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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 November 2007, 12:24 GMT
Targeting Islamist extremism
Father and sons pray Dar Al Uloom Qadria Jilania Mosque and Religious School in Walthamstow
Young Muslims are being targeted within the community
The government wants to stop violent Islamist extremism - and is looking at ways to do it at grassroots level.

A 70m fund to build resilience to violent extremism among the Muslim community has been promised by Communities Secretary Hazel Blears.

It is designed to fight extremism in schools and colleges, using drama, media, arts and sport; as well as giving community elders in mosques skills to target young people.

Ms Blears explained to a London conference that extremists reached the young and vulnerable not through mosques, but through places like gyms and bookshops.

"By helping [young people] understand their religion, equipping them with the confidence and skills to challenge and reject those preaching conflict, we can make today and tomorrow's communities more resilient to the violent extremist message," she said.

Living in Britain

One project in Bradford called Nasiha epitomises this new thrust. It has drawn up lesson plans which teaches young Muslims how to live as Muslims in 21st century Britain.

"The problem at the moment is the madrassas and mosques don't have sufficient material that engages them with living in Britain with regards to their faith," Sajid Hussain explains.

The tools Nasiha has put together shows "how their faith encourages them to work and participate within the fabric of British society".

Lesson titles like Making a Good Impression; Good Muslim, Good Citizen; and Community Work and Elections interweave teaching from the Koran with practical citizenship. There are also lessons on staying away from groups preaching hatred and the sacredness of life and property.

Currently, 39 institutions in the Bradford area are involved in Nasiha's work and 170 schools, madrassas and organisations have registered nationwide.

The lessons work because the teachings from the Koran and interpretation by the scholars challenges what is peddled on the internet by extremists.

Lesson plans include activities and homework (for example, find details of some Muslim charities and explain what kind of work they do). It targets the young: a lesson plan on dealing with anger says "Your mother switches off the game station and tells you to finish off your homework. How do you feel?"

Some groups are already reaching out to young Muslims. The Muslim Youth Helpline was set up in 2002, while its partner muslimyouth.net began in 2004.

They do care about Britain, they do have values and they want to contribute to Britain
Rizwan Hussain
muslimyouth.net

The site has a forum where politics is discussed. But relationships and general chit-chat proves just as popular with the young Muslims who post threads.

Rizwan Hussain says he believes there have been something like 300,000 visitors to the site since it was launched.

He explains that the helpline gets calls from young people about relationships and drugs; sexuality and families - the ordinary things that worry teenagers from every religion and background.

"We really hardly have anyone who has called in with extreme views," he says. "There's talk [on the forums] about are you British or are you Muslim."

He suggests that many come from a background where traditional values are strong and that can lead them into conflict with parents and authority figures.

Muslims line Whitechapel High Street outside the East London Mosque (London Muslim Centre) Thursday July 14, 2005
Muslims remember those who were killed in the events on July 7, 2005

"I think the majority do care about Britain - this is their lives. They do care about Britain, they do have values and they want to contribute to Britain."

Ensuring women are part of the process of defying extremism has also been made a priority. A panel of Muslim women is to act as role models and to advise ministers.

Ifath Nawaz, from the Faith Associates, explains how her group fosters understanding of Islam and the Muslim community.

But they have focused in particular on empowering Muslim women and girls. Workshops encourage them to play a part in everyday life, explaining that they can see themselves as equal partners to men within Islam.

Practically, giving them skills - such as teaching the English language within the mosque, for instance - helps.

How, though, is empowering Muslim women - admirable a cause as it is - going to help prevent extremist thought and behaviour among radicalised young men?

"It's a wide agenda," says Ms Nawaz. "The women are the ones at home with the children. We think they make a difference. If they know what's going on in the world, their community, and with their own children, we think they will play a huge role."

She believes that showing women the importance they played in Islam historically and giving them the strength to express their concerns will empower them to act against extremism if they find it in the family or the mosque.

"We will equip women to say 'I'm not going to put up with that'," she says.



SEE ALSO
Moves to marginalise extremists
05 Apr 07 |  UK Politics
Pilot projects target extremism
07 Feb 07 |  UK Politics
Muslims 'must root out extremism'
04 Jul 06 |  UK Politics
Blears meets with Muslim leaders
15 Aug 05 |  Leicestershire

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