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Towards a new Islamic discourse
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 17 - 05 - 2018

In a recent survey, the majority of respondents said groups like Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda are a “complete perversion of Islam”.
Titled “Muslim Millennial Attitudes on Religion and Religious Leadership — Arab World”, the survey by the UAE-based Tabah Foundation aimed at exploring attitudes of the Muslim millennial generation on religion and religious leadership. Carried out by Zogby Research Services (ZRS) for Tabah Foundation's Futures Initiative, the survey covered 5,374 Arab Muslims, both citizens and expatriates, between the ages of 15 and 34 in eight Arab countries: Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan and Palestine, Abaas Yunas, head of Tabah Futures Initiative, said the survey was not carried out in Yemen or Iraq because of their political situation.
The results of the survey were debated at a seminar held at Al-Ahram Strategic and Political Studies Centre this week.
In a world where Islam is accused of crimes against humanity, the result of the survey found that the most frequently cited reason leading young people to join extremist groups is corrupt, repressive and unrepresentative governments, followed by extremist religious discourse and teachings.
For Islamic preacher Osama Al-Azhari, the survey “gives us a great chance to describe and recognise the real situation and deal with it successfully”.
The survey is also very important in understanding how youth think, added Gamal Abdel-Gawad, a political analyst at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
According to Yunas, the majority of millennials — anyone born between 1981 and 1996 — in all eight countries said it was important that they be known by their Muslim identity. This was another surprise finding since as Sheikh Gamal Farouk, dean of Al-Dawaa College in Al-Azhar University, said, many believe that today's youth suffer from an identity crisis.
One of the most surprising results of the survey was that “strong majorities in all countries agree that people have the right to dispense religious advice in public, with the caveat that it is best if done with courtesy”. This result worried Wahid Abdel-Meguid, chairman of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, who said he feared the result may affect personal freedoms and lead to a situation where people interfere in others' lives.
In six of the eight countries the percentage of millennials who believe that religion is a private spiritual affair is greater than those who believe that religion is “just about beliefs and laws that define right and wrong”.
A glimpse of hope for women appeared in the survey as it showed that “there is a need for more women religious scholars and preachers.”
Habib Ali Al-Jifri, founding chairman of the Tabah Foundation, told Al-Ahram Weekly that he blames contemporary religious discourse for growing extremism. In fact, the survey showed that “the majority of millennials in all eight countries feel that the language used by religious leaders to express Islam and the issues they address need to be brought up to date and made more relevant to the present.”
Al-Jifri said he hoped the survey will put in place the first pillars for renewing religious discourse.

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