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Countering Extremism Through Education

“Those who listen to speech and follow the best of it. Those are the ones Allah has guided, and those are people of understanding” (The Holy Qur’an, Chapter al-Zumar, verse 18)

We are in need of an education that promotes the self-confidence of individuals, develops the spirit of leadership and initiative, enables them to be open to others and protects them from isolation and alienation.
1.    Extremism and its Manifestations and Causes
The term ghuluw (excess) means exceeding the limits of moderation. Like extremism, it refers to complete acceptance or rejection of a position or idea without any readiness to debate or discuss it. In this regard, Allah says in the Qur’an, “O People of the Book do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth” (Chapter an-Nisa, verse 171).
Extremism is linked to intolerance, which is a form of ideological rigidity, mental isolation and hatred of the other. Thus, ghuluw or extremism is a closed way of thinking that does not accept any beliefs that differ from personal or collective beliefs, refusing to tolerate them in any way.
Extremism is a social phenomenon linked to the religious, cultural, political, social and economic conditions within society. It is manifested in beliefs that are contrary to accepted values and norms in society, and conduct that violates such norms in the political, religious and doctrinal fields. 
Extremism varies from society to society and is not limited to one religion or sect. One of the most significant manifestations of extremism in religion is misunderstanding of the message of religion and intolerance of other opinions, especially in matters of ijtihad (independent reasoning when interpreting religious texts).
The spread of takfiri thought in Muslim societies (an approach that states that all other interpretations of Islam other than its own are misguided and that all those who subscribe to such interpretations are apostates) is another manifestation of extremism, which misleads people and declares them apostates and unlawfully declares that such people should be killed and their property confiscated.
Among the causes of extremism are ignorance of religion, lack of training in Islamic sciences, lack of independent intellectual reasoning and limiting interpretation to the literal understanding of religious texts without examining their objectives.
One of the causes of extremism is an authoritarian and oppressive education from which dialogue is absent. This may also be compounded by difficult family and social environments, in which there is a lack of moral education and cultural life.
Another cause is a feeling of despair regarding the sad state of Muslims after they had their lands colonized and their wealth plundered. Some radical publications draw on this despair, using digital media to disseminate extremist statements that appeal to those suffering from despair and depression.

2.    The Importance of Education
Education can make a serious contribution to countering extremism when a democratic approach is adopted that avoids imposition on learners and instead respects their freedom and uses dialogue, argumentation and persuasion to engage them.
An authoritarian education that involves a learning at the expense of developing genuine understanding should be avoided as it leads to blind obedience and indoctrination. The establishment of a constructive education should be based on independent learning, with the teacher acting as a facilitator to enhance the individual’s self-confidence and enable him or her to be open to others, while taking into consideration different individual needs in tailoring educational approaches.
This approach would help nurture the spirit of leadership and initiative among learners, give value to each individual’s capabilities and contributions, and protect them from isolation and alienation.
3.    Educational Curricula
Educational curricula should include teaching of the Seerah (the life of the Prophet), highlighting the values of tolerance, coexistence and constructive work, together with sound training in religious sciences and an enlightened religious education.
It is important to ensure that education in humanities and religious subjects develops critical thinking and acceptance of diversity in order to enable individuals to have a relative approach to ideas and not to sanctify books or authors dating back centuries or consider their jurisprudence to be binding for every day and age.
Education in the values of citizenship should cover rights and duties, an approach to freedom that also emphasizes the importance of responsibility, dignity, civic participation, human and child rights, and culture.
It is important to use educational activities based on brainstorming, active learning, role-playing, and peer learning, while also integrating training in conflict resolution through dialogue and peaceful means.
4.    Education at the Institutional Level
Educational institutions should work to enrich the cultural environment for children and young people that provides mental stimulation and ethics and encourages constructive and ethical behavior by providing libraries, theaters, cultural and scientific clubs, and sports facilities.
Educational institutions should work to provide a positive learning environment. This is jointly created through the administration, employees and students and should include the establishment of listening and mental support services for students and pupils. They should also work to provide opportunities for volunteering and civic participation.
Educational institutions should avoid using degrading punishments for students who violate school regulations.

5.    Teacher Training
It is essential to reform the system of teacher training so as to provide modern scientific and educational training that enables teachers to perform their new educational tasks more effectively.
Both teacher training and the methods for teaching students should be based on constructive learning and dialogue.

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