The topic of child soldiers, or young jihadists is far by often misunderstood by many as if the very faith of Islam promotes teachings for recruitment of under age children into warfare and militancy purposes. Though there is no denying that in many Muslim countries, the problem of child soldiers is on the rise, however through this feature we aim to debunk some of the existing stereotypes with an insider’s perspective.
I come from Pakistan, which is one of the Muslim countries with a history of Islamist militancy and terrorism, which has engulfed many children lives. With the backdrop of the American Invasion of Afghanistan and other international policies especially those on ‘war on terror’ the national soil has become a breeding ground of recruiting under age children by the banned outfits including Tehrik-i-Taliban in Pakistan alternatively referred to as Pakistani Taliban, radical terrorist armed group and umbrella organization of various militant groups based along the Afghan–Pakistani border.
The TTP and its regional factions have been successfully recruiting young boys and girls to wage the so called ‘jihad’ against both the Pakistani and Afghan states as well as their western allies.
Young children as young as eight or nine are recruited by local militant groups through different methodology and have to undergo severe forms of training for becoming a jihadi and to be militants across both countries. The complex socio economic conditions also play their role in the rise of child jhadists across South Asia.
This worrying trend is also observed with the renewed recruitment of children in other countries including Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, Egypt, and Syria.
Having worked in the south asian region, as a field reporter I have experience of investigating this topic for story telling purposes and during a stint in neighboring country, we found that the use of training children to wage jihad has taken the local society into its grip.
The situation for children under conflict is also highlighted by UNICEF’s report that identifies Afghanistan as the “worst place to be born in the world” where the Afghani children are subjected to extreme poverty, insecurity, and violence on a daily basis. Here the Afghan Taliban, the off shoot of Pakistan Taliban is operating within and across borers with small networks of children’s training centers pre-dominantly made up of teenage boys.
At one such enterprise, in one of the interviews, a camp’s representative boasted, “For us, these child soldiers are treasures and ideal because they don’t complain, they don’t oppose our powers, and when you tell them to kill, they will kill.”
Most recruiters tap into the far flung underdeveloped and remote villages where they negotiate with the families and parents to allow their children to go and study in the so called madrassah training camps. The training material of many such religious schools is heavily influenced by Wahabi and Salafist ideology, with distorted teachings that promote conducting jihad and use of violence.
Contrary to what it may seem, Islam as a faith does not promote violence and use of children soldiers in wars and conflicts, and my co-author Papatia Feauxzar will digress in part two of this series, so stay tuned.
In exchange the recruiters grant protection status to the family as well as a some form of monetary compensation. This sounds all fine on paper, but in reality these are cases of child slavery which is a serious human rights crime. Since the regional governments are failing to address the existing problem of child jihadists with effectual counter measures, scores of children are trapped into inhumane and cruel conditions where they become the puppets of militants.
Inside Pakistan there are also numerous madrassah schools which are allegedly training camps for under age students, routinely operate under unknown and foreign funding have remained “untouchable areas” for many years.
Last year, as part of national security strategy to dismantle the extremist networks, the Pakistan government has decided to introduce major reforms in the curriculum of over 30,000 Islamic schools or madrassahs dotting the country’s landscape. Mostly privately funded and outside government control, many of these have been producing unskilled graduates coloured by very distorted and intolerant versions of Islam.
The controversial war on terror has resulted into wide spread instability within the region, where children are at the central forefront as victims of warmongering between the parties.
Here is an excerpt from an interview of a young ten year old jihadist, who when asked about why he has joined this field said “ its crucial to learn to become powerful to gain victory from our enemies. We could not do anything as our village was attack from NATO forces and Taliban, so many people died into that incident. My father legs had to be amputated and we had hardly anything to eat for days. I want to take revenge from those who ruined my life and at the madrassah our teacher says jihad is only solution that will help us to escape from more conflict.”
He also added as an afterthought, “You know how these foreign military are, they only continue to bomb villages, make drone attacks on poor people because we are Muslims and they hate us.”
The irony is not lost on me, because I would personally give anything but to hear such heart breaking encounters from young children that am consciously aware of are the greatest victims in this travesty of warfare. Moreover, Pakistan’s long time romance with “Islamization” for geopolitical and vested motives has given us a generation of children who have no real future.
That is not to say that TTP and its regional allies are the only ones that have engaged under age children in their fanatic agendas. For in recent years, this menace has reached western shores, from where ISIL or Daesh group recruits their child jihadists that are groomed to carry out attacks in both Middle east and European countries.
