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Philippines

Philippine Muslim religious leaders combat extremism

Senior clerics begin reforms in the way Islam is taught to prevent instruction of radical views

Darwin Wally Wee, Zamboanga City

Darwin Wally Wee, Zamboanga City

Published: April 18, 2017 08:27 AM GMT

Updated: April 18, 2017 08:28 AM GMT

Philippine Muslim religious leaders combat extremism

A teacher lectures on the basics of Islam in a high school in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao. (Photo by Joe Torres)

Muslim religious leaders in the southern Philippines are initiating reforms in the teaching of Islam, especially in remote communities, to prevent the spread of extremism.

Alih Sakaluran Aiyub, secretary-general of the Ulama Council of the Philippines, said efforts are underway to start reforms among religious leaders themselves.

"We unite the Ulama and then we will sit down with them to analyze how to prevent violent extremism and counter violent extremism," Aiyub told ucanews.com in an interview.

He said the "menace" of radicalism "must be seriously addressed by the Ulama, not only by political leaders."

The Ulama [plural for Alim] are Muslim scholars recognized by the community as authoritative in Islamic law and teachings.

Aiyub said religious leaders in Mindanao acknowledge the threat of armed groups like Abu Sayyaf and the Maute that have claimed allegiance to the so-called Islamic State.

He said reaching out to Ulama in conflict areas is necessary to correct a "misguided understanding" of Islam. 

Abdulmuhmin Alyakanie Mujahid, head of the Darul Ifta or Fatwa Council in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, admitted that some areas in the region remain vulnerable to extremist groups.

He said politics, economics, and lack of education in Muslim communities are factors to be addressed in fighting the spread of radicalism.

"Extremism is not borne out of a single reason," said Mujahid, adding that many Abu Sayyaf fighters in Basilan and Sulu provinces are orphans.

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"These children are the sons and daughters of [rebel] fighters. They were left behind without parents," he said.

In other parts of Mindanao Mujahid said "indoctrination of the wrong ideology" was done by Muslims who went to the Middle East to study.

"Some extremist group leaders come from well-off families," he said.

Aiyub and Muhajid agreed that Muslim leaders around the world should unite to address the issue of Islamic extremism and radicalism.

"We relayed the problem to Muslim clerics in the Middle East," said Mujahid who attended a meeting of the Muslim World League in Saudi Arabia last month.

He said there is a plan to review the background of professors in universities. "We are not questioning the curriculum, but the individuals who are teaching Islam," said Mujahid.

In Basilan province, the Ulama agreed to impose "strict measures" on visiting teachers and preachers.

"We agreed among ourselves not to allow anyone to conduct or hold seminars or Islamic symposiums without the say so of the Ulama council and our leaders," said Mujahid.

He referred to cases in the past when foreign preachers held "hate campaigns" in remote areas in the province.

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