Religious inspiration gives space to bridge radicalism

Prevention of Radicalisation Through (Religious) Education

Conference Day 1

By Farisah Shabrina Mujahidah        

NICMCR’s Pokja Costly Tolerance / Inclusive Religious Education organized a two-day international online conference on “Prevention of Radicalization Through (Religious) Education” on February 23-24, 2022. The conference presented 8 panelists from various countries and religions. On the first day, Prof. Bert Roeben (University of Bonn, Germany), Prof. Stijn Sieclinck (Amsterdam University of Applied Science, Netherlands), Ms. Alissa Wahid (Coordinator of Gusdurian Network Indonesia), and Dr. Omer Gurlesin (Leiden University, Netherlands) joined the panels with moderator Prof. Gé Speelman (Protestantse Theologische Universiteit, Netherlands) attended by 60 participants from around the world and several institutions.

In his opening remarks, Prof. Dr. Al Makin., M.A, Rector of UIN Sunan Kalijaga stated that interfaith dialogue is critical to prevent radicalization and especially crucial considering the diversity in Indonesia, 6 official religions and 1300 religious’ groups with members from 700 different ethnicities, where overlap between religious groups and political parties is inevitable. Therefore, a new understanding of religious diversity is needed. This new understanding, said Makin, should be focused on isolated religious beliefs caused by an exclusive attitude towards religiosity in education. Additionally, close personal relationships were also pivotal in shaping inclusive religious views. Young people can pursue meaningful conversations by having friends from various religious beliefs and groups. Government and social media also play a role in the advocacy of inclusive practice that includes everyone in the discussion to debunk stigma on fear around apostasy if learning about other religions. Lastly, he pointed out that studies from Ambon, Poso, and Sampit were examples when these defining factors were ignored and internal conflicts caused severe grievances to both parties.

In line with Makin’s remarks, Moderator Dr. Gé Speelman explained that presuppositions around radicalization being connected to religions were no longer relevant as we saw how diverse radicalization is in our post-covid world. Where tensions have risen equally around the globe as we witness more and more people, often without clear connections and intent to religious issues, being enticed into radical movements.

The first panelist, Prof. Bert Roebben, started the discussion with a quote “The only true way of creating global peace is not only through educating our minds but also our hearts and our souls.” (Malala). He stated that inter-religious education requires a succinct understanding of personal identity and awareness of an individual that is unique in the world. A process that, he said is a prerequisite for creating responsible and answerable generations. Generations that are open to conversations. Bert recounts one particular event where students in Germany engaged in conversations with refugees from Africa as one of the inter-religious methods in Europe, he said this is important because only through knowing who you are and engaging towards this unique identity can we all be involved together in this conversation. However, he stated that epistemological research is further needed to know whether this approach applies to every part of the world.

Accordingly, teachers and students must be a part of this conversation from within. “Performative religious educations” meets “learning in the presence of others.” Teachers as a self that is also in the process of learning as their students do, ‘het leven beschouwen’ means to contemplate life in its complexity and to try to understand it as such. Patience and the spirit of learning are ways to make an inclusive learning environment possible (Roebben & Dommel, 2013).

The second panelist, Alissa Wahid, continued the discussion with views from contemporary Indonesia. Religious education is a medium to prevent religious education through enforcing inclusive religious attitudes. Violent extremism, in her observations, was an exclusive religious attitude with no (educational) interventions. She supported this observation with the work of Lynn Davis and Patrice Brodeur on ‘The Amplification Spiral’ while mentioning the dichotomous paradigm existing in Indonesia today, namely; legal formalistic-exclusive practices (Takhiri Ideology) and substantive-inclusive religious practices (Ukhuwah Trilogy by KH. Ahmad Shiddiq). Although both paradigms see religion as a worldview, they differ in interpretations and applications. The former translates ‘Islam Kaffah’ as a religious obligation to unite Muslims in a formal Islamic State, while the latter sees Islam as substantive values that embrace all (inclusiveness).

