‘Young people don’t feel they belong here’: Five Muslims on their fears about extremism in Wales
A senior Cardiff imam, a councillor, a taxi driver, a community leader and an accountant spoke of their fears racism, unemployment, and poverty left young Muslims feeling alienated
Warnings that unemployment and racism could fuel extremism among the young Somali Muslim population in Cardiff
Deprived young Muslims in Wales are at risk of radicalisation if more isn’t done to tackle racism, unemployment and religious ignorance, senior members of the Somali Muslim community warn have warned.
Sheikh Mohamed Abdi Dahir – imam at Cardiff’s oldest mosque, Noor-El-Islaam Mosque in Maria Street, Butetown – said he was contacted by two parents concerned that their teenagers were being radicalised online three years ago.
After speaking to them about their faith he convinced them away from extremism and they now reject it, he said.
But he fears some who don’t attend mosque and don’t understand their faith are tempted to explore extremism as a means of finding an identity.
“I warned a long time ago that something could happen here in the UK or Wales but no one would listen,” the imam said.
“There is no evidence radicalisation is going on in our community but it is a worry.
“We need more work and more education of young people about true Islam.”
Eid Ali Ahmed, a Somali who moved to Cardiff in the 1980s and helped set up the Wales Refugee Council, said many Welsh-Somali Muslims with degrees can’t get work.
He said the 10,000-strong community in Wales was deprived and becoming more so.
“The Somali Access information centre in Cardiff shut down six months ago because of council cuts,” he said.
“At the taxi ranks there are many Somali graduates working as drivers because they can’t get other jobs.
Eid Ali Ahmed
‘Equality needs challenging’
“Some people who have been here two, three and four generations can’t get jobs.
“There is racism and this can all lead to people being radicalised because they don’t feel they belong here.
“[Despite] All the years they have been hear some feel they still don’t have equality of opportunity. Diversity is not really functioning.”
He said Cardiff’s Somali Muslims had no history of radicalisation but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t happen and the community was alert.
“Unemployment and deprivation has always been there but now there is another threat (terrorism). We are not saying all people might be tempted by radicalism but some will have a grievance that they aren’t equal.
“Racism is something that’s not been solved. We can access government ministers but equality needs challenging.
“The Somali population in Wales is the most deprived Muslim population.”
Taxi driver Nasar Issa from Butetown warned: “When someone becomes unemployed they may go with the wrong people.
“They may go with drugs or radicals. They may feel they don’t have any option.
“There are Welsh-Somali doctors, lawyers, and engineers but change is slow.”
Nasser Muthana (top right) and his brother Aseel Muthana (bottom right) left Cardiff joined Islamic State militants in Syria along with Reyaad Khan (left)
This is what a Muslim businesswoman thinks: ‘I watch the growing puritanical attitudes of young Muslims with apprehension’
‘Terrorism has no religion’
He is worried for his own children, the oldest of whom is 11, and said he will teach them terrorism goes against the teaching of Islam.
“The problem is kids might not get jobs and then radicalisation could get worse in future,” he said.
Adam Yusuf, 42, also from Butetown, has a degree in accounting and got his master’s in finance in 2012 but can’t get a job here.
After hundreds of applications he claims he was only called back when he applied under the name of Adam Joseph, an anglicised version of his name, and eventually he had to go to Qatar to find work.
“My son is 17 and was studying A-levels. He said to me: ‘Look you finished your degree and you could not find a job. What is the point of me studying if I could not get a job when I finish my studies?’.”
Sheik Mohamed Abdi Dahir urged parents to learn more about social media their children and teenagers use.
“People are deprived and then they spend their time on something else and one of these things is going online and because they don’t know who is communicating with them behind a screen they think they are talking about genuine Islam,” he said.
“Terrorism has no religion, nationality, or race. It is a criminal activity.
“I don’t say IS, I say terrorists or criminals or Daesh.”
‘Robust’ prevention plan
The imam said he would be willing to go into schools and colleges and tell young people about the true meaning of Islam.
Cardiff council cabinet member for skills, safety, engagement and democracy, councillor Daniel De’Ath, said: “The Getting on Together programme is an excellent example of how faith groups, community groups, local authorities, and the Welsh Government are working to tackle radicalisation in Wales.
“Prevent guidance is clear that schools should be safe spaces in which children and young people can understand and discuss sensitive topics, including terrorism and the extremist ideas that are part of terrorist ideology, and learn how to challenge these ideas.
“Wales in general and Cardiff in particular are widely regarded as delivering best practice when it comes to responding to this call. There is a strong, robust plan in place.
“The Getting on Together programme has been in existence since 2009 and its positive influence is widening all the time.
“For example the UK’s first accredited module on challenging extremism is being taught to under-16s through the new Welsh Baccalaureate.
“I am proud that the city of Cardiff has come together and played such a key part in its development.
“This programme, along with other Cardiff initiatives which includes the ‘Upstanding Neighbourhoods’ project, clearly demonstrates the healthy relationship that continues to exist between faith groups, community groups, local government and Welsh Government.
“It is important we tackle the threat of extremism together.”