The sickening ideology of grooming youngsters and children coerced into participating in violent and dangerous jihad has no standing in faith nor its teachings. Its a serious human rights violation against our children that we unwavering-ly condemn.
Children are not meant to be soldiers, they are supposed to carry a legacy, to play, to learn and advance the religion the right way Allah intended for them. At least in Islam. From the Sirah of the Prophetﷺ , one story of a young boy named Zaid ibn Thābit comes strongly to mind. Oh, let me tell you about this wonderful Ansar of Medina masha’Allah subhan’Allah. For one, he was brave. when the proper jihad call was made in the year 2AH, several children and him eagerly presented themselves to fight for the cause of Allah ﷻ and attest to His Rububiyyah. However, the Prophet ﷺ denied them this wish. Dragging his heavy sword behind, sad, disappointed Zaid, may Allah be pleased with him, went home. However, when the Muslims won, there were seventy captives brought to Medina. Those who could paid their ransom for freedom did. Those who couldn’t but could read and write were asked to pay for their freedom by teaching ten Muslim children how to write. In other words, they were to educate the children of the ummah and be set free. This blessed Ansar (Zaid) was among those children who were blessed with the rizq of knowledge masha’Allah. Let me pause and tell you how much, knowledge is important in Islam. It’s even more important than war and the status of mujahids. The darajats (levels of status) in front of Allah are as below:
- People of Knowledge
See, people of knowlege, and who give dawah have a highter status than Mujahideen. May Allah make us of the Muqarrabeen (the closest ones), aameen. Moreover, when fasad spreads, if you adhere to the sunnah as you should, you will get the rewards of 100 persons that have achieve martyrdom. Jihad of the self. Subhanallah. If we all did that, there would be a domino effect of good spreading over dunya; peace even. Allahu Akbar.
Furthermore, when Allah ﷻ told the angels that he will put a Khalifat on earth, their first worry was that it would be a disobedient being that would spill blood like those (djinns) that were vicegerents on earth before us until they were cast out of earth and pushed to go live in the mountains and below water as an act of reprimand for their grave actions. Shaytan and the angels actually fought them off as a command from Allah ﷻ. See Quran (2:30) and its tafsir. In addition, the Prophet ﷺ was a staunch believer, a true adherent of tawhid who hated polytheism but at the same had a great aversion for spilling blood especially in battles. Blood is sacred! He always sought to resolve issues peacefully. He never once enjoyed spilling blood, especially the blood of the enemy. I mean we have one father, Adam aleihi salam.
To go back to this young orphan, Zaid became lettered and started memorizing Quran and got busy with dawah efforts. He did jihad with his qalam. Eventually, he took the sword later in life when he became necessary but we won’t delve in that because it’s not relevant to children soldiers.
To continue, another call of proper jihad (the Battle of Uhud) was made and Zaid wanted to go again. The Prophet ﷺ denied his wish again. Imagine his disappointment.
Anyway, he was so clever masha’Allah that upon the request of Prophet ﷺ he went to learn Hebrew in about half a month so that the Prophet ﷺ can have a trusted person with his letters. As a result, he became a trusted scribe for Prophet ﷺ with all dealings including the jotting down of revelation. Then upon the request of Prophet ﷺ he went again to learn the Syriac language in seventeen days. Oh, Allah gives knowledge to whom he wants indeed! He then learned Persian in also a very short time, too. Zaid rose to the status of “Translator of the nascent state”! Masha’Allah.
Long story short, Zaid ibn Thābit was charged with consolidating all the chapters of the Quran when issues of recitation began and many Quran memorizers started to die in wars. ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, supported by Abu Bakr (may Allah also be pleased with him) pushed the issue of compiling the Quran. Some verses of the Qurant actually predicted that the Quran would be complied after the Prophet ﷺ and that Allah would be its Protector. So, that motivated our young Zaid to lift a task not even mountains, the earth and the sky refused to take on. Humans accepted the challenge of the task (the role) and the aforementioned feared they wouldn’t be able to fully carry the task, so they respectfully denied. This is to say that in nature, there are signs of the resurrection for people who give thought. Signs of al-Khaliq for people who understand. Let’s not deny these signs and take them lightly, aameen.
So, there wasn’t anybody more skilled than this young man for the task of compiling the Holy Quran. Please make dua for Zaid ibn Thabit, Compiler of the Quran, Hafiz, Translator, and much more every time you get to hold in your hands the gift and the miraculous word of Allah. Aameen.
