Monday, June 25, 2012
De-radicalising Muslim Youth
In trying to understand the potential of radicalisation of Muslim youth in Sydney, I have written some background information that might help to understand the issues and explore ways for preventing youth from becoming radicalised. Today's Muslim youth have a very different environment than that of their parents and have in many ways had more stability in their lives and a greater access to Islamic education. There are however much deeper historical factors that have influenced the way Muslim youth perceive their identity. Resurgence of Islam Islamic resurgence began in the 19th century as a result of the colonisation of the Middle East by European powers. This continued well into the 20th century after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. There was a general feeling that society had lost touch with their Islamic principles of high moral conduct and compassion. Hassan Al Banna who co-founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was one of those who felt this way. He was more concerned about the return to spirituality and morals in Egyptian society under colonial rule. Sayyid Qutb born 1906 was one of several prominent scholars who lived in Egypt and joined the Brotherhood. He was attempting to revive the early concept of armed struggle, in the vain hope to initiate a revolution that would see Muslims unite under one banner and re-assert its domination of the region. He used the teachings of Ibn Taymiyya and Imam al-Shafi to justify his ideas. One of his greatest works was Milestones ( Ar. Ma’alim fi’l Tariq) written whilst in prison in Egypt under Nasser. Nasser and other Arab leaders had other ideas. Theirs was a path towards secularization, the Muslim Brotherhood dispersed throughout the Middle East and went underground. Around this time several scholars who advocated violent struggle had influence in places like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. This resurgence has indirectly led to the current anti-Western sentiment throughout the Muslim world. Since the 1970’s the Islamic resurgence has had to go underground to some degree. The Ikhwan al Muslimeen or The Muslim Brothers as opposed to the Brotherhood has been strong in opposing the governments of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. During the 70’s the Palestinian struggle received world attention and put the Muslims firmly on the media map. In the late 70’s and early 80’s the Islamic revolution in Iran created a new found resentment of Islam in the West. The Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie further divided the liberal West with the inflexible Islamic worldview as represented by the Ayatollah. In the past two decades we have seen the collapse of Communism, two Gulf Wars and a number of terrorist attacks against Western targets which have all contributed to the current divide between Islam and the West. The resulting Nation States with their secular or totalitarian governments has caused great discord amongst the intelligentsia in these societies leading to violent episodes in the political development of most of the countries that make up the Middle East including Turkey, Iran and Pakistan. Whilst Islam and the West are historically compatible there are competing interests which are not religiously motivated but due to geo-political reasons have been perceived as a clash between the two. The strategic and economic interests in the Mid East are well known and the struggle for independence amongst some Muslim countries has led to further violent clashes often exacerbated by foreign influence from countries like the USA, France, Britain and Russia. The current War on Terror is only the latest international issue that has created great instability in the world. The emergence of Al Qaeda and other militant groups has led the US to declare a new form of warfare (substituting the Cold War) in which there are no clear enemies or rules of combat, hence making it an indefinite war that can be exploited to suit the needs of the Western Hemisphere. Most Muslims are the victims of terrorism and very few support terror as a mode of struggle. For most Muslims it is contrary to Islamic teachings which restrict the killing of civilians to combat only. Islam and the state: Islamisation ISLAMISATION is a term which describes the process by which communities, political groups and countries seek to accord primary significance to the perceived values and laws of Islam as the laws of the state. This phenomenon is recent and attributed to various independent movements fighting against colonial rule. In the pre-colonial period, Islamisation was not pursued because state and society were perceived to be one, and as long as personal religious beliefs and worship were not restricted by state laws, there was no need to form an Islamic state. It is argued by many that the present appeal of Islamisation lies in the belief that it is an opportunity to regain an authentic Islamic identity lost through colonisation. It has also been suggested that Islamisation has a mass appeal for Muslims as an antidote to the corrupt and dictatorial regimes that have often risen in the wake of the withdrawal of colonial power. Groups that identify themselves as engaged in the project of Islamisation can vary considerably in their ideology and approach. Currently there is the perception that Islamists