NEWS

Hamilton Muslim community looking to understand the path to ISIS

09/25/2014 05:50 EDT | Updated 11/25/2014 05:59 EST
Following the news that a 20-year-old Hamilton man, was reported killed while fighting for Islamic State militants in Syria, the city's Muslim community held an emergency meeting, turning within to ask how this happened.

When the family of Mohamud Mohamed Mohamud received a message from their eldest son, that he was with his "brothers" in Syria, it may have already been too late to help him. It has left the community wondering how and when it can intervene to try to prevent someone from turning to a radical and violent path. 

Radical Islam is 'like a gang'

"It's when you lose access to them. If they are in the grips, one of these groups, and there's no way of wedging them away from the group," said Hussein Hamdani, a founding member of the Public Safety Canada cross-cultural roundtable, who acted as a spokesperson for the family who lost their son in mid-July and learned of his death just days ago. 

"It's like gang… You need to get that person before they cross the criminal threshold."

And with more recruiting happening via online sources, the radicalization can happen in private, away from a supporting community. Hamdani said that is what happened in this case: Mohamud withdrew from all his traditional communities —his friends and family and his mosque —and found a new community online.

Mohamud's family told CSIS and RCMP about their son, but after he had left for Syria. How to intervene before the youths leave was one of the subjects of last night's emergency meeting.

The Muslim community, both downtown and from the MCGH, are looking towards their youth programming as outlets, and looking to set up a youth forum.

"Our mosques have several interpersonal counselling programs run by our Imams for youth and families to take advantage of at any time," said Dr. Ali Taher Ghouse, president of the Muslim Association of Hamilton, in a MCGH press release. 

The Muslim Council of Greater Hamilton (MCGH) released a statement just after midnight Thursday morning, reaffirming they condemn "any form of extremism and violence perpetrated for any reason," a statement they made less than two weeks earlier. 

Calgary imam Syed Soharwardy, who also founded of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada (ISCC), said Wednesday the process to radicalizing Islamic youths begins in community centres, colleges, universities and mosques, starting with converting the men to Wahabism.

10-12 'behavioural indicators' of path to radicalism

Hamdani likened Wahabism to "strict evangelical Christians." 

"They're literalist interpreters of the Quran. To them, the world is simple, it's black or it's white. There's nothing in-between," Hamdani said. 

Both said that there is no one path, but Hamdani described some of the 10-12 "behavioural indicators" of a person about to transcend on a path of radicalism. 

"For example, some intense religiosity in a very short period of time, being fixated with the end of the world, being fixated with mayartdom," Hamdani said. "These and other indicators tell you that there's something happening."

As one becomes isolated he said there is then some kind of intervention that offers a radical outlet for the all the pent up feelings. "Either it's online or a human element, at some point, intervenes and tells them, 'Alright, you're upset, you have a right to be upset, now here's how you can express your frustration. This is what you need to do if you're a real man.'"

Human element needed to switch emotions into action

Disagreeing with Soharwardy, Hamdani said it doesn't have to start with Wahabism, it can begin online, through one of 10,000 websites Hamdani says is out there to fuel disenfranchised future fighters. 

"Often it's online where you get the emotions running high, you see gruesome videos, you see damaging pictures, you get things that really frustrate you about what's going on in the world… But there has to be a human element that takes your worked up and transferring that into action," Hamdani said.

Hamdani also called for calm in how to deal with youth in danger of turning to radicalism. 

"There are legitimate ways, Islamic ways, Canadian ways of dealing with those grievances," Hamdani said. "Not this barbarism, this gratuitous violence that we've been seeing others do. That is not the Islamic way, that's not the Canadian way."

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