According to figures from the British government, about 850 people have fled Britain to join jihadist groups in the last few years. A new independent service, Supporting Affected Families from Extremism (SAFE), was launched in November 2017. It gives advice to parents that is independent from the authorities and from their Muslim communities. The scheme will provide “theological support, where parents, and possibly children, will be invited to visit imams who are experienced in talking to radicalised children.
Faith Matters set up this project. The founder and director of Faith Matters, Fiyaz Mughal said, “The pastoral care is about settling, and refocusing them and providing a world view to the young person that challenges their polarised thinking and uses Islamic theology to provide alternatives.”
The co-director of the community charity the Social Action and Research Foundation, Amina Lone stated, “Muslim families can be cautious of the state and do not feel they can turn to their local imam out of fear of judgement and the fact that they cannot be sure the conversation will remain confidential. In some of the cases where we have intervened, the family's faith is challenged by what they see. Something that is a part of their life has been turned on itself within their children and this creates a trauma for them.”
Michael Evans is leading SAFE. Michael Evan's brother, Thomas, was a British jihadist who was referred to as the “white beast”. Thomas had fled to Kenya in 2011 to join the jihadist group al-Shabaab. It is said that he was involved in the attack on a town called Mpeketoni, where terrorists went on a killing spree of Christians. Thomas Evans was killed in Kenya in 2015.
Thomas Evan's mother, Sally Evans said, “I began to understand how toxic and deadly Islamist radicalisation can be, because it doesn't only destroy the lives of young men and women who are struck by its spell, but it also indirectly devastates the lives of the parents and siblings.”
Michael Evans is optimistic that SAFE can help provide extremism by providing families with more options. He said, “Extremism has no borders, and lead to terrorism can spread quickly. So building on awareness and understanding in communities will divert young people from engaging with these materials. It is a form of resilience-building that is needed right now.”
The senior imam at the Makkah Mosque in Leeds, Qari Muhammad Asim added, “I have come across parents who feel completely vulnerable and exposed when their children, with an apparent new-found understanding of their religion, challenge them, or even look down on them due to their perceived lack of religious knowledge. Agencies such as SAFE can signpost parents to seek further assistance to challenge and theologically explore some of the new-found arguments proposed by young people.”