ABU DHABI // UAE youth are among the least likely in the region to support extremist groups such as ISIL, according to a survey on religious perceptions among young people in the region.
The finding came from a survey of more than 5,000 young Muslims from eight countries in the Middle East – the UAE, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
The results of the poll were released on Tuesday by the Tabah Foundation, an Abu Dhabi group researching Islamic discourse. Those polled answered topics related to extremism and the extent to which they agreed with extremist groups.
The UAE and Morocco had the fewest young people – 1 per cent of those polled – who said they agreed with extremists groups such as ISIL and Al Qaeda. However, 8 per cent of youth surveyed in the UAE said they perceived the groups as mostly wrong, but that the groups sometimes raised ideas they agreed with.
While the majority of Arab youth were against the extremist ideologies fuelling ISIL, the small percentage that voiced support were cause for alarm and showed the need for a follow-up plan, said Habib Ali Al Jifri, a renowned Islamic scholar and chairman of the foundation.
“There is a risk if even 1 per cent agrees with Daesh,” said Mr Al Jifri.
In five countries surveyed, more than 15 per cent of youth agreed or sometimes agreed with extremist groups. The highest were in Palestine and Jordan, where 15 and 13 per cent of youths respectively expressed total agreement with ISIL, believing it was not a perversion of Islam at all.
Thirty-nine per cent of youth in Kuwait and 21 per cent in Bahrain voiced partial agreement, according to the survey.
In Egypt, which has a population of nearly 90 million people, the fact that 4 per cent of youth supported ISIL “is a crisis”, said Mr Al Jifri.
The results suggested that while Arab youth showed trust and respect for religious authorities, few were actually turning to them for answers.
There were “solid, big walls” between scholars and young people, Mr Al Jifri said.
“This requires rehabilitation of Islamic speech to fit human understanding,” he said. “This is the most important thing we want to work for in Tabah.”
While the results raised concerns, an analysis of the results showed this generation was taking “ownership from its religion”, said Abaas Yunas, head of the Futures Initiative at the foundation, which was in charge of the study.
“So they did not buy into the idea of changing the religion – it was not an issue for them. They just wanted to see a change in the way religion is portrayed.”
Most polled agreed that faith played an important role in their countries’ futures, which showed that youth “have made up their mind” that religion and the state should not be separated, Mr Yunas said. A majority also believed in the government’s role in stopping religious discourse from inciting hatred and violence.
The study was important because of the need for solid evidence on how Arab Muslim youth – who number in the hundreds of millions – think.
Dr James Zogby, head of the institute that carried out the study, said the methods used in choosing population samples were comprehensive and he felt confident that the number of those surveyed represented the majorities in their countries, with a 4 per cent margin of error.
Researchers conducted face-to-face interviews in urban and rural centres in each country. In the UAE and some other countries, those surveyed were chosen based on referrals, while in others, random door-to-door sampling was conducted.
Yemen, Syria and Iraq were not included because of the difficulty in sending teams to those countries, although there are plans to interview Syrian youth at refugee camps outside the country for future studies, Mr Yunas said.
Other countries, such as Palestine, were chosen for their status as major representatives in the region. Eight hundred and eighty youths were interviewed from Palestine because of the major regional differences there, Dr Zogby said.
“The idea of actually finding out what young people think is of critical importance, not just because of the size [of the population] but also because they are the future,” he said.
“They are not a mindless or directionless group of people.”
Source: uae news