The Prophet ﷺ had the best of character because he was balanced in everything he did. He was not harsh not laid back. The Prophet ﷺ had the right mix of character and manners. Yes, combat the enemies of Allah but there is a way to do it. Yes, give dawah but there is a way to do it; tabshir (preaching) and ibstibshar (give glad tidings). You can’t tell people that they will all go tell if they don’t listen to Allah (like the jews) and you can’t tell them, the religion is only mercy (like the christians.) Terrorists groups and secular Muslims are examples of how some people in the ummah followed the steps of the people of the book without realizing it. We should never forget the rights of Allah over us. That said, the Quran is above all a book of warnings but you have to give a right mix of preaching and glad tidings when it comes to Islam. When people continue to be blind and deaf purposely, to practice hypocrisy of Islamic knowledge (Quran 3:81), you take on a more stern approach with them because they (many non-believers) are gas lighting or simply arrogant to submit to the will of Allah you but still, remain merciful with them. Especially if Allah puts love between and them. “Perhaps Allah will put, between you and those to whom you have been enemies among them, affection. And Allah is competent, and Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” Quran 60:7 The truth will prevail insha’Allah.
“It is He who sent His Messenger with guidance and the religion of truth to manifest it over all religion. And sufficient is Allah as Witness.” Quran 48 : 28
“And those who accuse chaste women and then do not produce four witnesses – lash them with eighty lashes and do not accept from them testimony ever after. And those are the defiantly disobedient,” Quran 24 : 4.
“And [mention] when the angels said, “O Mary, indeed Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds.” Quran 3: 42
“Indeed, Allah chose Adam and Noah and the family of Abraham and the family of ‘Imran over the worlds –”— Quran 3: 33
All these verses to say that correct Muslims believed that each ummah was blessed a different way.
And [recall, O People of the Scripture], when Allah took the covenant of the prophets, [saying], “Whatever I give you of the Scripture and wisdom and then there comes to you a messenger confirming what is with you, you [must] believe in him and support him.” [ Allah ] said, “Have you acknowledged and taken upon that My commitment?” They said, “We have acknowledged it.” He said, “Then bear witness, and I am with you among the witnesses.” — Quran 3:81
Ansars of Medina like Salman al Farsi, may Allah be pleased with him, are examples of what People of the Book should have done; “…We hear, we obey.”— Quran 2 : 285. However, they are doing, “…We hear and disobey…”— Quran 2: 93
If Allah wanted to impose His will on us, he would have made us all Muslims but He let some be Jews, other, Christians, etc. This is a test. Quran 42 : 48, Quran 39 : 31, Quran 75 : 14, Quran 42 : 6, Quran 46 : 29, Quran 5 : 48.
To Muslims and non-Muslims, I recommend reading short summaries of the thirty juzs of the Quran at this website http://www.ramadhanguide.com/summary-of-juz-1/# . Just change the number 1 to 2 after the first juz and so forth until done. It’s the Quran in a nutshell. If this intrigues you, pick up a reliable version of a translated version of the Quran and read on. The scriptures are meant to be read anyway. It’s not only a religious book. It’s a guide. A manual.
“And We have certainly diversified in this Qur’an for the people from every [kind of] example; but man has ever been, most of anything, [prone to] dispute.”— Quran 18 : 54.
That’s how (by being stern at times) that we discipline our children. If they are too playful and disregard our advice that are beneficial to them, you have to put your foot down in a manner that is best; balanced and merciful. Above all, reading the Quran tells us that Allah has given dominion to people who were less in numbers countless times because they sought help through salat and patience. Allah sends down angels to help but we don’t see. It’s time for many Muslims (war lovers, fitnah people) to pay attention to the teachings of the Quran by believing that it’s a guide for the God conscious and by believing in the power of the unseen. Quran (2 : 2 – 3) Allahu alim.
“The Written vs. NOT Written Stuff” is the copyrighted online series on issues within the global Muslim communities- joint initiative of two Muslimah writers, Papatia Feuxzar & Saadia Haq. We appreciate your attention and feedback, so write to us here or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bio Saadia Haq: not your regular feminist, human rights activist and journalist and also the force behind this blog!
Bio Papatia Feauxzar: an American author of West African descent, the online magazine editor and the unwavering writer of; Between Sisters, SVP! and creator of Fofky’s; an Online Book and Coffee/Tea Shop. Copyrights @2015 – 2020
Photo Credits : CNN, ArcGIS StoryMaps, NewInt.Org, Al Jazeera.