Sight Magazine – Reintegrating the radicalized: How Kenya’s religious leaders are helping young people find their way back to Islamic extremism
- TONNY ONYULO
Selling his fruits under an umbrella at a street market in this coastal town, Joseph Juma recounted how religious leaders prevented him from joining some of the terrorist groups in the region and outside the country due to extremism and the radical teachings he had received from rogue imams.
“I was deceived into believing that the wars waged against Muslims are part of a global campaign against Islam,” the 37-year-old father of two said, adding that he had been told that being a true Muslim, they had to take up arms and prevent Islam. “But I want to thank the religious leaders who spoke to us and reminded us that the Muslim religion is a peaceful religion.”
Juma, who was later de-radicalized and offered money by religious leaders to start a grocery store, said false preaching to join the Islamic militia escalated in 2011 after Kenyan troops entered Somalia neighbor to launch a military offensive against al-Shabaab, a militant group in Somalia. fight the Somali government.
The al-Qaeda-linked militant group had posed national security concerns in Kenya by carrying out several cross-border raids in the months before the invasion.
“They wanted us to join the militia to defend Islam, but they were lying to us. The religious leaders have done a great job telling us the truth that the Quran is against such groups and the killing of innocent people,” he said.
The city of Mombasa in southeastern Kenya. IMAGE: Hamids Lens/iStockphoto.
Juma is one of thousands of young people in this southeastern Kenyan town along the Indian Ocean who have been reformed by religious leaders. Church leaders and Muslim imams have stepped up their campaign to reintegrate radicalized youths into the Islamic militia by offering job opportunities and micro-finance loans to start their businesses. Experts have cited unemployment, poverty, lack of education and political marginalization as the main factors contributing to the radicalization of young people in the East African region.
Bishop Martin Kivuva Musonde. PHOTO: Elvis Kenga
“Young people face many problems as many are unemployed and idle. So when we come up with a solution to the problems they are facing, they are easily convinced and join the Islamic militia.”
– Bishop Martin Kivuva Musonde, of the Archdiocese of Mombasa in Kenya.
The coastal region of Mombasa and other nearby towns including Kilifi, Lamu, Kwale, Malindi and Taita Taveta are areas inhabited mainly by a Muslim population. Various reports show that the regions are hotbeds of violent extremism and radicalization. Islamic militants carried out several attacks in villages and towns, killing hundreds of people. This has been blamed on the growing number of young Kenyans being radicalized in the Islamic militia.
Archbishop Martin Kivuva Musonde of Kenya’s Mombasa Archdiocese said Islamist militants are taking advantage of vulnerable young people who languish in poverty and have no jobs to radicalize themselves and recruit them into militant groups in Kenya. the region or outside the country.
“Young people face many problems as many are unemployed and idle. So when someone comes up with a solution to the problems they are facing, they are easily convinced and join the Islamic militia,” said Bishop Musonde who is also the President of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops. View in an interview.
In response, church leaders, the Council of Imams and local non-governmental organizations have launched a campaign to reform young people who have become radicalized in the Islamic militia and stop those who intend to join the militant group.
In churches, schools and markets, clergy urged young people to be concerned about people who tell them to join the Islamic militia and to learn to value and respect those who might differ from them in faith or Culture. In mosques, imams preach to young people to embrace peace and explain the meaning of jihad in the Muslim holy book of the Koran so that they are not deceived that joining the Islamic militia is part of the Muslim religion.
“Jihad is not the killing of unbelievers. The Koran is against such killings,” Sheikh Abdulahi Mohamed told a youth rally at a Mombasa mosque recently. “Terrorists abuse our religion. They lure with money and false preaching. Make no mistake about it. Reject their teachings and embrace peace and live in harmony.
“We invite both young Christians and Muslims to our workshops because radicalization happens in all religions,” Bishop Musonde said. “We educate them on the importance of keeping peace and remind them that God loves peace and anyone who harms another person commits a sin.”
A street scene in Mombasa, Kenya, in 2016. PHOTO: Przemek Kunert/iStockphoto.
Pastor Emmanuel Matati of the Pentecostal Church of Mombasa said he visited Christian and Muslim schools, orphanages, churches and mosques to talk to young people and prevent them from turning to violent groups.
“I understand that extremist groups have taken over these institutions, and they visit the young people living there to give them false teachings,” he said. “We are carrying out serious campaigns to tell young people and raise awareness that God is the God of peace, and that people should not mislead them to cause innocent deaths and bloodshed. We constantly remind them that no religion tolerates extremism and radicalization, so they should avoid such teachings.
Sheikh Mohamed said they have strictly put in place measures to allow religious leaders and scholars to use mosques and Muslim schools to preach counter-extremism narratives.
“We asked our teachers to spread the true teachings of Islam and ensure that there is no radicalization among young people. But in the event that we learn that they are acting contrary to what we ordered them to do, we are acting quickly to ensure they are removed and handed over to the police,” he said.
Bishop Musonde said they rehabilitate young people who have become radicalized and provide them with alternative livelihoods to help themselves and their families. With the help of donor funds, the church decided earlier this year to train young people in practical skills such as sewing, masonry, welding, plumbing and computer skills to help them find a job, he said.
“We believe that when we create jobs for young people and give them employable skills, we will save them from being lured by money to join the Islamic militia,” Bishop Musonde said, noting that they sponsor more than 200 young people per year to access vocational training. training and advice. “This opportunity has excited young people, and I don’t think they will now have time to join the terrorist group because of the money and false promises.”
Pastor Matati said he and other religious leaders in the coastal region are tackling the problem of unemployment by connecting young people with government funds to start their businesses and prevent them from becoming radicalized.
“Youth radicalization has recently decreased because the majority of young people are now busy doing business with public funds,” he said. “The government gave young people funds to start their business to earn an income, which helped in the fight against radicalisation.”
Juma agreed, saying such empowerment saved him and could prevent other young people from becoming radicalized.
“Young people accept being drawn into the Islamic militia because of poverty and idleness,” he said. “But when they’re empowered to start something that brings them income, they can’t accept, or they won’t even have time to listen to anyone.”