The adults thought they’d done all they could. They had condemned extremist ideology, provided ski trips and scout meetings, and encouraged young people to speak openly about how to integrate their religion, Islam, with the secular world.
But since five college-age Virginia men were arrested in Pakistan earlier this month after allegedly being recruited over the Internet to join al-Qaeda, many Washington area Muslims are questioning whether mere condemnation is enough.
Until now, many Muslim leaders have focused on what they saw as external threats to young people, such as Islamophobia or the temptations of modern secular life. Now they say it is time to look inward, to provide a counterweight to those who misinterpret Koranic verses to promote violence — and to learn what rhetoric and methods appeal to young people.
Radicals “seem to understand our youth better than we do,” said Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation.
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Not a very nice story about madrassas in you-know-where and the young students from throughout the world who attend them along with thousands of Pakistani kids, including American youth.
Anas bin Saleem, a 12-year-old American, spends seven hours a day sitting cross-legged on the floor memorizing the Quran.
He is one of thousands of foreigners who have flocked to conservative Islamic schools in Pakistan, despite a government ban, the Associated Press has found through interviews with officials, documents, visits to the schools and encounters with dozens of students.
In Anas’ school, Jamia Binoria, several hundred students from 29 countries live alongside 5,000 Pakistani pupils, teachers said. Binoria is one of the largest schools in the country and one of at least four schools in Karachi with foreign students on its books.
Anas says he’s not taught militant Islam at Binoria. But clerics firmly endorse suicide bombings and jihad against Western troops in Afghanistan on the school Web site, and Anas admits he is fed up with anti-American barbs from teachers and pupils.
“I get it like every second,” says Anas, who left Louisiana last year with his Pakistani-born mother, barely spoke the national language when he arrived in Pakistan and misses Hannah Montana. “I’m like ‘shut up’ and don’t talk like that.”
Only a handful of the foreign students are Westerners; most are Asians and Africans in the late teens or early 20s. Many come to Pakistan for a cheap Islamic education, albeit a conservative one, part of a tradition of Muslims traveling to gain knowledge that goes back centuries.
I guess US kids in Pakistani madrassas don’t get it much easier than the children of US foreign service employees.
World Policy Review had a pretty good three part investigative series that delves into the question of why Somali-American youth in Minnesota would be susceptible to appeals to go fight in Somalia.
Here’s an excerpt from Part II:
For protection and justice, many young Somalis turn to gangs with names like the “Hot Boyz” and the “Somali Mafia.” Minneapolis community organizer Shukri Adan estimated in a report to the city that between 400 and 500 Somali youths are in gangs, according to the Associated Press.
What’s striking is the similarity between the Somali gangs and Shabab, which not coincidentally means “youth” in Arabic. Like the Somali gangs in Minneapolis, Shabab originally formed to defend innocent victims of violent crime, before evolving into the armed wing of an Islamic political movement from which it subsequently split. Today, the group mainly functions as a loose alliance of mercenaries, religious zealots, criminals and, yes, street gangs.
During our visit to Mogadishu in November 2007, city residents told us they feared the gangs more than they did any Shabab army, for the gangs would stop cars and steal drivers’ cash and cell phones. Over the years, Shabab has become what it once despised. So, too, have the Somali-American gangs. Formed to protect Somali youths from white violence, the Minnesota gangs are now suspects in a number of killings . . . of Somalis.
For young Somali-Americans already deep into gang culture, the step to joining a group that is, in essence, just a bigger, better-armed and more strictly religious gang, based in another country, is a short one.
Mohamed Bary is a doting Muslim father, intent on giving his daughter the best education he can. But he says he made a terrible mistake last October: He bought her a laptop computer.
Because of that laptop and access to the Internet, he says he lost his daughter to Christian extremists.
In the weeks before she fled, her parents noticed she would sleep all day and stay up all night exploring the Internet.
Until this spring, Rifqa was a model student, an obedient daughter. She earned good grades, worked part-time at a Chinese restaurant and called home even if she were running just 10 minutes late.
But about the time school ended in May, she began all-night Facebook sessions. She started withdrawing from family members and longtime friends, her parents said.
Many of her chats were with evangelical Christians, her father said. They turned her against him, he said.
Naveed Khan of Waterbury and his three children won’t eat food or drink water for 15 hours today, or any day, through Sept. 19.
The purpose isn’t to inflict pain; it’s to celebrate their Muslim faith as part of the 30 days of Ramadan.
”They’re really excited about it starting, they’re really excited to fast,” Khan said of his sons, ages 8 and 9, who are observing the fast this year for the first time. The month-long period coincides with the start of school for most children. Coupled with classroom demands and the trials of growing up, Ramadan is a challenge for students but it’s hardly a chore.
“Ramadan is a challenge for students but it’s hardly a chore.” Well put.
The fasting is never forced.
Children tend to begin observing on their own accord, before it’s required by Muslim teachings.
Aida Mansoor, the director of the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut, said her son started fasting at age 5 after watching his parents.
”I stressed that he did not need to fast and would pack his lunch each day, but it would come back unopened as he wanted to participate,” said Mansoor, who lives in West Hartford.
The most unusual and unexpected Muslim blogging community: Muslim children. In my own conception of the online ‘Islamsphere’, I don’t think of Muslim children as being a part of it, but they are as I keep running across Islam-focus blogs being published by kids who may not be in junior high school yet. Obviously, this is a development limited to the economic class of Muslims who have computers or have enough money to give their children computers.
Aside from questions of parental due diligence, and whether children should even be online in this manner, such blogs give us an insight into minds of the next generation of Muslims when their topics stray out of the realm of childish concerns – though we need to be able to put aside our inherent adult bias against childish modalities of communication to listen. Hal786 for example, was concerned about suicide and depression among nonMuslims and was motivated to Dawah activism among them. And this girl had a complaint about the lack of images of ‘action hijabis’ online.
Anecdotally, all of the Muslim children’s blogs I’ve stumbled across so far have been published by girls, and I have no idea why such a phenomenon might be ‘gendered.’ But one could certainly imagine that children with blogs are getting early practice on expressing themselves and community building. To the extent that any are motivated to engage in online activism, as adults they may be more likely to move on to other forms of off-line activism and community leadership.