Dewsbury Muslims launch independent counter-extremism project
Sunday, November 22nd, 2015
Earlier this year two young men from Dewsbury left their community in Dewsbury to fight alongside ISIS in Syria leaving their community in deep shock.
The shock was felt so much that concerned individuals from Dewsbury decided to tackle the issue of radicalisation as a community owned initiative rather than through government channels. The initiative was set up outside of the government’s highly contentious Prevent Agenda as it was unclear how this agenda was being delivered and what strategy was being used to deliver it.
The initiative dubbed ‘Engage’ was set up with the specific aim of working and engaging with young people who have either been radicalised, or are at risk of radicalisation. Engage primarily focuses its work on two aspects: firstly to work directly with young people who are at risk of radicalisation who have been referred to the programme from a variety of sources such as parents, mosques and friends. Engage has professional staff able to deal with young people in a sensitive and caring manner and who act as mentors to these young people. It is vitally important to build up trust with young people so that they are receptive to what Islam actually teaches with regards to terrorism and conflict. The programme seeks to break myths and challenge stereotypes and promote self-esteem and confidence in young British Muslims.
Engage also provides essential training to mosques, schools and madrasas in identifying early the signs of radicalisation and indoctrination in extremist ideology. The training also ensures that these organisations are able to take someone at risk of radicalisation and lead them in such a way that the young person is able to then engage fully in British society.
Within a short space of time and with very limited financial support Engage has arranged several key activities and initiatives. Lectures in mosques have been given by scholars who are tackling the extremist ideology, a local football 5 a side football tournament was arranged at which around 500 predominantly young people attended, young people were invited to take part in various trips and excursions and Engage has produced leaflets highlighting the dangers of extremism and how families should deal with such dangers. Many of these activities and initiatives have been possible only through various other organisations and local businesses coming together to tackle the issue.
Najam Sheikh, an Engage volunteer and one of the key members of the initiative, told us “we decided to start this because we felt not enough practical, targeted and effective work was being done in our communities to tackle extremism. We have to accept that there is a threat from extremist ideology to British Muslims and we should prepare our communities and in particular younger people, so that they are not misguided through the internet and social media as to what Islam requires of them. What we have found is that the more grounding young people have in their religion, the less likely they are prone to being radicalised. What has been lacking generally within Muslim communities in general has been pastoral care of the young and this is a key area that Engage is seeking to address.”
With all the controversy surrounding the Prevent agenda, British Muslim communities should look at setting up similar initiatives and take ownership of the issue of extremism and radicalisation.