Jordan's Religious Leaders: Injustice Recruits Islamic State Fighters

March 12,2015

AMMAN— As Jordanians rallied around the government's fight against the self-described Islamic State, religious leaders working to stop the spread of extremist ideology warned that force alone will not slow the growth of the extremist group.

Young people in the Jordanian capital, Amman, say they don’t understand the attraction to the militant group that calls itself the Islamic State. They suspect Islamic State fighters must be paid well. Otherwise who would join?

Mohammad al-Salhy, a 16-year-old warming up for a football match in a park, said poor economies in the region are partially to blame.

He guessed that the Islamic State must pay about $1,400 a month, as opposed to the average Jordanian salary of about $400 a month, to draw recruits from among the poor.

But religious leaders said it’s definitely more than just money that drives young people to extremist groups.

Abdel Salam Fendi, the Imam of Amman's Salman Al Assaf mosque, said some societies nurture terrorism and extremism by hindering moderate Islamic groups.

He said some societies are intolerant of Muslims, driving people away from the mainstream, moderate Islam. Other religious leaders said there are even more fundamental problems driving people towards extremism.

“Democracy, justice and freedom is the real way to fight these flare-ups and to fight extremism wherever it is," said Nimer al-Assaf, former chair of the Islamic Action Front, the political wing of Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood, a religious and political organization influential both in the government and the opposition.

Al-Assaf said when there is justice, people "don’t need to rise up against anything, because generally, people like to live in peace.”

He said militant extremists like those in the Islamic State group will continue to attract recruits as long as people feel they are denied social justice.

Political reform, he added, must be coupled with religious reform to slow the growth of the extremist group. He said religious leaders should increase the availability of Islamic education because many of those recruits have simply been taught wrong.

"There should be amnesty for the people who withdraw from this organization," he said. "And also those who will give themselves up peacefully ... should go through an educational program because I honestly believe, some of those people are misguided.”

The patriotic youth in the park, however, were less forgiving. Just before the footballers ran on to play, 14-year-old Rami el-Salaheen said the only thing the government should do is to protect the borders and fight back against Islamic State militants abroad.

He said Islamic State fighters must be insane, unable to tell right from wrong. He added that it could also be that a criminal organization simply attracts criminal minds.