On Facebook pages and Twitter posts, in blogs and YouTube videos, members of terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its supporters argue that it is a religious obligation for Muslims to take up arms and live in a caliphate.
These views, however, are a distortion of Islamic teachings, a point that is being emphasised in a new guidebook for Muslim religious leaders to use to debunk ISIS' propaganda.
The 130-page manual is put together by the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), a group of Singaporean Muslim scholars who counsel terror detainees and radicalised individuals.
It contains material that counsellors can draw on when they deal with radicalised youth.
"The manual provides arguments to debunk ISIS' caliphate, its view on obligations of jihad and several other narratives of ISIS," RRG co-chairman, Ustaz Ali Mohamed, said at its launch yesterday at the group's annual retreat. "It discusses topics such as Muslims living in a secular environment, and the need for critical thinking to evaluate religious sources," he added.
ISIS messages have radicalised youth from all over the world, driving them to travel and join the terror group in ISIS-held territories in Syria and Iraq, where there are an estimated 30,000 foreign fighters.
The manual also has information on ISIS' evolution and organisation, and efforts by globally renowned Islamic scholars in quashing ISIS rhetoric.
These scholars, as well as RRG leaders, explain why the caliphate declared by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is illegitimate, and that taking up arms in both Syria and Iraq is not a legitimate jihad, or struggle.
RRG vice-chairman, Ustaz Mohamed Ali, said the issue of jihad remains one of the most misunderstood religious concepts today.
"We hope that discussing jihad will explain to Muslims as well as non-Muslims that the fight in Syria and Iraq is not an obligation, as some may believe," he added.
The manual also counters ISIS' exploitation of Islamic beliefs like declaring certain Muslims and non-Muslims as unbelievers who can be attacked.
"The counter-narrative we provide is that we have a rich tradition of co-existence between Muslims and non-Muslims in this region, not just in the last 10 or 15 years, but for more than 500 years," said RRG counsellor, Ustaz Ahmad Saiful Rijal Hassan, a senior research analyst with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
He also hopes young people will critically evaluate what they come across online: "Many think the information they get on the Internet is real knowledge without applying any thought process."
This article was first published on June 10, 2015.
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