Extremist groups entrap religious youth
The institutions have become common in Yemen, though many are unauthorized by the Ministry of Endowment.
Many of Yemen’s Quran schools work without permits. In 2010, the Ministry of Endowment disallowed any Quran Memorization School in the capital unless a permit is obtained from the ministry's office.
Hamood Al-Hitar, former Minister of Endowment, said the religious centers do not provoke extremism.
“On the contrary, such centers help students graduate with moderate thoughts,” Al-Hitar said.
Abdu Al-Rahman Al-Zalm, deputy head at the Memorization Department at the Ministry of Endowment, said there are more than 500 schools and religious centers that the government does not oversee. These centers work without a government permit and without reference to the ministry. Some promote extremism, partisanship and racism, according to Al-Zalm.
“If there are extremists, it is due to misunderstanding,” Al-Hitar remarked said. “That does not mean the religious centers are the reason.”
He said dialogue could convince extremists to change, adding that extremists receive much of their information from the internet.
The intellectual vacuum, the carelessness of national education and intellectual security are the reasons that render the youth liable to intellectual breaches and extremist thoughts, Al-Hitar said.
By intellectual security, Al-Hitar is referring to a trust in one’s own thoughts.
“It is not strange that youth accept such mistaken thoughts because they are not immune from the beginning,” he said. “There is no intellectual security; moreover, extremist ideas have spread particularly in modern days known for the uncountable number of media outlets that neither individuals nor the government can control.”
Al-Hitar said the state should create programs for national education and for religious programs to prevent youth from being susceptible to extremist ideologies. The programs would help young people to differentiate between religious centers and extremist centers.
Jihad for the sake of God
“I do not believe that a scholar who has knowledge with regard to Islamic jurisprudence, the Holy Quran and Sunna may allow a man to carry out a suicide attack,” Al-Hitar said. “Scholars know the saying of the Prophet Mohammed —peace be upon him— in which a man will be punished in the hereafter just by the same means he used to kill himself in this world.”
He said he issued a fatwa more than a month ago that forbids suicide operations targeting Muslims, civilians and non-Muslims who trust Muslims, adding that terrorist operations have nothing to do with Islam. He said terrorism is punished both in this world and the hereafter.
He said those influenced by Al-Qaeda believe it is legitimate to kill non-Muslims.
“Islam does not allow the bloodshed of anyone irrespective of their nationality or religion.” He cited the verse of the Holy Quran that says, ‘Nobody is cajoled into religion.’
Al-Hitar said that friendship, justice and kindness toward non-Muslims is required as long as non-Muslims show no aggression. He said this is based on religious ideals.
Abdulwali Al-Rumana, an Al-Eman University graduate and a teacher at the Holy Quran Memorization center in Al-Hodeida, said terrorists are people who have diverted from religion. They superficially view religion, thinking that Islam is simply long beards and short robes. They do not involve themselves in Holy Quran seminars and religious centers, he said.
He said he managed and supervised religious centers that enlighten youth and keep them distant from abnormal behaviors and extremist tendencies. These centers help spread religious moderation, Al-Rumana said.
Al-Rumana said many youths have been entrapped by extremism because of personal time mismanagement and because of some stray centers that pretend to apply Sunna and Quran values to students.
The responsibilities of the Ministry of Endowment are limited to supervising authorized religious centers and their curriculum.
The Ministry of Endowment gives licenses for centers based on moderation, according to Al-Zalm.
He said he contacted police stations and local councils to compel private centers to request permits from the ministry's offices in all governorates. These centers must be committed to moderation, he said.
In 2007, Al-Hitar proposed a comprehensive national strategy based on the Quran, Sunna, effective laws, the constitution, moderation, patriotism and acceptance others.
He said the contents of the strategy were presented to the ministers' council, which convened a committee to look into it.
“The strategy needed collective efforts in order to establish the meanings and the points of this strategy,” Al-Hitar said. “Unfortunately, it stopped because politics had no role to support this work in addition to the absence of the necessary financial backup for this strategy.”
He emphasized that the strategy could help resolve many problems resulting from extremism.
Al- Hitar called on youths to commit to the instructions of the Holy Quran and Sunna. He said they should not heed any opinion going against the Quran, Sunna and the Muslim scholar's fatwa.
Najah Saem, a sociology professor at Sana'a University, said family is the first institution to fashion a child's personality. The role of the school comes next, and friends also impact a child.
Al-Saem said extremist groups recruit adolescents, indicating that the weak family and school backgrounds help extremists recruit youths.
Abdulsalam Al-Yousifi, the manager of the Hiati (My Life) Foundation’s Secure Adolescence Campaign, said adolescents pass through a phase full of psychological changes that parents find difficult to handle.
He said mistreating young people opens opportunities for extremist groups take advantage them. Extremists give teenagers a sense of self-worth, he said, and give them names such as prince or caliphate. They promise young people paradise in the hereafter. Thus, youths accept the extremist thoughts, according to Al-Yousifi.
Al-Zalm said the Ministry of Endowment cannot stop unauthorized religious centers, adding that last year’s political situation boosted extremist centers.