endorse violent struggle, but this is not always the case. Islamists are to be found on both the right and left of the political spectrum. There is a significant consensus among scholars that the process of Islamisation has not brought Muslim nations in which it has taken place any closer to the Qur’anic ideal of a just and compassionate society. Islamisation has been especially devastating for women and minority groups who are not only often excluded from the political and public domains, but are also subjected to harsh limitations or even abuse in the cultural and educational spheres. Most importantly, Islamisation has created an elite who either through theological credentials or political force that insist their interpretation of Islam is the only legitimate one. Criticism and opposition has become increasingly dangerous where these elites exist. To what extent countries have been legally Islamised varies greatly. While some Muslims passionately support the move toward an ‘ideal’ Islamic state, for others the concept of Islamisation is highly problematic. In some polities (eg. Indonesia, Algeria, the Palestinian Authority), Sharia is virtually ignored as a guide to legislation or policy on many vital issues, while others (eg. Malaysia, Syria, Pakistan) have enshrined it in their legal codes and constitutions to varying degrees or limited it to religious courts with jurisdiction over family law, some succession and moral matters. There are only a handful of countries (eg. Saudi Arabia & Sudan) where some version of the Sharia constitutes the whole of the law. Structure of Islamic organizations in Australia The structure of the Islamic Community in Australia is very diverse and ambivalent. Like many communities there are a number of organisations that cater for religion, youth, women as well as welfare and education. The Islamic community is more complex than an ethnic community per se because it is in fact made up of over 100 different ethnic communities and associations loosely tied together under the banner of Islam. There are many ethnic organizations and societies and several organizations that are distinctly Islamic in identity as well as a number of peak bodies or umbrella oragnisations in each state. The Muslim community in Australia is directly affected by the various perspectives shared by scholars based in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Europe and the USA. What is occurring outside the country in a macrocosm is also mirrored here as a microcosm. Therefore, the biggest hurdle facing Muslims in Australia currently is the process of unity and co-operation. In fact, it is quite misleading to occur to one Muslim community but rather many Muslim communities based on the different schools of thought and ethnic backgrounds. The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) now called Muslims Australia The Islamic community in Australia was, in 1964 only a very small community of Turkish-Cypriots, Egyptians, Lebanese, Albanians, Bosnians, Chinese, Malays, Indians, Fijian- Indians and Pakistanis. The community was not yet large enough to form any associations by ethnicity. There were, however, enough people concerned about preserving their faith to begin a loose federation of the various communities across the country. The Australian Federation of Islamic Societies (AFIS) was formed and this small organisation administered the affairs of the community, especially in terms of raising money to build mosques and schools. By 1974 the Turkish community with the help of AFIS built the first mosque in Australia since the post war immigration boom. Which was an old Presbytarian church in Erskineville (in Sydney), converted to a mosque. Mosques followed swiftly with the building of the Lakemba Mosque (1976) and the Surry Hills Mosque (1978). These mosques catered for the small communities which existed in and around Redfern and South Sydney. The first plane loads of Turkish migrants were housed in hostels around Zetland and the inner city. These communities in the early eighties moved out to western suburban centres such as St Marys, Mt Druitt, Blacktown and Auburn. The Indo-Pakistani community also moved out to Rooty Hill and Blacktown. Today there are two large mosques in western Sydney ( Mt Druitt which was built by the Turkish community and in Rooty Hill built by the Indo-Pakistani community). In 1974 several professional Muslim members of AFIS decided to form a peak body called the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC). This was based on a three tier structure of federal council, state councils (9 councils including Christmas Island and Canberra) and local societies. Although the original aims of the body indicated a wide sphere of influence especially in areas of halal certification, mosques, schools, and youth, it has in the last ten years lost some of its relevance to Muslims living in Sydney and Melbourne and possibly in most states. The peak body has become largely redundant because of the loss of its Halal Certification monopoly and costly and time consuming court battles against other Islamic bodies. However, in recent months, AFIC has tried to reinvent itself with a name a change, now called Muslims Australia. It has also expanded its school network to have 8 campuses three in Sydney and one in every state except Tasmania and Darwin (there are plans for a school in Darwin though). Muslims