Toronto mosque offers 'detox' for Islamic radicals
Published Wednesday, February 11, 2009 6:51PM EST
In what is likely the first of its kind in Canada, a Toronto mosque is offering a "detox" program for young Islamic radicals who are sympathetic to the terrorist group al Qaeda.
Muhammed Robert Heft, a team member of the Specialized De-radicalization Intervention program, says the program is based on the idea that Islamic extremism can be fought by incorporating traditional teachings of the Qur'an into a "12-step Extremist Detox Program."
Among the steps in the program offered at Toronto's Masjid El Noor mosque:
- Finding common ground, "not fighting ground," with other faiths
- In the "Open society of Canada," how to reconcile "dogmatic idealism with pragmatic realism"
- Seeing the whole as one, and take into account "global challenges that affect us all."
- Actively countering extremist ideology through "education, public speaking and writing."
"As Canadians of Muslim faith, it is our ardent desire to become leaders in the championing of anti-terror values," says a document explaining the program.
Heft told CTV Newsnet's Power Play on Wednesday that among the young radical Islamic followers the mosque is hoping to counsel are members of the notorious "Toronto 18." In 2006, a series of counter-terrorism raids in the Greater Toronto Area resulted in the arrest of 18 alleged members of a purported Islamic terrorist cell plotting a variety of attacks against targets in Ontario.
That case, along with that of Ottawa's Momin Khawaja who was convicted for his role in a British terror cell, have raised concerns about home-grown terrorism.
Heft said there are many sects in Islam, and that "99.9" per cent of Islamic leaders across the country agree they must work together to combat extremism.
But he did admit there are a "small number of firebrand preachers" who try to persuade young Muslims to jump onto the extremist bandwagon.
"Unfortunately, a few emotional, Internet-surfing, like-minded individuals who do what I call 'Do-It-Yourself Islam,' find themselves getting caught up in emotion and justify getting caught up in the hate that's inside them," Heft told Power Play host Tom Clark.
"They end up falling prey to people with deviant views of the religion."
But he says if one studies the tradition of Islam, going back to the orthodox scholars, "you realize these are the teachings of Islam."
And by incorporating these teachings into the mosque's program, Heft claims he's had success converting those who formerly held radical, anti-Semitic views into "productive members of society."
He says the program has also helped disenfranchised Muslims get jobs, and to get off welfare.
"We're winning," said Heft.