In its October 28, 2014 issue, the Standard newspaper ran a story under the caption; “MP wants madrassa syllabus unified to check extremism.” In the story, Kwale

County Woman  Representative to the National Assembly,  Ms Zainab Chidzuga, was quoted as calling  for a streamlined and unified syllabus for all Islamic schools (madrassas) in Kenya as a measure to arrest religious radicalization and spread of violent extremism. According to Ms Chidzuga, madrassa teachers need to use a known and approved syllabus so that those with ulterior motives of introducing Muslim children and youth to violent extremist narrative can be easily identified and dealt with accordingly. Said she: “we should introduce a single curriculum that has a monitoring team to watch out for those teachers who are feeding our children with non-important issues. A few teachers should not spoil the name of our religion.” The MP was speaking in Msambweni during a graduation ceremony for 90 women who had graduated from various madrassas across Kwale County.

Looking critically at what Ms Chidzuga said, one realises that she was bold enough to publicly offer a solution that many Muslim leaders in Kenya have shied away from with regard to the issue of violent extremism, which underlies the charge of terrorism leveled against Islam. Secondly, the MP, unlike many other Muslim leaders, was bold enough to admit that there is a problem within some Muslim institutions which often gives Islam a bad image. Ms Chidzuga’s were very controversial views, but whatever credit or criticism one may wish to direct at the MP for what she said at the Msambweni function, a pertinent issue comes out
very clearly—that something has been going on in some madrassas in Kenya and other parts of the world which has prompted government security agents to focus on these institutions as part of their so-called second stage in the fight against terrorism.

Truth be told—there is a worrying and culpable case of recruitment of gullible youth into violent religious extremism across Kenya and the East African region. This recruitment which is done through radical religious sermons is often blamed on what has been cited in the mainstream media as Salafist or Wahabi ideology. But
the question is—what do Salafists stand for? What do they want? Do they have a genuine point? If what they stand for goes against true Islamic teachings, what is the right position and how does our society respond to the security threat posed by violent extremism?

An honest attempt to answer the foregoing questions should bring well intentioned Muslims to the dialogue table and enable them understand why, for example, violent extremism continues to appeal to the youth. It would also assist the government security machinery to develop appropriate strategies of dealing with the problem without resorting to shameful and potentially polarizing options like storming mosques and shutting down madrassas.

For these reasons, the call for a standard madrassa syllabus really makes sense because society will be able to know what is, and, what is not extremist religious ideology. Such a syllabus would also contain an appropriate response to the Salafist or Takfeer ideology that is often blamed for Islamic extremism. Indeed, given that the alleged radicalization and recruitment of youth into terrorist organizations has taken place in some religious education institutions, the establishment of a standard madrassa syllabus would assist the government to take appropriate pre-emptive measures to stop the ‘radicalization sermons’ instead of waiting for them to blossom only for the authorities to later resort to unacceptable means to deal with the challenge. And this calls into question the government’s counter-violent extremism strategy. Kenyan security chiefs must be assumed to know the ramifications of deploying armed police officers to shut down a place of worship or religious education institution.

In this regard, it is important for government security apparatus to adopt acceptable counter-violent extremism strategies and abandon the ‘analogue’ approach. This may require that the government overhauls its national security apparatus by establishing a system where various security agencies share information and work with civilian institutions to deal with cases of violent extremism before they blossom into acts of terrorism. In this regard, if the issue of checking alleged radicalization of youth within madrassas is not handled honestly and resolved amicably, the situation in Kenya could easily degenerate into the unfortunate 2007 Red Mosque incident in Pakistan.

Lal Mosque, famously known as Red Mosque, made headlines in 2007 when a military operation was launched against clerics of the mosque who were challenging
the authority of the Pakistani state. Abdul were the clerics of the mosque were accused of using the pulpit, including the Madrassa centre, to propagate radical and extremist teachings against the government.

On July 3, 2007, President Pervez Musharraf ordered a military operation against the mosque’s clerics, prompting students from the surrounding Madrassa to barricade the mosque to stop the military from entering and arresting the clerics and resulting in a 12-day stand-off. When the military finally assaulted the compound, hundreds of students were killed together with Abdul Aziz who was cornered in the mosque after he refused to surrender. The government should, therefore, learn from the mistakes of Pakistan and deal with this challenge in a better manner by coming up with a better policy on madrassa education in Kenya.
The reason we need a comprehensive and transparent policy on madrassa education is well encapsulated by the recent controversy surrounding an Islamic education centre in Machakos County. In the last week of September 2014, Kenyan newspapers ran a juicy story about the closure of an Islamic institution in Machakos County on allegations of recruiting and radicalizing youth into violent religious extremism. The following are excerpts from stories as published by a number of newspapers:

The Daily Nation of September 25 ran the story under the caption, “Police: Radical Madrassas to be shut down.” The paper went on to report that anti-terrorism police had shut down a madrassa (Islamic School) in Matungulu Constituency of Machakos County where 30 youths from the school were detained on suspension of being recruited to join Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab rebels. The story quoted Mr Ndegwa Muhoro, the director of criminal investigations, as having told French news agency, AFP, as follows:

“We are targeting religious schools that teach Jihadism, and those that have been recruiting youths for radicalization…we have already ordered a madrassa in Machakos to be closed and we are monitoring others around the country.” The People Daily issue of September 27 also ran the story under the caption, “ATPU
sleuths clamp down ‘terror centre.’ The story went as follows: “Detectives from the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit yesterday closed down an Islamic institution in Nguluni-Matungulu in Machakos County believed to be used as a youth radicalization and indoctrination centre. The detectives said Darul Irshaad produces terror agents, whose training is extended to Somalia.” A week earlier, the Standard had published a more general story under the headline, “CID boss: Government targeting madrassas.”