Australia is slowly regaining some credibility amongst the Muslim community nationwide, although, there are many young people who have established their own networks based around University and social media networks. For many young Muslims, Muslims Australia is too distant to understand or to engage with. NSW The Islamic Council of NSW (ICNSW) was incorporated in 1976. AFIC was incorporated in 1980 as the peak Islamic body in Australia. ICNSW represented a collective of Islamic societies and organisations in NSW and was a member of AFIC up till 1999. In 1996 a dispute had erupted between the ICNSW and the AFIC board. As a result of this the dispute the two organizations ended up in court. On 29 August 1999 ICNSW was suspended and a caretaker situation was sought. There was no resolution and subsequently ICNSW was expelled permanently from the Federal umbrella organization. AFIC then created a new state body in 2000 to offset the ICNSW and called it the Supreme Islamic Council of NSW. It did not come into effect until early 2001. The SICNSW had been operating as the state body for almost 2 years until another court dispute arose in mid 2002. SICNSW sought to remove a society from the council and in August sought to amend its constitution, AFIC said it was unconstitutional and once again the SICNSW was expelled and a new body was formed calling it the Muslim Council of NSW (MCNSW). The Executive committee, during the 2003 Congress elected a new state body calling it the Muslim Council of NSW. The MCNSW was also suspended and a new NSW body was created calling it Muslims NSW and it is currently AFIC’s representative body in NSW. One of the largest Muslim migrant communities to emerge in Sydney was the Lebanese community. They congregated in Canterbury-Bankstown and built their first mosque in Lakemba in 1975. The Lebanese Muslim Association (LMA) manages the affairs of the mosque ranging in services from funeral and burial services to Arabic and Quran lessons and youth activities. These were the primary services provided by other associations and mosques. They were largely unskilled first generation Muslims who could not speak English with any fluency. The leader of prayers at the mosque is Sheikh Taj Al din Al Hilali, of Egyptian origin. Recently, the LMA opened its large multi-functional youth centre. Other relevant organisations (this is not an exhaustive list) There have been for the past decade groups operating alongside the community but not directly involved with the peak bodies. These amongst others: Islamic Charitable Projects Association (ICPA Habashi and Lebanese), Hizb-u-Tahrir (HT), Tablighi Jamaat (mixed mainly sub-continental), Ahlu-sunna wal-jamaat (ASWJ) (mixed salafi groups), Milli Gorus (Turkish - National Vision), Nur jamaat (Turkish) and Ikhwan al-Muslimeen (Muslim Brotherhood mainly Arab), Earlwood Islamic Centre (Shia) as well as many small sects such as Alawis (Turkish and Syrian), Ahmaddiya (Qadiyyanis) and Ismailis (sub-continental). In general these groups are small in numbers, however, some of these groups, such as the ASWJ and HT draw large crowds to their events and activities as many Muslims attend but do not necessarily support their ideologies but have some association (usually ethno-cultural). Both Ahlu-sunnah wal jamaat and Hizbut-Tahrir receives a disproportionately high amount of media coverage which magnifies the perception that they are an important part of the mainstream Muslim community. Within the Ahlu-sunna wal jamaat are a number of organisations; United Muslims Association (UMA), Global Islamic Youth Centre (GIYC), Federation of Muslim Students and Youth (FAMSY), Islamic Cultural Centre (ICC) and the Islamic Dawah and Culture Association (IDCA). These groups are increasing their sphere of influence and are highly organised and motivated. Although, only a small proportion of the general Muslim population in Australia, they are much more active in community affairs and have their own youth clubs, converts support, women’s groups and bookstores. The only way to combat their growing influence is to promote more mainstream traditionalist groups to take positions of leadership and to establish organizations that promulgate a “traditional” interpretation of Islam. Sydney is a complex conglomeration of ethnic communities and religious sects. The most significant aspect of the Muslim population in NSW compared to other states is the very large proportion of Lebanese people in Sydney. There are roughly about 70000 Lebanese Muslims in Sydney alone. Many of the Lebanese fled the strife of the 1975 civil war and have settled in South Western Sydney and in western Sydney in such places as Lakemba, Bankstown, Rockdale, Liverpool, Campbelltown and Auburn. There are many problems facing Lebanese youth, particularly around marginalisation and disenfranchisement leading to high criminality. This is reflected by the relatively high numbers of prisoners of Lebanese descent (both Christian and Muslim) in NSW gaols. However, there are other complexities. Sydney, has traditionally been built around the development of enclaves of various ethnic groups such Italians in Leichardt, Greeks in Marrickville, Vietnamese in Cabramatta and so forth. The level of integration in Sydney has been very slow and some communities are still isolated. The high volume of migrants has also contributed to their high visibility and there has been some discomfort expressed by some elements in the mainstream community and the media reporting has accentuated this discomfort. In 2005 the Cronulla Riots highlighted this growing tension and Sydney will remain for the immediate future a city which is not well adjusted to the high concentration of multicultural groups in various pockets of Sydney. The latest group, with high visibility and controversy has been the Sudanese both of Christian and Muslim backgrounds. VIC Likewise in Melbourne, the first emerging communities were led by Albanians, Bosnians Cypriots, Lebanese, Egyptians and Turks. It was not until the early 80’s that schools were established and a number of Mosques were built. Sheikh Fehmi Naji El-Imam was one of the pioneers in Melbourne (migrated in the 50’s) and is based at Preston Mosque. The Islamic Council of Victoria is also a strong institution that provides a number of services to the Islamic community. In the past decade a number of women’s organizations have emerged providing urgently needed services for women. We have also witnessed a new wave of migrants originating from the Horn of Africa (Somalia, Eritrean, Ethiopian), Iraq and Afghanistan in the past decade. The needs of these emerging communities has been focused on settlement, welfare, employment and English training. The Islamic Women’s Welfare Council of Victoria is active in dealing with domestic violence and counselling and a number of initiatives led by the council has been very successful. Islamic community relations in Melbourne have been slightly smoother than in NSW and to this day there is only one Islamic council. There are also a number of Islamic schools which all have produced high achievers with excellent academic results. The Turkish community has produced four schools in Melbourne and currently both King Khalid College (now known as Australian International Academy) and Minaret have developed into large and prestigious institutions. Other schools are Ilim College and Isik college run by the Turkish community. The Islamic Co-ordinating Council of Victoria has also become a strong performer in Halal certification and overseas trade with the Middle East and South East Asia. There are over 30 mosques in Victoria. The emergence of competent Muslim leaders in the past decade have made Melbourne’s Muslim community a model for others to learn from. People like Yasser Soliman, Waleed Aly and Professor Abdullah Saeed as well as comedians such as Nazeem Hussain and Aamer Rahman. Melbourne’s Muslims have successfully used comedy and the arts to break down barriers and promote positive community engagement. The lack of conflicts has helped a continuous pattern of growth and success. Both Melbourne and Sydney have been very successful in Interfaith dialogue and this type of activity has multiplied since September 11 2001. WA The community in Perth is ironically much older than Sydney or Melbourne, although far smaller in number. The early Afghan cameleers settled in Perth and in 1905 built the Perth Mosque. This mosque is still used by the new generation of Muslims in Perth. Broadly speaking, the community is dominated by South Africans, Somalis, Turks, Lebanese and Indonesians. There are four main mosques with a number of smaller centres. The main mosques are situated in Mirabooka, Perth, Thornlie and Marylands. The University of WA and Curtin Universities have a number of Muslim scholars who are also active within the community. Of course the Islamic Council of WA acts as the peak body for Muslims in Perth but does not enjoy enough support from the main part of the community. The large success story for Perth is the Australian Islamic College which has over 2000 students and three campuses. There are three more Islamic schools in Perth. Like most states there is a Muslim Women’s Association. There is also a very active and dominant Salfi group which has its own dawah centre, school and mosque. Muslims in Perth are quite integrated into the mainstream society and West Australians seem to have readily accepted Muslims new and old alike. This could be attributed to the long history of relations which started with the early Afghan and Pakistani migrants in the 1800s. QLD Brisbane is another unique situation where Muslims have integrated well into the broader community. There are less than 15000 Muslims in the whole state and much of the activity is run by the Islamic Council of Queensland. However, there is a strong presence of individual Muslims who work on a variety of matters ranging from welfare, halal certification, women’s issues and academia. Most have some affiliation with the Council. The new force in community issues is the Islamic Research Centre which is partly funded by Griffith University and the Islamic community in Brisbane. The centre is run by Muslim academics and has its own media centre. The Kuraby mosque which was burnt down in 2001 after the September 11 attacks in the US, has now been rebuilt and is a focal point for the community’s activities. The oldest mosque is in Holland Park and was built by the Afghan Cameleer/Indian community. There is also a new mosque in Durra. There are two Islamic schools in Brisbane; Karawatha and in Gooloongabba. There are a number of Muslims living in the Sunshine Coast, Mackay and Rockhampton. Some of these Muslims are of mixed heritage with Makkasan and Malay blood, remnants from the Makassan sea-traders