News / Africa

Nigerian Islamic School Tries to Combat Boko Haram

Reuters

In classrooms facing a sandy courtyard in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna, Maska Road Islamic School teaches a creed that condemns the violent ideology of groups like Boko Haram.

Not everyone has got its message. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, known as the “Pants Bomber,” spent his youth in this school - and ended up trying unsuccessfully to blow up a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day 2009 with explosives hidden in his underwear.

But the school is steadfast in preaching tolerance to its pupils, and the government is about to adopt this message in a new strategy for containing Boko Haram, which has killed thousands in a five-year campaign for an Islamic state.

“We teach them that what they (Boko Haram) are doing is a total misunderstanding of the Islamic religion, that Prophet Mohammed was compassionate, he even lived together with the non-Muslims in Medina,” said headmaster Sulaiman Saiki.

“We teach them tolerance,” he told Reuters as girls in the next room softly recited Koranic verses in Arabic melodies.

Seduced by radical Islam

Abdulmutallab was radicalized in an al-Qaida camp in Yemen, but his case shows that even youths given a relatively liberal Muslim education can be seduced by radical Islam. This is something the new government program is aiming to combat.

Koranic schools like Maska Road will be a pillar of the strategy being launched in September to counter Boko Haram's ideology. The aim is to win over the “hearts and minds” of young Nigerians.

They will also challenge Boko Haram's claim that secular teaching is “un-Islamic” - Boko Haram means “Western education is sinful” in Hausa, the dominant language in Nigeria's mainly Muslim north.

Maska Road teaches only Koranic verses and other tenets of Muslim faith, and encourages its 300 students to take classes such as science and literature outside its walls.

“We want them to get a Western education and combine it with ... religious learning,” Saiki says. Classes are held between 4 and 6 p.m., after secular schools shut.

Fatah Abdul, who studies at Maska Road, scoffs at the idea of violence in the name of Islam.

“Our religion doesn't entertain killing. Boko Haram is absolutely different from what our religion advocates,” she said. “And it's not true what they say that we need an Islamic state. The leadership doesn't have to be Islamic.”

'Deceived' about the West

Saiki was a neighbor of Abdulmutallab when the future Pants Bomber was at school. He says Abdulmutallab didn't learn to hate the West there but “was deceived afterwards.”

Abdulmutallab, a loner from a well-to-do northern family, showed how easily youths can be radicalized. Add poverty into the mix, as in Nigeria's troubled northeastern Borno state, and it's not hard to see how Boko Haram finds young recruits.

Boko Haram is suspected of being behind suicide bombings that killed 82 people in Kaduna last week, including one against a Muslim cleric about to lead a public prayer.

Kaduna, the capital of the north in colonial times, is richer than anywhere in the northeastern region where Boko Haram is based. But it shares many of its problems such as high youth unemployment, attested by the many children begging and hawking phone credit on its rubbish-filled streets.

President Goodluck Jonathan's administration has been pilloried for its apparent powerlessness to crush the rebels or protect civilians, including more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped in April and who remain in captivity. But he has also faced censure for neglecting the insurgency's underlying causes.

Soft approach

So when Jonathan's National Security Adviser (NSA) Sambo Dasuki announced a new “soft approach to terrorism” in March, many instantly dismissed it as lacking in substance.

But officials in the office of the NSA say imams in mosques and traditional elders will be co-opted to preach tolerance, while measures will be taken to ensure Koranic schools teach “correct” interpretations of sacred texts.

The drive will also include educational programs, especially increased sports and music in northern schools, plus reform programs for convicted Boko Haram detainees.

“A lot them don't have much Islamic knowledge, so they tend to believe what the mullahs say,” Fatima Akilu, director of behavioral analysis in the office of the NSA told Reuters. “We want to teach what the Koran actually says in a language they understand.”

A parallel economic program, also funded by the NSA's budget, will address the chronic poverty seen as a major driver of the insurgency.

It may be too late to bring back hundreds of youths already fighting for Boko Haram, but the idea is to prevent more from joining.

Northern Nigeria has much lower levels of education than the south, a legacy of British colonialism, which protected the caliphates of the north from the activity of Christian missionaries who set up many schools in the south.

“The aspects of education Boko Haram don't like are the ones that allow you to think,” Akilu said. “Keep people in the dark and you can control them with a singular narrative.”

Undoing this partly involves showing how “Western” ideas, such as mathematics and some physics and astronomy, are rooted in medieval Islamic thought, which was making strides while Christians in Europe were busy burning witches.

At the Sultan Bello mosque in Kaduna's busy downtown market area, local imam Ahmed Gumi takes an unusual step to illustrate his openness to the non-Islamic world: he invites four Reuters journalists in to see, film and photograph his sermon.

Three are non-Muslim, including two Westerners. He introduces the team to his congregation of about 350 packed into a main hall, and after a chorus of “welcome” he offers a live interview about his views on Boko Haram in front of the faithful.

“It's not right to call what those boys are doing Islamic,” he later told Reuters privately. “They hide behind Islam.”

Speaking out is risky

Gumi, one of northern Nigeria's most popular clerics, sees the idea of an Islamic state dear to extremists as a throwback.

“They want to bring back the golden age of Islamic triumph in this modern time.” he says. “For a state to survive you need a strong civilisation, education, money, lawyers, doctors. You don't create a civilisation with AK-47s in the bush.”

He knows his outspoken views carry a risk he'll be targeted by Boko Haram. His mosque, a towering structure spread between four sand-colored turrets with turquoise-green domes, is guarded by scores of unarmed volunteers checking cars and bags.

Boko Haram fighters have killed dozens of clerics. One of the targets of the Kaduna bombs was a Sheik Dahiru Bauchi, an imam whose mystical Sufism is a far cry from the austere al-Qaida-style type of Islam. Bauchi survived.

Though a government critic, Gumi approves of the soft approach, “but it needs local Borno (leaders) more than people like us who are already openly opposed to them”.

Taking issue with Boko Haram's ideology will work only if the government can draw disaffected youths away from the AK-47. The NSA's economic program aims to do this, starting with 2 billion naira ($12.3 million), but with a further 60 billion that can be made available from other agencies for projects, said Soji Adelaja, NSA special adviser on economic intelligence.

They include mobile medical trucks, cash for the orphans and widows of Boko Haram's victims, and a program employing 150,000 youths to fix roads and rebuild police stations.

Parts of Nigeria that are completely besieged by the insurgents are off-limits, but there are other vulnerable areas where the program can be rolled out, Adelaja says. “We are deploying in areas that are safe, and where the community has some resilience against Boko Haram.”

The death of Boko Haram's founder Mohammed Yusuf in police custody transformed what had been a clerical movement into an armed rebellion in 2009. Akilu says Yusuf disliked “Western” science which he saw as contradicting the Koran, especially evolutionary theory, the fact that the world is round and the process of evaporation, because “rain is a gift from God”.

Getting schools to show how science and religion can co-exist, she says, is essential to combating such ideas.

Down a dirt track with crater-like potholes on the outskirts of Kaduna lies the iron-roofed Focus 1,2,3 International School. Twelve classrooms packed with desks take 25 children each.

Secular education is between 7.30 a.m. and midday. After lunch, Islamic schooling is between 1:00 p.m. and 5.30 p.m.

Muhammad Saleh, who runs the school, believes strongly in science, although he has doubts about evolutionary theory - as do many conservative Christians in the West.

Even so, his school teaches it. “I teach them evolution myself, and the parents never complain,” he told Reuters. “It's education. Once children have an education they can decide for themselves what to think.”   

You May Like

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

1 Billion People Used Facebook on Single Day

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg praised the accomplishment in a posting on the social media site More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: binabdallah from: kaduna
July 31, 2014 2:40 AM
Nigerians already know that muslims are not terrorist.
In Response

by: Xaaji Dhagax from: Somalia
August 01, 2014 12:42 AM
Probably at this moment all Nigerians know who Muslim terrorists are. But all Western countries convinced themselves that all blacks are inherently violent and potential terrorists.

by: AUBREY CHINDEFU from: LUSAKA ZAMBIA mobile :
July 30, 2014 10:42 AM
It does not mean that the young leaders should stop advocating for a peaceful world unlike what United States of America is supporting in the middle east against the Palestine people. Please be reminded that American boots on your soil is a curse just like in Afghanistan, Iraqi, Libya and others. Let the young Leaders not be indoctrined by believing American leaders mean well. No advocacy of American boot should be done by these young leaders on our African continent.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs