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

ASEAN Ministers Set to Push for South China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party 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.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs