UAE’s ambassador to Russia: young Muslims should be constructively critical about religion

Speaking about his book 'Letters to a Young Muslim' on the US cable TV show The Daily Show last week, Omar Saif Ghobash said young people should not fear doubt.

Screen grab of the UAE Ambassador to Russia, Saif Ghobash, speaking on the The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.
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ABU DHABI // Young Muslims should constantly ask constructive and critical questions about life and religion to avoid falling into the trap of radicalisation, according to the UAE’s ambassador to Russia.

Speaking about his book, Letters to a Young Muslim, on the US cable TV programme, The Daily Show, last week, Omar Saif Ghobash said young people should not fear doubt.

“Certainty in matters of religion and life is a privilege so you need to believe you can be constructively critical,” he said. The young, he continued, “should continually accept questions.”

He said the myth that Islam is incompatible with modernity or with western values should be challenged and not perpetuated.

“There are many values that we share in common, and these are basic human values, values of freedom,” he said. “Speak to young Muslims, they feel the same urge for freedom but there is a theological fear of freedom that we really need to work out.

“I’m not asking for reform of Islam but clarifying Islam for the 21st century. What does it mean in today’s world to be Muslim and how to we just get on with life?”

Mr Ghobash said young Arabs have long been the target of recruitment by regional extremist groups, such as ISIL and Al Qaeda, with September 11 a tragic turning point that saw radical ideas taking expression physically.

Dr Albadr Al Shateri, politics professor at the National Defence College, read Mr Ghobash’s book, which offers advice for young Muslims on how to survive in an age of extremism and Islamophobia.

“He reiterates important points regarding the new generation of Muslims and Arabs specifically,” he said. “He warns them to be wary of those who propagate ideologies of hate, whether extremists in Muslim garb or western right wing extremism in nationalist gear.

“I found his claim that Islam is compatible with modernity to be in fact true, given that many Muslim countries including the UAE, Malaysia, Indonesia and Turkey have achieved high level of economic and social development: Almost a truism that needs reemphasis all the same.”

He said, however, that on the source of radicalisation, one can point to factors like job opportunities, political oppression and great meddling in regional affairs.

Hessa Mohammed, a 25-year-old Emirati, said a focus on education would lead young Arabs away from terrorism.

“It’s sad to see how many of them get recruited by such groups,” she said. “But more people are becoming aware of the importance of education and keeping their mind out of such ideas, which go against everything we know about Islam.”