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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs