A leading Muslim cleric has said that Islamic leaders in Ireland have to accept there was a problem “of extremism and radicalisation” among young people and to take action to address it.
Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri told the Irish Examiner that most of the radicalisation of young Irish Muslims was happening on social network sites — a phenomenon religious leaders and the country “do not have a handle on”.
He said the number of radical Muslims in Ireland was “very limited” but that he has had to help families of young people who have died after going to fight in Syria.
In his talk to Muslims attending Friday prayers at the Al-Mustafa Islamic Educational and Cultural Centre in Blanchardstown, west Dublin, Shaykh Al-Qadri condemned “unconditionally” the attacks in Paris and all terrorist activity in the name of Islam.
He pointed out that one of the policemen killed, Ahmed Merabet, was a Muslim, and that the ideology of extremism espoused by groups like al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Islamic State had to be eliminated.
He told the Irish Examiner that this was not a clash of civilisations – of Islam versus Western culture – as most victims of these groups were Muslims. This included the 148 people, 132 of them schoolchildren, massacred by the Taliban in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Christmas Day.
“We are affected the most, so we need to come together and understand why people are going to that extent – and these justifications we have to eliminate,” Dr Al-Qadri said.
“There is a problem with extremism among people who don’t understand the religion. It is time we speak openly about it.”
He added: “We have people in Ireland – very limited in number – who do have positive feelings towards [Islamic State], but we don’t have people actively recruiting.”
Dr Al-Qadri said the fuelling of extremism was happening online: “Most radicalisation is on social networks, on Facebook. I am shocked by what I see. Some of the comments on posts come from youth in Ireland.” He said he had to help a young man recently who spoke to him about joining Islamic State in Syria: “I was shocked. He was under the impression that what [Islamic State] was doing is what you are supposed to do under Islamic teaching.” He said he believed the youth did not go to Syria.
Dr Al-Qadri said that he knew a number of the families whose children had gone to Syria and Iraq and died in fighting — of which there have been at least four.
“In the cases I know, the parents didn’t have a clue,” he said.
“In one case the dad is a doctor, who is very moderate and open-minded. It’s the influence of social media on our youth and we do not have a handle on it in this country.” Dr Al-Qadri said “most Islamic centres don’t want to talk about it”, adding that the “biggest responsibility” was on religious leaders and scholars here to try to address the problem.
Meanwhile, radical Muslim preacher Anjem Choudary told Cork’s Red FM that Ireland was a legitimate target for attack because of its decision to allow American planes refuel at Shannon Airport.
Dr Al-Qadri said Mr Choudary did not represent any Muslims, had no background in Islamic education and the media should not allow him promote his “extremist ideology”.
A statement issued by the Islamic Centres in Ireland condemned the “atrocious attack” in Paris. “This horrendous attack cannot be justified under any circumstances. We repudiate and dissociate ourselves from any group or individual who commits such brutal acts. We refuse to allow our faith to be held hostage by the criminal actions of tiny minority acting outside the teachings of Islam.”
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