who arrived in the 17th century and onwards until the early 20th century and the Malay pearl-divers who were operating in the early 1900’s. SA In Adelaide for many years there has been no central body and therefore the community has been generally disparate. The oldest mosque in Australia is situated in Little Gilbert Street and was built in 1888. There are a number of smaller organizations which run educational facilities and welfare groups. The main women’s organization is the Muslim Women’s Association of SA. There are as in other states populations of Lebanese, Turks (in Murray Bridge), Afghans, and the largest community of Uygur people (from Western China) in Australia. The community is very small and still developing its institutions. The Islamic College of SA is now 12 years old and there is an Islamic centre in Park Holme and a small community school. South Australia could be regarded as the hub for the Afghan cameleers and today there are several thousand descendants still in the state, with their biggest concentration in Port Augusta and Adelaide as well as a symbolic presence in Marree where the Camel cup is held every year in July. Tasmania The Islamic Society of Hobart is very small. It is one of the members of the AFIC system and holds the same voting power as Sydney and Melbourne. The community is so small, there are very few incidents to report. However, sadly, in recent times the Islamic Sufi library was deliberately burned down and many valuable books destroyed. The new Hobart mosque was officially opened in 2005. Canberra A vibrant and professional group of Muslims reside in Canberra. The Islamic Society of Canberra is an important member of AFIC. Also AFIC has opened a new school. Outside of this system is the independent group, the Canberra Islamic Centre which has built its own centre fully equipped with sports hall/ prayer centre, the largest Islamic library in Australia, a radio studio, computer room, an art gallery and function centre. The group are actively involved with interfaith, media, the performing arts and political lobbying. There is also a new mosque in North Canberra. Darwin The Islamic Society of NT is a very small group of Muslims numbering under 1000. They are actively involved in interfaith and media. The community is mainly a mixture of Indo-Pakistani, Malay-Indonesian, new arrivals from Africa and some Chinese Muslims. There is only one imam in Darwin. The significant others This is a fairly small body of concerned Muslims who are generally educated and come from an eclectic mix including many converts who are running their own organisations and involved at grassroots levels of the community. Their activities range broadly from welfare, women and education to interfaith, da’wah (inviting people to Islam) and media. These groups are led by mid-level professionals, who are ‘home-grown’ and possess an “Australian” mindset. These people are generally less embroiled in the politics of the peak bodies and tend to get much more done, particularly, in establishing grassroots movements and programs. The main problem for this group is that they are under-resourced and lack enough funds. They tend to be inwardly focused and have specialised areas of interest and operation. For example interfaith, welfare and counselling, religious education, media relations and Islamic education. Key groups at risk of radicalisation and some possible solutions The Muslim community is really a conglomeration of very diverse groups of ethnic, doctrinal and sectarian factions, in which there are overlapping religious ideologies and cultural factors. In Australia the Turkish community, just for example, is made up of the socialist left and Alevis, on one side and in the centre, the religiously observant Muslims who could belong to one of the following groups: Diyanet (Turkish Department of Religious Affairs), Milli Gorush (National Vision), Nur group, those who follow Fetullah Gulen such as Affinity Intercultural Foundation and Australian Islamic Society, and a number of Sufi Orders and on the right it is mainly nationalists and secularists. Religiously, Turks are Sunni Muslims and follow the Hanafi school of jurisprudence. Take another totally different group as an illustration of the complexities of understanding and dealing with Islam; the Lebanese community is broadly made up of the socialists, the business and gentrified elite, the nationalists and pro-government groups, then on the religious spectrum there are staunch Sunni Muslims who follow the Shafii school of jurisprudence, the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan il Muslimeen), the Habashi, the Wahhabi, Tablighi, several Sufi orders and of course the Shi’a, who are predominantly Jafari 12th Imam sect and come from southern Lebanon. There are many family and regional divisions and where you come from determines your politics, for instance, many Lebanese Australians are from Tripoli, others are from al-Minya, or Beirut and there are those from the South as well as others from Akkoura and various mountain or valley regions. The Lebanese in Australia generally follow Sunni orthodoxy and are in line with mainstream Muslims around the world. However, small factions exist between the minority extremist groups. Most Lebanese are fairly lax and behave as cultural Muslims who observe the main practices and traditions. Of course a very telling factor about Lebanese