying them to commit terrorist acts.

Meanwhile, bigoted fear mongering by media and public figures have become the norm.

For example, State Senator John Bennett (OK) stated, “the goal of all Muslims is the destruction of Western civilization from within. This is a cancer in our nation that needs to be cut out.”

Representative Steve King (IA) suggested the government spy on Muslims in their places of worship. In the viral HBO ‘Real Time with Bill Maher’ debate about Muslims, Maher likened Islam to the mafia. Similar to anti-Semites and racists, Islamophobic bigots must be called out and discredited.

But public fears along with government spying, entrapment, and perpetual hate-speech have ensured that Islamophobia will remain in the USA.

As a mother, I feel anxious about raising the next generation of Muslim youth in such a hostile environment. Meanwhile, how do American Muslims prevent fringe radicals from capturing hearts and minds.

Increase Islamic education

The battle against violent extremists is largely a battle of ideas. Getting religious education right, and getting it early is key to preventing the spread of radical ideologies.

Adherents to Islam, both young and old, must become better educated about the religion, particularly with regards to war and peace. Muslims require modern and contextual understandings of the faith by qualified scholars. This not only helps to build sound knowledge but also a solid American Muslim identity.

Islamic studies are taught in homes, schools, community centers, places of worship and online. Nationwide, there are approximately 2,100 mosques and 235 full-time Islamic elementary schools. For those who feel such schools are cost prohibitive or do not attend services or religious/weekend schools, alternative resources should be made available online or institutionally.

Certainly, there’s no guarantee that imams, leaders or teachers will not preach extreme ideologies. Or, that unwitting searchers of truth will not find such views elsewhere online. But that shouldn’t stop anyone from trying.


How? By supporting reputable training organizations and efforts like the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s (MPAC) Safe Spaces Initiative, which creates spiritually safe areas for debate and works “with imams, counselors, youth workers and community leaders to create a toolkit to help develop the understanding and requisite tools to address violent extremism.” Or, the Islamic School League of America, which helps to develop appropriate curriculums and learning centers. Or, Zaytuna College, the nation’s first accredited Islamic university.

Also, serve as role models. American Muslim leaders and scholars continue to rightly condemn terrorist actions and militant groups, including ISIS. In early 2013, members of a Boston-suburb mosque threw out worshipper Tamerlan Tsarnaev, for his political rantings. This radicalized individual would eventually become the Boston Marathon Bomber.  More recently, a mosque in Canada threw out Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the mentally disturbed Muslim convert, who recently killed an unarmed soldier in front of the National War Memorial.

These are all steps in the right direction. Surely, the youth are listening, watching and taking notes. Meanwhile, my 4 year-old daughter attends Islamic school, raises her hands up in prayer “Oh God, increase my knowledge”, then brings her right hand to her heart, “I pledge allegiance to flag of the United States of America…”

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    Souheila Al-Jadda

    Souheila al-Jadda is the Editorial Director at The Islamic Monthly

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    • PKT

      I raised five children in several Muslim American communities and in different Islamic schools. I have never worried about jihad or felt compelled to have a discussion about it. In fact, it hardly ever comes up, especially since 9/11. It is an over hyped meta-narrative that groups like MPAC have bought into and now wish to push upon the American Muslim community.

      Their initiative is not a “Muslim” initiative (by us, for us) it is fully cited, supported and proof read by the counter-terror community as it discloses. It is modeled after Prevent in UK that has been revised several times, and had a detrimental impact upon the Muslim community allowing for community spying. Sahar Aziz explores community policing in detail here

      I am more afraid of the harm that the government and such programs and MPAC can do to my community than what my community will do.

    • Bushair Thayyil

      The correct islamic education is important. The right scholars should be identified
      and the next generations should be connected to them.

      Teaching the language of Quran is very important . this will make ourselves and the next generation immune from the fitna of the translators. who select and translate only what they want the way they want.

      Also knowing Arabic will help us to make the 5 times salah complete ( shart kamal ).

      Once you know Arabic you can connect yourself and the next generation to the right scholars who cearly differentiate between the salafiyya and the terrorism and speak on that like the Muftee, sh. Salih alfwzan sh Abdul Mushsin Abbad and Sh. Rabee Hafidahumullah and those who are upon the correct manhaj.

      Knwoledge of the religion is very important that is the only way to protect our next generation from the qaida ISIS etc and then from the Hell fire in the day after.
      barakallahu feekum
      subhanakallahumma wabihamdika ashadu an laaialaha illa anta astagfiuruka wa atoobu ilyk

      • Is it true that Muslim daily prayer calls for the punishment of unbelievers?

        It is a wonder that more Muslim children are not devout enough to join the Islamic State, or to exactly mimic the lifestyle of the Prophet.

        • Bushair Thayyil

          It is not true. Rather the Islam which is the religion taught by all prophets, including Noah, ibrahim,Moses, jesaus and the last prophet Muhammed Peace be upon them all. Teaches Peace and responsibility. You can look at Saudi Arabia , the most practicing of Islamic rules these and the place of the two holy cities.

          IS or Qaeda are not ‘Islamic’ they have their own agenda and we do not know who are behind them. To learn about Islam you have to learn the Arabic language and find out a few great scholars of Makkah and Madinah and listen to them.

          May our Almighty the creator and provider of this universe who send Moses and Jesus and whose only we should worship give us all the human being the right direction and save us all from the hell fire.

    • crescent5

      In regard to the latter part of your article, I feel that the throwing out of Muslims who show signs of extremism is actually part of the problem. Instead of finding out why they think the way the do and providing them with counselling, mosque leadership is wiping their hands of them, so that when they commit an attack they can say “see, we disassociated ourselves from them, we’re GOOD Muslims, it’s not our fault”. We are expelling those who need this Islamic education the most from the safe spaces and pushing them to the jihadist chat rooms and forums where they won’t be asked to get out.

      • Ibrahim_Long

        Thank you for the article Ms. Souheila al-Jadda. I strongly agree that investing in education is the way forward (though, I would need to become more familiar with the institutions you cited before I could give them my endorsement). However, in general I echo your statement: “Muslims require modern and contextual understandings of the faith by
        qualified scholars. This not only helps to build sound knowledge but
        also a solid American Muslim identity.”

        I would also add that, in addition to greater opportunities for relevant education, we need to provide places for people to seek Islamic counselling; whether that is providing qualified Muslim counselling services within mosques or in other institutions where Muslims reside (e.g., universities, prisons, hospitals.. etc).

        A similar point to Crescent5’s comment (above) is raised in a critical book on security and Islamophophia called: “The Muslims are Coming!” by Arun Kundnani (not to be at all confused with the comedy group of the same title). In the book, Kundnani notes that current policies in the US cause mosques and other Islamic centres to fear getting involved with individuals who (like the examples expressed in your article) need guidance and support so they are not vulnerable to radical teachings. These culture of fear needs to change, or the qualified may be to scared to help.

        Barak Allahu ta’Ala fik.

    • O. Locke

      The first problem is with this article is its linking of “islamic” “school”. the fact is that religious “education” is the CAUSE of all of the problems.

      forcing a child to adhere to man-made and quite ridiculous texts and doctrine is what causes most of the confusion.

      when a child asks “why isn’t the internet in the koran?” the answer isn’t “agstugfrillah! go make wudu and make salaat!”

      the answer is: “we follow these teachings because it gives us the guidance we seek. god didn’t mention the internet because people in the days when the koran was written never knew about it.”

      the only way the violence ends is by confrontation and reform NOT sticking your head in the sand and pretending that the teachings of an illiterate pedophile will solve all your trouble.

      • Bushair Thayyil

        The Quran did not talk about many thinks because of those times could not understand it. Quran has said that he will create many thinks which you do not know. which will cover all the scientific advancements and the transprots et.

        do you know what Sky Tran is now ?

        but out kids may feel how our parents where living without sky tran !!

        • O. Locke

          look, pal.

          the koran is a man made book. muhammad didn’t even write it. the reason dinosaurs aren’t mentioned in the koran is because people didn’t know what dinosaurs were.

          thanks for the illustration of the average gullible muslim that can’t seem to understand the book is little more than literary fiction.

          thanks, pal.

          • Bushair Thayyil

            The Quran is Allah’s speech , Came down to the last prophet sallalahu alyhi wasallam though the Angel Jibreel. it is in pure Arabic language and is a miracle. If one do not know Arabic will not be able to understand the authenticity of it. It was revealed in the course of 23 years of prophets life after he became the last prophet sallallahu alyhi wasallam.
            It will not become waste if you learn the arabic language just to understand our creator’s speech. about this life and the life after death. Try if before it is too late.
            Thank you pal for the comment and hope my reply did not hurt anyone.

            • O. Locke

              look, bud.

              there may very well be a creator. if one does exist, muslims insult the creator by making the ridiculous claim that he can only speak arabic. why wouldn’t god just reveal himself to many people and cement the understanding?

              god sin’t an idiot only concerned with death and destruction in the middle east, bud.

              more than that, the quran is a book written well after muhammad’s death. the quran was most likely changed, and edited when muhammad died.

              thanks for illustrating the gullibility of the average muslim death cultist, bud.