One survey from Varkey foundation in 2017 showed that 93 percent of Generation Z in Indonesia agree that religion is important in determining happiness, although globally this is only 44 percent (Global Citizen Survey, 2017). The state immediately responded by passing SRM (Strengthening Religious Moderation) priority program in the National Medium Term Development Plan for 2020-2024. Supporting this government initiative, Alissa stated that ‘religious education is [the] primary instrument in instilling substantive-inclusive paradigm of religiosity’ and SRM efforts must be focused on supplementing students with gradual thought process i.e., Bloom’s taxonomy so that they achieve matureness in three intelligence (technical knowledge, practical knowledge, and transformations).

Prof. Dr. Stijn Siecklinck continued the discussion with a stunning revelation from his ongoing work with Liam Stevens as co-authors in writing a chapter for Routledge Handbook on Education in Countering Radicalization. Instead of focusing specializations in tackling extremism in educational sectors, Stijn proposed a reset and reformations in the current anti-radicalization practices. Stijn admits although they do list interventions and policies in their research, they emphasize theories of education to come back to the fundamental role of education. He referred to the existing study of the three pillars of radicalization, the need for significance, narratives that identify extreme violence as a means of achieving significance, and a social network that reinforces validation and rewards this narrative justification to use extreme violence (Kruglanski, Bélanger & Gunaratna, 2019). Education can play a role by filling this quest for significance, Paolo Freire made a raveling distinction in Pedagogy of the Oppressed that radicalization nourished by a critical spirit is always creative because it criticizes and thereby liberate, on the other hand, sectarianism fed by fanaticism alienates and castrates.

In conclusion to this, Stijn brings back the attention for teachers to give their students space for learning processes because radicality can also be an opportunity for students to be more involved in activism as we witness more young people involved in social movements like climate strike or BLM in the United States. Therefore, the challenge is to tackle extremism without diminishing activism and idealism in current generations.

The last speaker, Dr. Omer Gurlesin, explained that problematic framing is used to radicalize individuals through obedience. The outcome of Stanley Milgram’s experiment informs us that 65 percent of the test subjects obeyed the experimenter to administer shock up to 450 volts to intentional mistakes made by fake test subjects. This shows us the effect punishment have on human brains and the complexity in internalizing role in individuals. As society gets more complex, so do people inside it. For example, one might be a moderate Muslim and they would act as such on a particular event, but there will be a time where their fanaticism was shown in another event. Moreover, charismatic figures could easily dominate one’s mind and perception of external relations. The dialogical Self theory explains how individuals can be radicalized through this process. Therefore, a shift of focus is needed from formal education to other informal educational support in the local area in which students live.

In the Q&A session, a question was raised on how education can stay inclusive despite rising tensions on issues of extremism that pushed the government to create policies that schools have to follow. Moreover, representations of religions and religiosity can differ from Europe and Indonesia, so how should inter-religious education be applied based on this diversity. All the panelists joined in on the discussions and they agree that involving youth and many relevant shareholders can be the key to making sure that schools and teachers were given room to have inclusive interreligious dialogue despite the political climate. Further study, especially epistemic research, is crucial to know how this could apply to the context of Europe and Indonesia. The conference was closed with invitations for all participants to join the next day for the second day of the international online conference.


Conference day 2

By Achmad Nurdany

On the second day of the international online conference on “Prevention of Radicalization Through (Religious) Education”, the 6 panelists from various countries and religions were Prof. Dr. Mualla Selçuk (Ankara University, Turkey), Dr. M. Wildan, (UIN Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta, Indonesia), Dr. Mahnan Marbawi (Indonesian Association of Islamic Religious Education Teachers (AGPAII, Indonesia), Dr. Atik Tapipin (AGPAII, Indonesia), Mr. Alper Alasag (IDEIS, Netherlands), and Prof. Dr. Ismael Hussein Amzat (International Islamic University, Malaysia), with moderator Siti Syamsiatun., M.A., Ph.D (UIN Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta, Indonesia). The conference gained a huge attendance of around 500 participants in the zoom meeting platform while another 500 were watching on YouTube channel.

Dr. Siti Syamsiatun started with a fascinating issue about the youth who usually were exposed to radical extremist ideas through internet sources, over which teachers and parents do not have control . The conference however focused  on the contribution of religious education in addressing pressing issues. An approach that encourages future generations to accept the differences and respect each other, so that everyone can live together in peace and work together in grace.

