I am the same age as Salman Abedi, the Manchester suicide bomber, and almost the same age as the recently named London Bridge terrorists; I also profess to be of the same faith. Thankfully, these are the only two things we have in common. As well as studying medicine at university, I currently serve as the president of the UK Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association. I spend a lot of my time working to organize interfaith dialogues and peace conferences. So how exactly did we turn out so different? And could knowing the answer to this help reduce the numbers of young people being brainwashed into extremism?
The primary answer to this is education. Even in childhood, I always asked questions about my religion – and as I grew up, I had access to imams and elders ready to answer them. I was free to challenge them, to ask the toughest and most sensitive questions about the most “controversial” aspects of Islam.
Through this process I learnt that Islam teaches there is no compulsion in religion, that taking even a single life is equivalent to killing to the whole of mankind, and that saving a life is equivalent to saving the whole of humanity. I learnt that the concept of jihad is not about spreading religion through force, but about struggling against one’s own evil desires in order to reform oneself and become a pure-hearted, decent individual.
I learnt that the Prophet Mohammed taught that loyalty to one’s nation of residence is part of one’s faith, reinforced by the fact that at least once a year at our religious functions we publicly make the pledge to serve our country whenever required. I learnt about the role of charity in Islam, and what the Qur’an calls the “steep ascent” – the true means of attaining nearness to God: “It is the freeing of a slave, or feeding in a day of hunger, an orphan near of kin, or a poor man lying in the dust.”