Amsterdam: Take youth's religious beliefs seriously

Schools, educators and social workers should take the belief of Muslim youth more seriously if they want to prevent radicalization" says Ahmed Macouch, head of the Slotervaart neighborhood in Amsterdam where Mohammed Bouyeri, Samir Azzouz and other members of the Hofstad group grew up.

"I see around me many youth who are active and sincere in search of their religious identity." says Marcouch. "At the same time I see that those in my neighborhood who work on youth policy and fighting radicalism ignore to a great degree the religious belief of the youth."

Marcouch says they look for factors that promote radicalization, such as education and disadvantages in their development but religion barely plays a role. "When I first raised the issue, pedagogues said that it wasn't relevant. They see Islam as the cultural background of the youth, but fail to realize that religion is something that sits deep inside them."

Marcouch thinks that Ignoring religion can lead to radicilazation of the youth. He spoke at a congress about recognizing radicalization. "In many families Islam plays a big part in education. Involvement with the Palestinians, for example, is imparted to kids very early. But if religious issues can't be discussed in school and the kids there aren't understood, they come to live in two worlds." They can't express what sits deep inside them, mainly religion. The risk is that youth at a later age would want to take "revenge". And if they then go seeking in the Koran, they find there also enough arguments to support it.

Teachers, youth social workers and other professionals should therefore take into account the Muslim in the people with whom they are in touch. "And that begins already at minus nine months. Raise the issue of religious education already at the parent-child center. Many Muslim parents have a need to talk about it. The problem is only that in my neighborhood I don't have at this moment enough expertise in this field."

Professionals should be trained, he says and asks that imams become involved with youth work. He illustrates the latter with an example of a girl who was well educated and had a job. She sought her identity and came in touch with people who told her that a Muslim woman should not work. She resigned her job in order to fulfill her ideal: bearing and raising kids and engaging herself in the Koran.

Her mother brought the issue up to an imam who went to speak with the girl. The imam knew how to get the girl off her new ideals through "theological intervention".

Marcouch says this story is characteristic. Youth seek for their religious identity and meet up with extremist Muslims, who are considerably active. "You need a theological counterweight. Or else kids need to be spoken to about their faith in any case, so that they don't stand alone with their questions about belief and even learn to think critically. Because then they are much less open for radical idea. If you hear a kid of four saying to a classmate eating bread on Ramadan "You don't fast, therefore you go to hell", you don't need to call the AIVD [security services] immediately. But do talk to such a kid and take him seriously in his belief."

Does the Koran have enough space for moderate interpretation of the belief and critical thinking about it? Isn't the Koran filled in how you should live as a good Muslim? Marcouch doesn't think so. "The problem is not in the writings, but always in how you interpret and handle it. If a young person wants to be a good Muslim, you can advise him to join the Muslim rebels in Chechnia, like Samir Azzouz did when he was 14. But you can also, for example, explain to him that it is more important for him to do his utmost at school."

Source: Nederlands Dagblad (Dutch)

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