Magazine article New Internationalist

On the Street: Shaista Aziz Examines What's Inciting Young Western Muslims

Magazine article New Internationalist

On the Street: Shaista Aziz Examines What's Inciting Young Western Muslims

Article excerpt

I'M a 28-year-old Muslim woman, educated, professional and part of mainstream British society. In 2002, I packed my bags and headed for the occupied Palestinian territories to participate in jihad. I was motivated by my strong belief in Islam and anger and despair at the continuing human rights violations inflicted upon the Palestinians.

I spent time in the refugee camps of Balata and Jenin in the West Bank and the sprawling slums of Khan Younis and Rafah in the Gaza Strip. Hoping that my presence as a British national would help patients pass through Israeli checkpoints, I accompanied ambulance drivers and paramedics. I worked with Palestinian women who had set up income-generating projects in refugee camps.

My jihad - my personal journey to learn more about the struggle of my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters - enabled me to have direct contact with Palestinian and Israeli activists working towards establishing a just peace for both sets of people, and also brought me closer to my faith.

It's the duty of every Muslim to engage in jihad. The word literally means 'struggle' and is very rarely used correctly by the Western media who believe it only means 'holy war'.

There are two levels of jihad: the greater jihad is what every Muslim should be striving for - the quest to follow through with their faith in all aspects of their daily lives and the ongoing internal struggle to become a stronger Muslim, a more compassionate and kinder human. The lesser jihad is the duty of all Muslims to protect one's religion and people, and if needs be take up arms to do so.

It was the same strong belief in Islam that motivated two other British Muslims to travel to Israel in April last year and engage in what they perceived as their jihad. Omar Sharif, 27 and Asif Hanif, 21 were recruited by the armed Palestinian group Hamas to travel to Tel-Aviv where it is believed they assembled bombs that they later strapped to their torsos. Hanif detonated his bomb outside a busy bar in the city, killing himself and three others and injuring 65. Sharif's bomb failed to detonate and he fled from the scene. His body was found 12 days later in the sea off the Israeli coast.

Earlier this year Hamas released a video showing the two young men holding rifles and dressed in combat gear. This was the first time that Hamas had used foreigners to carry out an attack inside Israel. The group claims there are many more Muslims born and bred in the West, waiting to carry out similar attacks. But what makes them so inclined?

[Graph Not Transcribed]

Jamal (not his real name) is a British Pakistani in his early twenties. He arrived in England seven years ago from Pakistan to marry a distant cousin. Jamal found himself drifting into drink and drugs. 'I was lost. I was out all the time going from one nightclub to another and drinking all the time. I knew that I was movign away from Islam and I began to hate myself.' Jamal's marriage to his cousin was called off, he was thrown out of the extended family home. 'I moved to London where I found a job in a fast-food place and made some friends. Most of them were practising Muslims who attended the mosque and led clean lives like my friends back home. I felt happier and safer around them and gave up drinking and smoking weed.' He eventually married an English convert to Islam and settled down in East London.

In November 2000 Jamal and three friends travelled to Kashmir to learn how to use firearms and 'to operate on the battlefield'. …

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