Continuing the issue, the first panelist Prof. Dr. Mualla Selçuk, highlighted the importance of the definition of the Qur’an and Al Kitab on creating a theology to encounter or prevent violent extremism. By studying the Qur’an and Al Kitab, the students should prepare themselves for a better world that they can share with each other, embrace their wisdom and work for the well-being of the society and the well-being of themselves. It will always be our obligation to research the secret of the wisdom in this diversity. Diversity, is like speaking in your own language, but we must find a common language to understand each other globally, at the same time keeping our own local identity. Her last point to the participants, who were mostly teachers, was the message that everyone needs some courage to teach harmony because we are living in a very conflictual world or even insistently conflictual work. The contribution of religious education lies with the teachers. They should do more than just speak the truth. They should also search for the truth, investigate the truth and guide students to the right path and to act in accordance with the truth.

The second panelist, Dr. M. Wildan, continued the presentation with the concern on preventing and countering radicalism and extremism in Indonesia. He stated that the drivers of extremism as well as prevention efforts, no only consist of a single factor, but of three pillars, enhancing law enforcement, strengthening national legislation, and international partnership and cooperation. As for efforts of preventing extremism through religious education at the university level, the Ministry of Religious Affairs has ordered all Islamic higher education institutions in Indonesia to establish a center for moderate religiosity. These efforts will not only depend on the ministry, but the universities should ensure many inclusive religious teachers, whereas the government should provide the teachers with inclusive textbook. He expressed his concern about the extremism in a large number of books, published by  private publishers, which contain a lot  of intolerant content.  Publication and distribution of these books, which are widely used in public and private schools, must be controlled by the governmental authorities and stopped from spreading. The last important thing regarded the role of the society at monitoring many informal religious groups along with their activities, which are not likely to be under the control of universities or even schools.

Afterwards, Dr. Mahnan Marbawi and Dr. Atik Tapipin jointly spoke about the role of the religious education teachers in confronting extremism in Indonesian junior and senior high schools. Almost every school in Indonesia has an extracurricular program named Rohis which provide a program for the students who are interested in advancing their religious knowledge and practice. Unfortunately, some students under this Rohis program massively spread their extreme religious interpretation to others. Thus, concepts such as jihad, toghut and khilafah, as well as, for example, the secular nation, which advocates separation of religion and state, are misinterpreted. What the Association of Teachers of Islamic religious education (AGPAII) did to prevent extremism in schools, was preparing a handbook for students, introducing concepts of community development for the Rohis program and involving students in other programmes to prevent radicalism.

For another view from the Netherlands, the fifth panelist, Alper Alasag, added some important points. The radicalization of Muslim youngsters in the Netherlands is seen as an urgent problem. He and his team take young people’s understanding of religion serious by way of strengthening their roots and creating space to stretch their wings. The module for education that they have developed aims at broadening young people’s horizons or in biological self-theory terminology, at increasing the number of inner voices and making their positioning process more flexible. The focus is on the development of resilience.

They firstly introduced an old board game named Mirror Mind that was adapted for this purpose. The game creates a space for dialogue and mutual exchange of knowledge and experiences, which contributes to the development of individual as well as group resilience. The game has proven to be a powerful tool to involve the students in a classroom.

Dr. Ismael Hussein Amzat, the last panelist, concluded with the importance of using the Islamic philosophical construction for education in confronting radicalism, extremism, and terrorism. Hussein Amzat strongly believes in a unique perspective from the Islamic philosophy, namely that the conflicts and problems we have today, all have something to do with the understanding of religion. From the perspective of philosophy, we tend to philosophise in very different ways. These differences lead to many interpretations and concepts. In the case of religion, one of the misconceptions about religion leads to the problem of radicalism and terrorism. He mentioned some conceptual solutions that could bridge the gap between Western and Eastern Islamic philosophy of education.

In her closing remarks, Dr. Ina ter Avest expressed that for all scholars, researchers, teachers, students and their parents, the courage needed is to strive against the stream, to create safe spaces in which dissonant voices can be expressed, listened to, and can stand firm in the uncertainty. The outcome of such challenging dialogue encounters open our minds for surprising new insights. We can hardly imagine it now, but at the end, we will contribute to a world in which every human being matters, regardless of his or her religious conviction or worldview. Despite violence or even saber-rattling at various parts of the world today, we can, inspired by our religious traditions, take a courageous stand against radicalism and extremism.