Haras Rafiq is a director of CENTRI, an organization focused on countering extremism at the operational level. A regular commentator appearing in mainstream media, Mr. Rafiq is also co-founder of the Sufi Muslim Council and has been a "cultural ambassador" for the UK government's Projecting British Islam initiative. On January 27, Mr. Rafiq addressed the Middle East Forum via conference call on the subject of de-radicalization.
When his six-year old daughter announced that she no longer wanted to be Muslim because "Muslims are always angry"—she had seen images of Muslims burning effigies of Tony Blair and George Bush—Mr. Rafiq decided to devote himself to counter-extremism.
His work has led him to conclude that the radicalization process involves four stages: 1) A sense of perceived vulnerability owing to a personal crisis; 2) Exposure to a particular worldview (in this case, Islamism) purporting to offer solutions to such crises; 3) Exposure to extremists who further exploit this sense of vulnerability; 4) Internalization of violent values.
Moreover and contrary to common opinion, the initial personal crisis is rarely due to economic or social dislocation. Mr. Rafiq pointed out that many jihadists come from middle-class backgrounds, were well integrated in the West, and have had some sort of higher education.
Next, Mr. Rafiq discussed his de-radicalization programs, which include the promotion of critical thinking skills, "moderate Shari'a rationale," separation of religion and politics, inter-cultural activities, and a close dissection of those Qur'anic verses and hadiths that are often cited by extremists to further their agenda.
Asked why imams are reluctant to criticize jihadist recruitment activities, Mr. Rafiq replied that, although there are individuals, such as Sheikh Kabbani in the U.S., who speak out against jihadists, many are silent out of fear and intimidation, especially vis-à-vis the doctrine of "loyalty and enmity." Mr. Rafiq further affirmed that many mosques in the West are being funded and run by extremists, and not enough pressure is being put on Muslim leaders such as King Abdullah to allow for a "free market" of ideas. He added that all this is further exacerbated by taqiyya, or doctrinal deceit, which permits Islamists to dissemble their true beliefs.
Finally, asked whether Islam is inherently problematic, Mr. Rafiq responded in the negative, laying the blame on the contemporary ideology of Islamism, and the fact that most of the literature on Islam disseminated in mosques has been sponsored by extremists. According to him, "traditional, classical Islam" is in-and-of-itself not a problem.
Summary written by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi.