Amid growing concerns about creeping Islamic radicalization at schools and universities across the country, one program is providing students with real solutions on steering clear of religious extremism.
“Pesantren kilat,” a crash course in Islamic ideology and teaching, has been offered by the nongovernmental organization Lazuardi Birru every Ramadan since 2009. It educates youngsters about the dangers of extremism.
Haifa Hutagalung, an eighth-grader at a junior high school in East Jakarta who attended the pesantren kilat last year, said her school held a discussion about radicalism and terrorism at this year’s event.
“It was an interesting discussion because, although we’ve heard a lot about radicalism and terrorism from television, we don’t know what to do about it,” she said.
“Now we know that we have to stay away from radicalism and terrorism because Islam is a religion of peace.”
She added that through the course, she now understood that those involved in terrorism or who adopted radical thinking were simply people who did not understand Islam properly.
“The Prophet Muhammad said that we have to always keep learning until the day we die, so that means we have to be smart and not stray from the straight path of Islam,” Haifa said. She added that even though the program only lasted for two days and one night, she learned a lot about Islam.
“I feel like I’ve become more religious and closer to God after pesantren kilat,” she said.
The program, Haifa said, helped her maintain a high level of piety beyond the holy month of Ramadan, something she normally found difficult.
“That’s why I never want to miss the pesantren kilat each year, because it’s refreshing for my soul,” she said.
And even though the course requires her to camp away from home, she said it was fun staying with other students and taking part in the various religious activities and games on offer, which in turn made fasting not feel like so much of an ordeal.
Muhammad Nuh, the minister of education, has in the past urged all teachers to engage their students in discussions aimed at combating creeping radicalization in schools and on university campuses.
He said his ministry was in the middle of reviewing the national school curriculum to find ways to minimize radicalization through lessons. Nuh added that counterradicalization measures would soon be introduced as an entire chapter in textbooks for religious studies.
Dhyah Madya Ruth, the Lazuardi Birru chairwoman, said education was an important tool to counter radicalization because it encouraged students to think critically.
“Education can motivate them to be more sensitive to the things going on in their own environment and get them to think about ways to tackle radicalization,” she said.
“We obviously can’t monitor our children 24 hours a day, so we hope that the knowledge we’re imparting to them will help them reject radicalization.”
This year, Lazuardi Birru held the pesantren kilat course in West Java, in collaboration with provincial education and religious affairs agencies, and the West Java branch of the Network of Indonesian Mosque Youths (JPRMI).
Dhyah said 480 teenagers and dozens of local residents took part in the course, which was held last Tuesday and Wednesday.
The organization also invited Nasir Abbas, a former member of Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian terrorist group affiliated with Al Qaeda, and Wawan, the former head of a motorcycle gang in Bandung, to share their experiences with the students. They also advised them on how to steer clear of radicalism and other dangerous influences.
“We also monitor the participants of our pesantren kilat course for a year to see whether there’s been any impact from the training that they participated in,” Dhyah said.
She added that the students taking part in the program were divided into 20 groups, with each group was assisted by a mentor trained by Lazuardi Birru.
So far, Dhyah said, the training had been a success in helping students think critically about religious issue.
However, she conceded that there were always a handful of individuals who succumbed to radical thinking, regardless of their training .
“It happens and it’s hard for us to try to change their minds because they’ve rejected the idea of critical thinking from the outset,” she said.