Listen: Dr Richard Shumack talks to Clare Bruce about the keys to helping an Islamic extremist change.
A Christian researcher into Islam says that love, friendship and appeals to theology are the way to change an Islamic radical’s heart.
Dr Richard Shumack, who has a PhD in Islamic Philosophy and spent several years working with Muslim refugees, made his comments this week in light of Sonia Kruger’s terrorist fears and Pauline Hanson’s anti-Muslim policies.
Speaking to Hope 103.2 he said he believed the One Nation Party’s ‘close the doors’ policies were divisive and unhelpful, and that there were no simple ways to prevent Islamic extremists from arriving – or emerging – in Australia.
“One of the problems of the debate we’re seeing at the moment is, it’s very simplistic—so people are offering solutions like ‘Just keep everyone out, shut the doors’, or ‘Give them a test and then export them’. Things like that aren’t going to work,” Dr Shumack said.
However there are steps everyone can take, such as friendship and kindness, and people of Christian faith have a unique ability to bring about change on a spiritual level.
Christians Can Offer Friendship and Truth About God
“There isn’t a single simple solution, but I think one of the absolute key things – and this is again a problem in the current debate – is that we need to understand that this is a theological issue for people,” he said. “It might be social for people as well, people might be disaffected, people might be traumatised, but it’s absolutely a theological issue.
“We can go deep with them on the theology that underlies it and challenge them about the truth of that”
“And the key – at least my key, in engaging with [radical] Muslims, is to engage theologically with them and speak truths about God. Challenge them, and encourage them to think deeply about whether they think that a violent ideology is a true representation of what a loving Creator would want from them.”
He said friendship and deep conversation wasn’t a magic bullet, but one way to make a difference among radicals.
“I think Christians are in a really unique position here where we are able to engage with Muslims, not simply at a secular level and not simply at a sociological level, but we can go deep with them on the theology that underlies it and challenge them about the truth of that.”
Extremism is Real, But We Should Still Offer Asylum
Having worked for several years among Muslims from Somalia, Dr Shumack admitted Islamic extremism is a real problem that can’t be ignored—but moderate Muslims shouldn’t be tarred with the same.
“It’s important to understand there’s a range of different Muslim communities from different backgrounds,” he told Hope 103.2 “The people-group I worked with were Somalis who were some of the more conservative Muslim communities—and some of the most damaged, in the sense that they were highly traumatised by a very long war.
“The way you engage people on truth…is not by arguing… but by engaging in a deep, caring relationship.”
“The vast majorities of people that we worked with were in desperate and genuine need. They were very thankful to be here and even though their culture was very different and they found it hard to fit in…for the most part they were…working as hard as they could to build a new life in Australia.
“But it’s also true that a small percentage were quite separatist…Islamist…in the sense that they would like Australia to become a Muslim country. There were people I knew who are now in gaol in Australia because they were radicalised.
“We just have to recognise that there is a small percentage of Muslims for whom that is their ideology.”
Kindness and Love are Essential Ingredients
From his experience building friendships with many refugees, he said that de-radicalisation of a Muslim extremist is only possible with the “absolutely crucial” elements of genuine kindness, hospitality and relationship.
“The way you engage people on truth…is not by arguing with them, not by lecturing them, it’s by engaging in a deep, caring relationship,” he said. “That’s when real sharing of ideas happen.
“Especially in the refugee context, the first response has to be compassion. If somebody is broken and suffering and in desperate need, the first response is compassion and love. That gives you a context within which you can speak truth, and sometimes even quite hard truths. Relationship has to be foundational to being able to speak truth, in any context.”