The Mosque and Madrasa of Sultan Hassan in Cairo
The development of a jihadist’s mind
THE JERUSALEM POST
Jan. 17, 2008
What occupies the mind of a jihad-driven Muslim?
How is such fervor planted in young and impressionable believers? Where does it originate?
How did I – once an innocent child who grew up in a liberal, moderate and educated household – find myself a member of a radical Islamic group?
These questions go to the root of Islamic violence and must be addressed if free societies are to combat radical Islam.
To further this aim, I will explore the psychological development of a jihadi’s mind through my own firsthand experience as a former member of a Muslim terrorist organization.
I was born in Cairo to a secular Muslim family. My father was an orthopedic surgeon and an agnostic at heart; my mother was a French teacher and a liberal. Both considered Islam to be, primarily, an integral part of our culture.
With the exception of my father, we would fast on Ramadan. Even though my father was not religious, he understood our need to fit into the community and never forced his secular views on us. He espoused diverse philosophical ideas but encouraged us to follow our own convictions. Most importantly, he taught my brother and me to think critically rather than to learn by rote.
I never had any doubt, however, that we were Muslim – that Allah was our creator, Muhammad his messenger and the Koran our book. I believed that if I performed good deeds, I would be admitted to paradise where I could satisfy all my personal desires. I also knew, alternatively, that my transgressions would be punished by eternal torture in hell. I absorbed these beliefs largely from the surrounding environment rather than from my parents; they were shared by most children around me.
I attended the private Al-Rahebat primary school in the area of Dumiat, which is about 200 kilometers north of Cairo, when I was six years old. Though managed by Christian nuns, the school was supervised by the Egyptian government and required its Muslim students to attend classes on Islam.
Before each Islamic lesson began, the teacher would dismiss the Christian students, who were then obliged to linger outside the room until the lesson was over. Adding salt to the Christian children’s wounds, many Muslim pupils would tease them for their faith – telling them that they would burn in hell eternally because they ate pork and were “infidels.” This made a strong impression on me. I felt sorry for the Christians, sensing that they must be hurt by being treated as an inferior minority in an Islamic society. In my short life it was the first time I perceived that my Christian friends were not my equals. My parents had never suggested that we were superior to Christians, and I counted many among my friends. We used to play hide-and-seek and other games together.
Not only Christian children in the school were persecuted, however; non-practicing Muslims were scorned as well. Observant Muslim children would gather around those who did not fast during Ramadan and sing, “You who eat or drink during Ramadan are the losers of our religious… the black dog will tear apart your guts.” Such treatment of Christians and nonpracticing Muslims encouraged us to think that nonbelievers were inferior creatures and that it was right to hate them – they did not follow Islam and the Prophet Muhammad and, therefore, deserved to be tortured in hell forever. Though my secular upbringing prevented these thoughts from entirely dominating my mind at the time, other children were affected even more.
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