NAIROBI— The Riyadh Majengo Mosque on the outskirts of Nairobi has been accused of being a hub of radicalization, for youth turning to the Somali militant group al-Shabab. But the imam of the mosque said he and others work to turn youngsters away from extremist activity.
This is twenty-three-year-old Ibrahim Nyongesa, a resident of Pumwani on the outskirts of the Kenyan capital. He earns about $50 per month, making and selling coconut confections.
Four years ago, Nyongesa became radicalized after listening to sermons from some of the mosques in Pumwani. But he stopped short of joining al-Shabab, he said, after hearing what he calls "correct" teachings from the Riyadh Majengo Mosque.
“I changed from being radicalized after listening to sermons and teachings of the sheikhs at the mosque, and I came to discover that in Islam one is not allowed to shed innocent blood,” said Nyongesa.
Pumwani has a population of about thirty thousand people. Unemployment here is high with most youth doing odd jobs to earn a living.
Critics of the mosque say it has become a focal point for young men who think militancy is the answer to Kenya's problems. Two years ago, police raided the area and arrested youths who said they were part of the mosque. Two weeks ago, a member of the mosque who works for the country’s parliament was arrested on allegations that he has links to al-Shabab.
Three years ago, Idrisi Nyaboga joined the mosque as its imam. He said allegations the mosque funds and encourages terror activities are unfounded.
Nyaboga said the mosque works to de-radicalize the youth around Majengo.
“When we encounter a Muslim so radicalized meaning his views are against the teachings of the Prophet and the Quran, we explain the truth in detail until they change their hardline stance. Once they know the truth it's then up to them," he said. "Forcing them to be moderate is another thing altogether. We cannot force them. Ours is to show them the way and tell them that their radicalized stand is wrong.”
Benji Ndolo from the Organization of National Empowerment, a group that advocates for policy change and good governance, said the problem of radicalization could be addressed by the government through inclusion.
“It's got to do more in terms of programs, in terms of affirmative action, in terms of proactive, you know, measures, to bring the youth into mainstream nation-building, whether it's tenders [contracts], whether it's projects, whether it's different undertakings to create opportunity for them to earn something and get them off the sidelines," said Ndolo.
Kenyans are concerned about Islamic militancy in the wake of deadly attacks claimed by al-Shabab. Last month, al-Shabab gunmen killed 148 people at a university in the town of Garissa. The group said the attack was in retaliation for Kenya's military involvement in Somalia.