The Standard story revolved around Mr Muhoro’s announcement that the government was investigating Islamic religious schools in an effort to arrest and weed out ‘individual teachers’ suspected of radicalizing youths. But the CID chief’s announcement would attract angry reactions from Muslim leaders, prompting him to amend his statement saying; “what we meant is that there are people who are radicalizing youth and turning them into extremists in these institutions… we cannot close down mosques because we respect them as places of worship. What we closed in Machakos was a madrassa that had been under watch for some time for radicalizing youths.”

Mr Mwenda Njoka, the director of communications at the Ministry of Interior, weighed in, saying that Darul Irshaad Centre was closed down on suspicion of being
involved with shady activities since 2011. Mr Njoka was quoted by the People Daily. Indeed, Darul Irshaad Center in Matungulu, Machakos County was closed down pursuant to a directive contained in a letter dated 13 May, 2014 from the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government. The letter by the Machakos County Commissioner was addressed to the Deputy County Commissioner and reads as follows:

“The County Intelligence Security Committee has recommended the closure of the above centre (Darul Irshaad Centre). Use your DSIC team to effect the closure today and inform the office accordingly.” Following the closure, a delegation from the affected institution sought and secured a meeting with the Deputy County Commissioner to get an explanation why

the Centre was ordered shut down. The meeting would take place where the Deputy County Commissioner Mr Mwangi was accompanied by DO 1 Mr Katelon and area OCPD Mr Chesire. According to available minutes of the meeting, Mr Mwangi admitted that there was very little his team could do to rescind the shut down order, pointing out that he was only a messenger effecting the order which had come from his superiors in Nairobi. He, particularly, pointed out that then Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Interior, Mr Mutea Iringo, was the one who had issued the order. According to the minutes of this meeting, the Deputy County Commissioner reminded the Darul Irshaad delegation that, since President Uhuru Kenyatta had made it clear that County Commissioner would be answerable to what happens in their respective jurisdictions, he was forced to act on the order to close the institution, especially after a newspaper article once
quoted Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete saying that terrorists responsible for the insecurity in the East African region were being trained in Nguluni.

He also told the delegation that he received many calls from area businessmen and other leaders demanding an immediate response to the claims of terrorism activities in the area, and was at pains to explain. Mr Mwangi eventually let the cat out of the bag, telling the delegation that the order to close Darul Irshaad Centre had been received much earlier, but his team lacked the grounds to effect the order. In this regard, he dispatched two teams to inspect the institution—the teams were from the Public Health department and the other from the Education Department. The Public Health team submitted a report which gave the institution a clean bill of health except recommendations that a few repairs and sanitation works be carried out to ensure maximum compliance with

public health standards— nothing in the report recommended that the institution be closed down on health grounds. The education team also seems to have prepared a report, but the report was not served on the institution’s management. However, the delegation would learn from the meeting with the Deputy County Commissioner that the report alluded to non-compliance with registration requirements of learning institutions. According to Mr Mwangi, the education report said that despite Darul Irshaad Centre being duly registered at the national level, it had not been registered at the county government level. Besides, the report said that the government was not aware of what was being taught at the centre, and that the Ministry of Education was not aware of the syllabus of the institution.

At the conclusion of the fact-finding meeting, the Deputy County Commissioner commended the delegation for seeking an appointment with him before taking any other step. He however told them that the matter was now out of his hands and that any administrative action to re-open the institution lay at the ‘next’ level and that it was upon the institution’s managers to unravel what really led to the closure of the centre. Following the fact-finding mission with the Deputy County Commissioner, the administrators of Darul Irshaad Centre moved to court seeking orders to set aside the decision to shut down the institution.

In response to the institution’s suit papers, the County Commissioner of Machakos acknowledged that Darul Irshaad Centre was closed down based on the reports of the county public health and education departments— nothing in the County Commissioner’s replying affidavit alluded to closure of the institution on grounds of national security. In fact, the County Commissioner acknowledged that the public health issues in question were merely as a result of complaints from residents, and that the institution had enrolled students who were “above” the age of attending religious education. Nothing about terrorism and radicalization appears in the County Commissioner’s replying affidavit. Be that as it may, the question is—if Darul Irshaad in Matungulu was shut down on grounds of public health and non-compliance with registration requirements of educational institutions, why did CID boss Ndegwa Muhoro announce to the media that the centre
was shut down on grounds of terrorism and radicalization? Could this have been one of those cases of “give the dog a bad name and have the excuse to kill it?”

These are some of the issues on which the Muslim community should be seeking constructive engagement with the government in order to ensure that there is a genuine will within the government to fight and win the war on terrorism. The war against terrorism and violent extremism cannot be won when security apparatus adopt unorthodox means to deal with the challenge. Extra judicial killing and indiscriminate arrest of terror suspects; false accusations against Islamic institutions; and misleading propaganda through the media are not the way to deal with radicalization and extremism. This is why a standard and transparent madrassa syllabus as proposed by MP Zainab Chidzuga sounds very reasonable. The damage done to the reputation of Darul Irshaad Centre is irreparable because of misleading media reports that the centre recruits youths for radicalization into terrorism, yet the true facts say something else.

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