WHEN I heard about the apparent death by suicide bombing of Talha Asmal, a 17-year-old from Dewsbury, my first feeling was of profound sadness, knowing the grief his family must be suffering. My second was anger – how could a young life be wasted on such a futile and hateful act? As an imam in Leeds, just a few miles from Dewsbury, each week at prayers I have the privilege of speaking to young people who are the future of our community.
Talking to and inspiring those who will become doctors, teachers, business people and leaders is hugely rewarding – and I know many of them will make a great contribution to society. This undated image posted on a militant website shows British teen Talha Asmal. (militant website via AP) Parents of Bradford sisters thought to have fled for Syria say they are devastated So to hear of a young man from nearby West Yorkshire manipulated into throwing away his life for ISIS, feels like losing one of our own. To many, the idea that this young man would wish to commit an act of fatal violence to help win control of an oil refinery will be completely alien, and yet understanding what has happened is a burden we must accept. It cannot be stated often enough that human life is sacred in Islam. Islamic scholars from across the world have repeatedly condemned suicide bombing, not only because of the religions injunction against suicide (“make not your own hands contribute to your destruction”, Koran 2:195), but because such violent acts run completely contrary to Islam. We do not forget that Talha Asmal was not the only life lost in this action, indeed his actions led to the deaths of 11 other people. They themselves had families, for whom this Ramadan will now be a time of sorrow. We do not absolve Talha Asmal of actions because he was young – this in no way lessens his guilt. But we also have a responsibility ourselves; to understand what led to this tragedy and must act to prevent more young lives being wasted.
To understand how a teenager from Dewsbury, described as “loving, kind, caring,” could have died in such circumstances, we must look to the twisted and deluded ideology and slick propaganda of ISIS. This a group which relentlessly preys upon young vulnerable individuals, with a propaganda peppered with misapplied Koran references and hadiths. Talha’s family said that ISIS had preyed upon his vulnerability, and this so often is the case.It is a timeless truth that young people are often in search of meaning in their lives, trying to make sense of a complex world.
In the digital age, there are many unscrupulous voices willing to offer them answers, and this is what ISIS radicalisers do. We know that although they may be dressed in the language of Islam, they have no true grounding in what is a religion practiced peacefully by millions of people around the world. What ISIS peddle is a despicable ideology that runs contrary not only to our faith, but to humanity. Just as it manipulates young people, ISIS deliberately twists concepts within religion for its own selfish ends. In seemingly endless videos and magazines, it promotes faleshoods that both distort our noble religion and endanger our vulnerable young people
.In addition to the horrific news of Talha Asmal’s death, three mothers and their nine children from Bradford have travelled to Syria sold on lies and false promises. How could mothers take their children, some as young as three years-old, into the middle of a war zone? These women have been tricked into believing that the false Caliphate is a fully functioning state. Every report from the region shows the horror of real life under the rule of ISIS. As an imam, my concern is not only for their spiritual health but also for their physical wellbeing. Take Raqqah or Mosul for example, the strongholds of their so-called state, here there is a lack of even the most basic functions needed to support life; poor quality water, intermittent access to electricity and the ever-present “police” tolling out their twisted version of Shariah law.
That is why British imams are fighting back, and raising our voices against those who would abuse the name of Islam. Because the internet is a recruiting ground for ISIS, we have recently launched a new online magazine, called Haqiqah (meaning “the reality”), designed to confront and rebut the lies of cynical radicalisers who prey on our youth. The life of every human being is sacred. The life of Talha Asmal mattered, and the lives of those he killed mattered too. Our young people are not weapons, to be picked up, manipulated and discarded by terrorists. They are our children; the future of our community and our country. Talha could have been a doctor, or a teacher, or a businessman, or a leader. He could have been anything beneficial to mankind. Instead he died in vain, bringing only destruction and death to a land and a people that has already suffered so much. This must serve as a wake-up call – we each have to play our part to ensure that no more young lives are lost in this way.
Qari Asim MBE is Imam of Leeds Makkah Masjid and Senior Editor at ImamsOnline.