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  • Engaging with the Narrative of Radical Extremism: A Spiritually Based Diagnostic and Intervention Model
  • Tariq Mahmood Awan

Islamic Guidance Program, extremism, rehabilitation, epistomology, chaplaincy, prison

Introduction and Background

This essay shares some of the aspects of my research journey and the pedagogical approaches implemented during the Islamic Guidance Programme (IGP). The IGP is a faith-based, spiritually embedded intervention that has been designed to cater to the rehabilitative needs of Muslims charged under extremism legislation, as well as those who appear vulnerable to faith-based radical extreme ideology. A spiritually based critical theological approach is adopted throughout the whole process of teaching. As a spiritually based intervention, IGP has its own theological foundations, epistemological principles, and unique teaching techniques that need to be used during the process of rehabilitation of a selected group of participants. This essay presents a summary of these theological, empirical, and educational aspects.

A full-time chaplain in a prison, as in any other sphere, observes positive as well as negative uses of faith. Faith can be used as a tool to bring positive life changes, as a catalyst for self-reformation, and as an effective factor to begin a crime-free lifestyle. However, it can also be used for the justification of criminality or wrongs. An impartial analysis must conclude that both the positive effects of faith as well as its misuse can be found both inside and outside the prison walls. It follows that challenging the misuse of faith should be considered a religious responsibility both inside and outside. The IGP course can be considered a Muslim response to this responsibility. Due to the urgency entailed by their dangerous ideology, the target [End Page 455] group in this research is those who use Islam to justify extremism and terrorism.1

In order to avoid counterproductive results, fulfilling this responsibility requires a great deal of resilience, courage, and professionalism. During my research journey, I have experienced a variety of reactions and responses— being ignored, challenged, ridiculed, insulted, bullied, and called a hypocrite or a government puppet or a Muslim with very weak faith. Some of my students withdrew from my group sessions, and others stopped coming to offer Friday prayers when led by me. Even some other Muslim chaplains believed I was working as an agent or for ulterior motives.

Such responses caused frustration due to the lack of a faith-based intervention program for the deradicalization2 of radicalized Muslims. At the same time, these challenging reactions prompted me to review my interaction and teaching strategies. A searching self-review concluded that my teaching approach had been quite direct, confrontational, and teacher-centered, with limited space and empathy given to the radicalized mind-set. The approach had somewhat failed to comprehend circumstances and background factors that play significant roles in the construction or transmission of faith-based radical ideology. Unlike the traditional teacher-centered Muslim teaching approach, I was able to adopt a spiritually based, mutually respectful approach, using an interactive and engaging communication style during the entire process of teaching the IGP. This has been encouraging and is worth sharing.

The learning outcomes of the IGP include these ten results for the learner:

  1. 1. Understand the concept of “meaningful/purposeful life” in Islam.

  2. 2. Explore the concept of human nature in Islam.

  3. 3. Improve understanding of Islamic guidance and its therapeutic role in personal development. [End Page 456]

  4. 4. Understand a spiritually based procedure to attain Islamic-based life objectives.

  5. 5. Analyze the meanings and role of tawba (repentance) in self-reformation.

  6. 6. Understand the process of wara’/taqwa (fear of God, consciousness of God).

  7. 7. Know the role of Islamic guidance in developing a balanced personality.

  8. 8. Understand the meanings and different phases of sabr (patience) in Islam.

  9. 9. Review meanings, different aspects, and role of ihsan (excellence) in personal development.

  10. 10. Analyze the meanings of jihad in connection with its different types, purpose, and a set discipline and limits of validity in Islam.

I will first outline the IGP and its fundamental phases/aspects (empirical/diagnostic, theological, and educational), then reflect on the successful methodology utilized during the learning journey, while engaging with the narrative of faith-based radical extreme...


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