Malaysia targets spread of terrorist ideology in main battlefronts including schools, internet

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) is waging war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group, targeting the spread of terrorist ideology at the main "battlefronts" such as schools, universities and the Internet.

Supporting the recent move by the Government to take the anti-terror fight to schools and universities, Jakim has set up a cross-agency, Jihad Concept Explanation Action Committee, for this purpose.

Its director-general Datuk Othman Mustapha said the committee would come up with a clear plan of action to address misconceptions about jihad or holy war as police investigations and analysts showed that the militants were luring young people with their ideology of jihad.

Using the social media to get close to youths, the militant group offered them rewards and promises of a place in heaven if they joined them on its so-called jihad against the "enemies of Islam".

"We are also trying to reach out to the young through takmir (official) and dakwah (religious preaching) programmes at mosques and surau," Othman said in an interview.

Jakim's first stop will be colleges and universities nationwide where it hopes to identify Muslim student leaders to help disseminate the true meaning of jihad through various anti-terrorism activities on campus.

"Having free access to information and following their emotions are some of the reasons students are vulnerable to the militant doctrine, so we are working to clarify the true meaning of jihad to them," he said, noting that Jakim had also launched a "Muslim undergraduates reject violence" campaign at the recent National Muslim Undergraduate Leadership Convention 2015 at the Islamic Training Centre in Bangi, Selangor.

Othman refuted criticisms that the Islamic authority had been sitting idle on the ISIS threat, saying that Jakim had been working to correct the misinterpretation of ISIS and jihad among young Muslims through mainstream media and its Friday sermons (khutbah).

Jakim, added Othman, was beefing up its outreach programmes on the ground in collaboration with the Government's National Blue Ocean Strategy to ensure a more structured and comprehensive implementation.

The Jihad committee is made up of representatives from six agencies - the Home Ministry's Malaysian Civil Defence Department, Prime Minister Department's National Security Council (NSC), police force, Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (Ikim), Al-Hijrah Media Corp and Institute of Islamic Strategic Research Malaysia (Iksim).

Echoing the Home Ministry's statement that only 5 per cent of the 75 people arrested for involvement with the terrorist group were found to have religious education background, Othman said blaming the spread of terrorism on Islamic schools was an "overge­neralisation".

"Malaysia's Islamic educational institutions have produced many Islamic intellectuals who have contributed to the development and prosperity of the country," he said.

However, Jakim said it established a strategic partnership with the State Islamic Religious Department (JAIN) to monitor all religious schools, religious education in mosques and religious talks.

"Through this cooperation, we will address the misconceptions about jihad and extremism."

For its online war, Jakim is looking to work with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).

Othman said the department was aware that the new media, with its ability to spread information fast and without control, had allowed certain parties to spread their ideologies and thinking to confuse the people, including on the issue of jihad.

"It is the youth who are most vulnerable as they are the biggest users of the new media and technology.

"They are exposed and can get influenced by this extremist ideology, and if this is not nipped in the bud, it can grow into a cancer affecting the country's multi-ethnic harmony and national security," he added.

MCMC outreach and engagement division head Eneng Faridah Iskandar said they were looking at strengthening the commission's partnership with Jakim to come up with the religious content that was not only correct but presented in an appealing way to the young.

"We would need to work closely with Jakim and the police," she said.