            • Bushair Thayyil

              ok dude,
              But did any body say that the Almighty the Creator of this Universe can speak only Arabic ? I never heard that. rather He can do whatever He want. Th books He revealed before Quran , like Torah Psalms, Gospels etc where in Arabic ? I do not think so. He the Almighty give the books in the language of the People of the Messenger to whome the books was sent. The difference between the Holy Quran and the other Holy books is that Quran is the last revelation and NO more revelation is expected and will be preserved till the end of the world. And it is in the pure Arabic language spoke by almost 300 million Arabs in 22 different Arab countries and the same language is used by around 1 billion peaceful muslims around the glob to communicate with our Almighty five times a day.
              So my brothren , it is our duty to convey the message of all the prophets peace be upon them all to those who do not know about it.
              Let us work to make the world better.

            • O. Locke


              so what you’re saying is allah didn’t know that native inhabitants of lands far away from the middle east existed. there are peoples who have never received a revelation and have no prophet. what about them?

              and why would god decide to end his revelation with a guy who rationalized the rape of a young girl? why can’t god just reveal himself to many people and not play games? why does god require that you do ridiculous movements to prove your worship?

              the number of arabic speakers is meaningless to your point but it does help prove mine. why didn’t god just make it so everyone spoke arabic?

              islam is a death cult. please reform it.


            • Bushair Thayyil

              Allah knows each and every particle of the world. there is no leaf falls down without his knowledge. He has send enough messengers to every nook and corner of the world. But Prophet Mohammed was the last of them and meant for the whole word. so we have to patiently convey all the messengers messages to all now.

              it is not for winning any argument. it is to learn with open heart and reach to the unlimate truth without hurring any body. Any way all of us are from Adam and Eve and Adam was from clay.
              The Arabic language is very easy to learn and the text of the Holy Quran is intact for last 1400 years. So there is no excuse the User manual for the human being is very much available and it is just a matter of looking around.

            • O. Locke


              you keep insulting allah.

              if no “leaf falls down without his knowledge”, then that makes a mockery of his ability to keep things in order. he forgot to convey so much information to so many people and decided to reveal himself to a man that raped a young girl.

              what sort of diety would use a role model like that?

              add to this that you’re saying allah is a bungling fool for making things he has control over but doesn’t want you to use. there’s something ridiculous about that.

              the quran was written AFTER muhammad’s death. it is a man made concoction that is NOT the word of any deity. some guys got together and made it up.

              And you are right. the manual is around us but it won’t come from any religious texts.

              thanks for illustrating the gullible nature of the average muslim death cultist.

            • Bushair Thayyil

              Allah knows our hearts . So ask sincerely for guidance. If he wills any body will get his mercy and guidance. which is what we the silly creations should ask for.

            • O. Locke

              you keep insulting allah.

              if he “knows our hearts” then he’d know that a man justified the rape of a child in his name. I don’t know about you but I find it unbelievable that any deity would condone the rape of a young child.

              And you further insult allah because you suggest that somehow god’s creations have more sense than he does because they figured out all these things he forgot to mention in the quran.

              you should really learn to respect allah a little bit more.

              shame on you!

            • Bushair Thayyil

              I did not abuse any one neither did i speak without knowledge. it is better we speak what we are sure about and without back biting . Back biting will only reduce our good deeds and transfer their sin to us. if we repeat a lie million time it will not become a truth.

            • O. Locke

              I didn’t abuse anyone and I didn’t speak without knowledge.

              And by “back biting” I can only assume you mean gossip or slander? but we have proof of my claims. you repeatedly insulted a deity I assume you believe in and worship. you should be ashamed before it.

              and repeating lies is something muslim death cultists do whenever they recite la Ilaha Illallah muhammadur rasulullah.

              thanks for the illustration of the gullability of the average msulim death cultist.

            • Bushair Thayyil

              If you recite la ilaha illalla mohammed rasoolillah and testify that you will become a muslim. you do not have to join any death cult or cultist.

            • O. Locke

              I could never venerate a man that raped a small child. or a god that would condone it.

              I find mohamed morally reprehensible.

            • Bushair Thayyil

              Get knowledge from the right source let satan do not trap you.


            • O. Locke

              mohamed raped a young girl!? youre trying to rationalize that?


              SHAME ON YOU!

            • Bushair Thayyil

              May the Almighty guide us all to the truth.
              this may help to change your wrong notions.


            • O. Locke

              the “almighty” guides people to the fact that mohamed raped a young girl.

              I’m not sure how you can rationalize that.

              shame on you.