Muslims is that most who arrived in Sydney in 1975 were from uneducated rural areas with very limited skills and understanding of modern societies (a large number arrived just from the Tripoli rural area alone). There are too many groups to mention that belong to the colourful and vibrant Muslim community, in fact it is more accurate to say Muslim communities and to be more accurate there is no one Muslim community in Australia. For example Turks rarely mix with Lebanese, they rarely mix with Africans and Bosnians tend to do their own thing although close to Turks. South Africans are quite aloof too and Indians tend to also mix with their own. This evidenced by the many mosques which operate in their own ethnic languages. The Muslim community is about 500000 in total. While we must be aware of the needs of the community, by and large the Muslim population is well adjusted to Australia and pose no real threat. From this population only about 50-60% are active and observant Muslims. Within this half of the population there is, however, a small percentage (approximately 2-5%) who are in a precarious position and at risk. Besides the well known groups there are now some new and emerging communities such as Afghan, Sudanese and Somali, which are under-developed and little is known about their structures and politics. Yet, they are very much an active element of the overall Muslims in Australia. There are three important and at-risk groups that will play a significant role in the future of Islamic affairs in Australia: 1. The Motivators - The mainstream moderate community of Muslims makes up over 90%. Only about a fifth of this population are active within the community and it is this group that needs to be motivated to act and empowered to do so. Their efforts to act as a counter to extremist or fundamentalist groups will be the only feasible way to diminish their relevance and influence over marginalised fringe groups. 2. Young Guns - The second group for focus is at-risk youth. It is here where it is most likely that young men will experience a change of view and attitude and are more vulnerable to persuasion. There are two types of at-risk youth; those disenfranchised and marginalised youth (usually involved in criminal activity) in contact with religious figures; or sophisticated and developed members of a dissident organization with strong views, mostly professional members. 3. The Mushrooms- The third reassessment begins with addressing the same issues of radicalisation of Muslim youth from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse backgrounds by examining ethno-cultural factors as well religious. We need to give more attention to at-risk groups based on their ethnic identities like Lebanese, Pakistani and Somalian communities and not solely on religious identities. The Muslim community at large supports the government’s initiatives to protect the nation from a terrorist attack. They support most of the measures taken to strengthen the laws and increase powers of law enforcement agencies, although like many Australians, Muslims are suspicious of giving too much powers to intelligence agencies fearing the general loss of civil liberties and persecution and harassment. This was highlighted by the Haneef and Izhar ul-Haque cases in 2007. Many of the so-called ‘extremist’ Muslim groups believe that the laws are targeting them anyway and are indifferent to what is happening. Countering radicalisation and extremism amongst Muslim communities There are three areas of concern regarding the mainstream and more moderate groups: • Operating at mid-level groups such as FAIR or Affinity, engaging leaders and managers and working with them to strategise initiatives to empower adults and youth, such as Media Training and awareness, job skills training and counselling programs, leadership programs and educational programs including after school tuition, positive role modelling and careers expos. • Language training and mentoring for new and emerging communities. • Crime reduction and prevention programs including building bridges and awareness of rights and responsibilities for marginalised communities. The main objective behind working with mid-level organizations and in assisting with skills training and crime prevention is to NORMALISE Islam and Muslims. Obviously, one of the very negative media issues is crime and whenever Muslims are involved whether it is rape or terrorism, it gets highlighted and usually with extensive coverage. Once again, this comes back to the community leaders, mid-level professionals and parents to become motivated to take responsibility and action to counter anti-social behaviour and criminal tendencies. By normalising Islam we will see Muslims engaged in everyday activities and be seen as a healthy part of the system of society. We are already seeing much more activism on behalf of many Muslims and as a result there has been much more awareness about Muslims and a willingness of the broader community to help and engage. There are four areas of concern regarding marginalised youth and religious groups: • Poor training of religious leaders and lack of facilities for mainstream organisations • Marginalised/disenfranchised youth with disadvantaged backgrounds such as low employment opportunities and high recidivism • Disaffected sub-professional Muslims and on-Campus Muslim Students • Religious training of youth