We helped create terrorists, top counter-terrorism official says

Alfian Z.M. Tahir

The site of a car bomb explosion in downtown Mogadishu, Somalia, March 22, 2018. Ahmad Mustakim Abdul Hamid, sentenced to 15 years imprisonment by a Somali military court, is the first Malaysian to be charged with assisting the Al-Shabaab in Somalia. – EPA pic, September 28, 2021.

MALAYSIA’s education system does not train students to think critically, thus creating a society that accepts anything without questioning, a senior counter-terrorism official said.

The high-ranking officer from the federal police headquarters in Bukit Aman, who is involved in fighting terror and formulating policies on anti-terror, was commenting on yet another arrest of a Malaysian on terrorism charges.

Ahmad Mustakim Abdul Hamid was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment by a Somali military court in Mogadishu for assisting the Al-Shabaab terrorist group in the Horn of Africa, the easternmost peninsula of the African continent.

“Our children, even us, were told to memorise and not to think. That is how we were brought up. In schools, we were not to question things, but accept what was given or told to us.

“This is a problem now, when one is taught to blindly follow religious thinking. How many of them have been duped into believing that they were doing a noble deed when actually their levels of thinking were very low,” the senior officer asked.

It was learnt that Mustakim, 34, went to Yemen to study Islam before joining Al-Shabaab. The man married a Somali woman and has two children.

He is the first Malaysian to be charged with assisting the Al-Shabaab in Somalia.

Prior to Mustakim’s arrest, close to 100 Malaysian men had gone to Syria to fight alongside the now defunct Islamic State terror organisation. Dozens were killed while many were left stranded either in jails or in humanitarian camps.

Some managed to return home but were arrested at the airport and have been charged with terror-linked activities.

According to a study by Bukit Aman, many of those who joined militant groups were influenced by an Islamic narrative taught by Imam Taimiyyah, a Sunni Islamic scholar, muhaddith, theologian, judge, philosopher, and sometimes controversial thinker and political figure.

Sociologist Prof Sharifah Munirah Alatas told The Malaysian Insight that there is some truth in what was said by the counter-terrorism officer.

The academic said, however, that extremist ideologies could even develop within a person who is highly educated, confident, and who has had a totally different educational background.

“They can be highly critical thinkers but still be religious extremists. But there is truth in what the senior police officer said.”

Responding to claims that Malaysians were not taught to think critically or to question dogma, Sharifah Munirah said questioning aspects especially in the subject of Islam, is not encouraged in Malaysia.

“Muslims in Malaysia are highly ritualistic. That is how it is taught, and questioning aspects of Islam at the school level is not encouraged. They are told to just do.

“Religion then becomes a ritualistic, mechanical part of our lives. Of course, it is also wrongfully mentioned that Islam does not allow you to question what is in the Quran or Hadith.

“So, belief in religion is not an intellectual and holistic aspect of life, but reduced to rituals,” she said.

Sociologist Prof Sharifah Munirah Alatas says questioning aspects of Islam is not encouraged in Malaysia, and that this makes religion a ritualistic, mechanical part of many people’s lives. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, September 28, 2021.

‘Elite’ culture

Sharifah Munirah said elitism and a neo-colonial mentality played a role in discouraging students from questioning discourse either in schools or universities.

She added that academics would prefer non-critical thinkers as students, as they would feel insecure being questioned in front of others.

“Apart from the ritualistic approach to ideas, there is a form of ‘elite’ culture that has penetrated through all levels of our education ethos, among the academics, and between academics and students,” Sharifah Munirah said.

“In the universities, for example, hierarchy is very apparent. Academics are very conscious of a pecking order. This should not exist in a scholarly environment. Instead, ideas should rule over social hierarchy in an academic setting.

“In the Western tradition, students are encouraged to question, speak up, and challenge what lecturers discuss in class.

“But this does not happen in Malaysia. I suppose this culture is a reflection of a neo-colonial attitude, the top-down, oppressive system of hierarchy. 

“It is unhealthy because it breeds a culture of fear. This fear culture may also be part of the reason many Malaysians decide to join groups where they feel equal or accepted as worthy human beings who can contribute to a cause, who can be heard,” said the senior lecturer at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanity of University Kebangsaan Malaysia.

Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah was reported as saying that Wisma Putra is closely monitoring the detention and legal process imposed on Mustakim.

He said Malaysian embassy officials in Khartoum, Sudan, made a consular visit to ensure the welfare and health of Mustakim were taken care of.

The Al-Shabaab, which is al-Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate in the African continent, is also known for its high-profile attacks such as the 2013 Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi in Kenya and numerous assassinations of Somali politicians and military officers.

Although the Al-Shabaab continues to pose a security threat in East Africa and with its activities spreading beyond Somalia’s borders, the group is much weakened now after the killing of many of its key leaders and members.

The Al-Shabaab has killed, both inside and outside Somalia, thousands of civilians and security personnel in brutal attacks, and continues to launch attacks against civilian and military targets in Somalia despite the government’s intensive operations against them for the past couple of years. – September 28, 2021.

Sign up or sign in here to comment.


  • Insightful.

    Posted 2 years ago by Jason Varughese · Reply