What was your reaction to this 15-year-old South African girl being intercepted and stopped from joining the Islamic State group?
It kind of mirrors what happened in Britain with those young teenagers, young impressionable youth being taken in by the slick YouTube videos put out by ISIS. But also in terms of South Africa it didn’t surprise me at all. Al-Qaeda established a presence here as early as 1997. There’s an established presence of groups like Al-Shebab and Hezbollah in South Africa. More importantly there’s about 140 South Africans fighting for ISIS at the moment and so this just underlines the global threat that is ISIS. It’s not just simply Syria and Iraq. You are talking about jihadists from 80 different countries fighting alongside the ISIS forces at the moment.
Do you think the South African government should be doing more to stop this kind of thing from happening?
Absolutely. For a long time the South African government even denied that there were radical extremists on South African soil, essentially playing ostrich. Only recently they started waking up to the threat. When I published a book two years ago pointing this out, I was attacked saying I’m making this up and so forth. And yet all my information was open source. If you look at the recent Al Jazeera leaks, the spy cable leaks, it is very apparent that the South African government knows where these paramilitary training camps are, but they’ve done nothing to stop it on South African soil.
What about the radicalisation of young people in South Africa, what more should be done to stop that from happening, like with this young girl?
First and foremost, we need to look at the issues in terms of the [internet] sites that she visited. We need to look at ways to block those particular sites. We need to get religious leaders involved to reclaim the faith as a moderate faith, as a faith of peace and not as one of violence that [Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi seems to be portraying so well. The other thing which we need to do is reclaim the airwaves. There’s a lot of material out there in terms of bona fide Muslim organisations - which tends to lend itself to radicalism - that needs to be curbed. All of this needs to happen and quickly. To be honest it should have happened some years ago, but for various reasons the South African intelligence community did not act and I think we still have to pay for that.
Interview: Mufti Siraj Desai, Principal, Darul Uloom Abu Bakr Islamic institute, Port Elizabeth
What are your thoughts on the recruitment of this 15-year-old South African girl?
In matters like this we always look at it from an Islamic perspective without the emotion and the sentiment that goes with cases like this. If you look at the parents they would obviously be devastated, they would be very saddened and disappointed. From our side, my side and the Islamic perspective: the issue of a young girl travelling alone, that is clearly mentioned in our books and in the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad. In the famous books like Sahih Bukhari and so forth these are the famous books on the prophetic sayings and traditions it’s clearly stated there that a girl, a woman cannot travel for a particular distance where she is unaccompanied by a relative and it must be a close relative, like the father, the parents, the brother, the uncle and so forth, or if she’s married she has to travel with the companionship of the husband. Anyone who travels in this way [without a companion] has breached the Islamic ruling and what we would say in terms of Islam, it is a major sin, it is wrong and contrary to Islamic teachings.
Is the Muslim community in South Africa doing enough to prevent the radicalisation of young girls by groups such as IS?
If you know the Muslim community in South Africa, we’ve been living here for years, we’ve been practicing our Islam, we don’t make a difference between a Muslim who lives in a modern society and a Muslim who lives in an Islamic society, except on the basis of how much that particular person is devoted to Islam. When we speak of radicalisation, this I feel is more of the individual, personal feeling and inclination to any particular ideology. We can’t say that we have to do certain things to avoid radicalisation. So I feel in this sense all the years we have lived [in South Africa] we haven’t had these experiences and now we’re having one or two incidents. So the question shouldn’t even be posed, ‘are you people doing enough to avoid this?’ Because it’s a different case if there was such a great outflow or influx from a different area and this hype among people that we’ve got to go and join ISIS and things like that. Then we would say, ‘well, the matter is out of control’. As far as I feel, living in South Africa all my life, I can see that we are very strict on our religion, we are very firm on our principles, but we don’t believe that this has gone to a stage where people have become radical. If you quote these incidents, I would say they definitely are isolated incidents.