THE LEVANT – A few months ago, Islam Yakan was a young Egyptian living a normal life, studying and engaging in interests such as sports and music until he joined the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL) .
Recently Yakan, who holds a law degree from Ain Shams University, revealed on Twitter he had joined ISIL, changed his name to Abu Salma bin Yakan, and was fighting in Syria.
“[The fact that] this young man and others are going to fight alongside terrorist organisations in the name of jihad underscores the need to closely monitor Egyptian youth to prevent them from being influenced by misguided views,” Sheikh Rageh Sabri of the Ministry of Endowment’s directorate of religious guidance told Al-Shorfa.
Parents have a hard task “in terms of protecting their children from negative influences in the course of their lives, while the task of clerics, imams and preachers is even harder”, he said.
Al-Azhar institutions became aware of this some time ago, he said, and have taken precautionary measures to prevent the rise of religious extremism and the distortion of religious teachings.
These include prohibiting uncertified preachers from delivering speeches in mosques and dispatching preaching caravans to all Egyptian governorates, in addition to shutting down all places that could be used by those who espouse extremist ideology and views, Sabri said.
The basics of Islam need to be explained to young people, he said, such as the true meaning of jihad, zakat and other principles, to enable them to successfully counter any attempt to manipulate their views or encourage them to engage in criminal acts under the cloak of religion.
‘AT RISK YOUTH’
Cairo University psychology professor and family relations consultant Waliyuddine Mukhtar told Al-Shorfa he has followed Yakan’s case and all related news.
This case “highlights the potential risk to youth, regardless of their nationality or social status, as the issue goes beyond the financial enticements used to entrap them to what might be described as complete brainwashing”, he said.
Yakan was well off, he said, but this did not prevent him from being “exploited in various ways to turn him into a criminal who boasts about severed heads”.
Protecting young people must be done according to a carefully developed plan that starts at home with the family and extends to the schools and universities, Mukhtar said.
Activities also must be provided to keep youth from idle time and unsavoury influences, he said.
Mukhtar also stressed “the need to monitor preachers and clerics and purge them of the criminals who tarnish the image of Islam and turn innocent people into criminals in the name of religion”.
CAUTION AND SURPRISE
Young Egyptians followed Yakan’s story with interest, with most critical of his decision to join ISIL and of his appearance in a fighter training video clip he claimed he shot in al-Raqa.
“Islam always liked to experience anything that is novel and is drawn to anything that is out of the ordinary,” said Raafat Samir, one of Yakan’s schoolmates at Lycée la Liberté in Heliopolis.
Yakan had changed in the period just before he emerged as an ISIL fighter, growing a beard and beginning to frequent the mosque, said Samir, who is currently pursuing his studies at a private university.
“All [his] friends were astonished at his transformation, especially as he was [previously] far removed from the atmosphere of extremism and his interests were confined to going to the sporting club, working out and taking supplements. It did not occur to anyone that he would go to fight in Syria,” he told Al-Shorfa.
Cairo shopkeeper Morsi Mansour said he fears for his children being “drawn by false fatwas which have begun to spread among the youth, disseminated by suspicious [individuals] and clerics belonging to terrorist organisations”.
These days, he is raising his two sons’ awareness and urging them to stay clear of all views that could negatively impact their lives, he told Al-Shorfa.
Mansour said he closely monitors what they browse on the Internet “for fear they would be enticed with money, women or false religious promises”.
“I do not want a day to come when I see their pictures online with ISIL or other terrorist organisations, holding severed heads, or hear any news that one of them blew himself up in Iraq or Syria,” he said.