February 27, 2015
This week, investigators confirmed that three British girls who flew into Turkey have indeed crossed the border into Syria to possibly join militant group ISIS.
As a young Muslim woman, I am left grappling with confusion after reading stories of western youth— especially women— becoming radicalized. According to a recent study by the Institute of Strategic Dialogue in London, among the 3000 foreigners who joined ISIS, more than 500 of them were women.
These women are not just putting their lives at risk, they are also forsaking their rights and liberties for the sake of a narrow and constrained ideology. ISIS is known to use brutal tactics like rape and torture to subjugate women. Last December, ISIS published a pamphlet detailing how women slaves should be treated once they are caught by the militant group. In it, ISIS declared that it is permissible to rape, beat or trade women if they refuse to cooperate.
According to the ISD study, women who willingly join ISIS are used to spread propaganda, bear children and do housekeeping. They are essentially responsible for creating a new breed of terrorists who will be expected to carry on the responsibilities of ISIS. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if you are a captive or an ISIS bride. The future of any woman living in the vicinity of ISIS’ brutal regime seems dismal.
The three teenage girls who traveled to Syria last week were straight A students. It is simply astonishing that western women who join ISIS do so at the cost of walking away from privileges like education and the right to be their own person in life. They actually prefer restriction of freedom over liberty. This type of behavior is not only abnormal, it warrants a psychological examination. Some also believe that ISIS is successful in recruiting youth because young Muslims are lured in by a desire to serve God and to live for a higher purpose. But ISIS’ very ideology goes against the teachings of Islam.
The Islamic scripture, Holy Quran, teaches us to be more compassionate towards one another (16:91). It encourages peaceful coexistence and discourages the idea of war and violence (7:57). The Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) commanded both men and women to seek knowledge even if they have to travel very far in search for it. Islam teaches tolerance and promotes education because these two elements are significant to achieving peace and stability.
The teachings of my faith are the reason why I find it difficult to relate to these incidents of so-called “Muslims” joining ISIS. This behavior is as alien to moderate Muslims as it is to non-Muslims. We also feel incredulity and shock when we read stories of youth becoming radicalized at the hands of ISIS.
I am not an expert on radicalization, but I think Muslim communities around the world can benefit by investing in youth empowerment programs. As a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, I can personally attest to the success of such initiatives. My Community’s women’s auxiliaries throughout the United States have started programs to harness and guide the tremendous potential of young people.
“Youth programs are a platform where young people can engage in dialogue about issues relating to their lives and work to hone their potentials in order to become useful members of the society,” said Aziza Faruqi, president of the Austin, Texas chapter of the Women's Auxiliary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
As a teenager, I was often lost and confused when I moved to the United States a few weeks after 9/11. But I was fortunate enough to have the support of my community, which saved me and thousands of others from venturing into a dark territory. Growing up in a community where everyone feels cherished creates a special healing process from outside prejudices. It instills confidence in youth and enables them to take pride in their identity. But if Muslim communities are devoid of love, outside discrimination and stigmas can often leave populations susceptible to violence. Muslim youth today need empowerment and encouragement. They need to know that their voices and concerns have value.
We cannot stand by idly as more and more Muslim youth join ISIS. Muslim communities must work together to create a stronger bond of love and kindness by staying united and rejecting sectarian violence. It doesn’t matter if you are a Shia or a Sunni or an Ahmadi. Everyone has a part to play in preventing our youth from joining ISIS or other militant groups. We are united in our struggle against extremism.
Huma Munir is an ESL teacher in San Antonio ISD, Texas and a member of Teach for America, San Antonio. She serves as the local media secretary for Ahmadiyya Muslim Women Association in Austin, Texas. You can follow Huma on Twitter.
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