abroad in Saudi Arabia, Middle East and Pakistan The problem of fire-brand imams and leaders will not simply go away, every religious community has their radicals and fundamentalists. The challenge is to minimise their influence and to keep them above ground so that one can monitor their activities. This creates a problem in that they tend to grow in popularity and influence. Therefore, it may be more advantageous to give these organizations some incentives to deal directly with the government and to monitor and curb some of their links with organizations abroad. The training of religious leaders is also a contentious issue as has been experienced in setting up an Islamic Centre for Excellence in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. The real need is not an academic course as this will only provide courses of interest to mainstream Muslims and non-Muslims and will be only a cosmetic solution. Instead, young Muslims in Australia have to have an option to remain in Australia to learn the traditional training and pastoral care of being an Imam. They also have to be given a first preference to attend any overseas training under a reputable institution in a country like Malaysia or Turkey. Finally, for close to three decades the conundrum of disenfranchised youth has weighed heavily on the “Muslim” communities. The problem is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and a generational cycle of disempowerment. Many Lebanese youth for example have low literacy, a strong accent and a ‘foreign’ sounding name which disadvantages them in all aspects of life especially employment and socialising. They then tend to take low skilled jobs or end up working with a relative or for the family business. Many youth have resorted to organised crime and end up in prison. The most serious challenge is to bring the standard of educational achievement to a better level and to improve employability. It is important to reduce crime and give young Lebanese men a chance to do better than their parents or their older mates and uncles. It is also vital that we promote more contact with mainstream institutions and organizations, get youth to volunteer and see the benefits of working with others for their own community and to create a better sense of good citizenship and moral responsibility. The greatest problem that I have experienced amongst Muslim youth especially of Lebanese extraction is that there seems to be no real hope or incentive to want to help the broader society. Instead, there is a culture of taking and not giving. Recommendations 1. To counter the first problem we need to motivate and empower existing Muslim organizations and ethnic groups with resources to assist the at-risk target groups. This could start with general information sessions and open forums on the relevant topics with community members. It could also involve supporting and opening projects that enable the community to further understand the issues and problems and to plan ways about dealing with it by offering professional development and training programs. 2. This is a continuation of the first solution and is about educating and raising awareness of issues amongst community and trying to combat apathy. 3. Provide strong foundations in schools and youth organizations and encourage Muslim youth to volunteer with mainstream organizations. 4. Promoting a more prominent role amongst smaller mosques and diminishing the prominence of controversial mosques and their committees. For instance in Sydney working closely with mosques such as Rooty Hill or Minto, Auburn or Bonnyrigg. 5. Putting more pressure on “peak-bodies” with funding incentives to work with mid-level reliable and effective groups who are under-resourced but more switched on with the issues, forcing them to work more effectively with the grassroots and distribute resources. 6. Provide stronger Islamic imam and religious training opportunities in Australia or connecting with reputable institutions which offer short courses in Malaysia. With the help of the government it would be a great achievement to establish the first Islamic Sciences Imam training seminary. This would entail employing an Arab scholar (fluent in English) to work in Australia for a minimum of four years to train and mentor young Muslim men who desire to be imams. 7. Work with mosques and schools in developing programs to assist youth such as leadership programs, mentoring projects and job skills training and sports and recreation programs. 8. Conducting research on Prisons and radicalisation of inmates and their progress outside the system 9. Conducting research on understanding radicalisation and the current trends in training religious leaders. 10. Working with specific ethnic communities and diluting the focus on Islam. This would be a deliberate attempt to lessen the focus on Islam and Muslims and assist the normalising process. The key at-risk group is within the Lebanese population. This may involve an extensive program targeting parents, community leaders and youth which essentially educates and motivates them to take a more proactive role and a sense of ownership and responsibility for their future. 11. Working with Lebanese youth on reducing/preventing crime. 12. Working with Lebanese and Pakistani youth and cultivating effective media savvy leaders. 13. Working towards maintaining strong links with on-Campus Muslim student bodies.