Pupils are returning to school this week in Peshawar for the first time following a massacre in which more than 150 students and teachers were killed. In Pakistan alone, more than 40,000 Muslims have lost their lives to terrorism since 2001. During various interviews the children bravely stood outside their schools and stated that education is the greatest tool in defeating terrorism.
The government of Pakistan has announced plans to execute hundreds of terrorists after Peshawar school attack, but to really target further terrorism, to bring about lasting change; it depends on how we deal with the root cause of extremism. The seeds of hate are often planted in the soil of ignorance.
Children in countries like Pakistan face a great battle when it comes to education. They are either forced in to Islamic madressas that barely provide the basic curriculum and enforce an incredibly warped perception of Islam. And if they are lucky enough to receive a good education, they live in fear of attacks like this as the Taliban continue to repress 'domination by Western culture.' This very fear pushed the Taliban to shoot young Malala Yousafzai for her beliefs in equal education for all. Malala is not the only one to face the consequences for standing up against extremist views. In 2011 the
Pakistani governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer was gunned down by his own security guard for daring to oppose the country's Blasphemy laws following the accusations placed on a young Christian named Asiya Bibi.
Such incidents often silence the moderate majority; this fear has given the terrorists an advantage in spreading their interpretation of Islam as a symbol of Intolerance and hate in the western world. Some people even use extremist clerics like Abu Hamza and Mizanur Rahman as their points of reference when speaking of Islam. That is very unsettling for the many Muslims living in the West.
Suppressing education gives radicals the upper hand as they use people's ignorance to their advantage. This attack on education goes against the teachings of Islam which states: "Seek knowledge even if you have to go as far as China, for seeking knowledge is a duty on every Muslim."
Education opens the doors to freedom of expression and knowledge. This applies not just to secular education, but religious education as well. One of the greatest challenges that many countries face is how to show young people who are vulnerable to appeals from terrorists that there is a better way to express their views, a better more productive use of their lives and a more significant way to integrate in to society.
Extremist clerics often quote the Qur'an and the Hadith to justify their actions. This is because Muslims look at the Qur'an as the primary source of jurisprudence in Islam. However, there is no law in the Qur'an that restrains the freedom of speech nor does it allow anyone to be killed over differences in belief. In chapter 73 verse 10 it says: "Be patient over what they say, and leave them graciously." The Qur'an repeatedly mentions the freedom of conscience; "There is no compulsion in religion" (2:256), "For you your religion, for me my religion (109:6). Religion teaches us that every life is sacred. Killing innocent lives is forbidden in the Qur'an because to kill one innocent person "it shall be as if he had killed all mankind; and whoso gave life to one, it shall be as if he had given life to all mankind."
Even The Prophet Muhammad was instructed that his job was solely to deliver the message of Islam, not impose it by force: "So if they submit, then indeed they follow the right way; and if they turn back, then upon you is only the delivery of the message" (3:20). This is because the values of free speech and individual thought have been given to all: "If your Lord willed, all who are on earth would have believed (by not providing free will). Would you then, compel people to become believers?" (10:99). Sam Harris, a notable critic of Islam has also noted that: "Interestingly, [the penalty for apostasy] isn't spelled out in the Koran."
The secondary source of Islamic jurisprudence is the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad). Muslims have been taught that if any Hadith contradicts the Qur'an it should be rejected. This is in accordance to a narration by the Prophets fourth successor Ali. The Prophet Muhammad once said: "There is no doubt that there will be Hadiths coming after me, claiming that I have said things. So you must test those Hadith from the Qur'an. If it is really according to the Qur'an only then accept it, otherwise reject it." (Sanan Dar Qatni,vol 2 book Imrani Abee Musa, Matba Farooqi).
These values of free speech and conscience can found in practice in the Constitution of Medina. This is the first written constitution drafted by the Prophet Muhammad. It provided laws that allowed all religious denominations to live together and it is thought it structured one of the first geographical nations in history, which included all cultures and faiths united in a single nation. Article 20 gives all religions the same right of life protection. Article 30 guarantees the freedom of religion for both Muslims and non-Muslims. Article 62 gives all peaceful citizens safe and secure protection. If extremists were to actually use this constitution as their template of governance their authoritarian rule would become obsolete.
The greatest tool in our arson to defeat terrorism is education, both religious and secular. The children of Pakistan are showing a courageous example of how to stand up against terrorists. To combat rising terrorism we must fight the thought process of the extremists who are sowing the seeds of doubt in immature minds and this can only be achieved through education and reasoning and bringing the true teachings of Islam to those people who are being tainted by fundamentalist ideology.
Following the recent events in Paris, Sajid Javid has said that Muslim communities in Europe have an immense responsibility when it comes to tackling extremism, and it is not enough to just say that Islam has nothing to do with terrorism. Due to globalisation it is the job of Muslims not just in the west but across the world to educate and integrate their youth so they don't fall in to the hands of extremists. It is also their duty and responsibility to report such fundamentalists to the authorities. We have seen in all spheres of life that education can teach us patience and tolerance where as ignorance merely breeds prejudice and hate. Education is the key to our better future because it was Nelson Mandela that once said: "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."