Tuesday. 25.06.2024

Cooperation with mosques and prayer rooms, a key factor to prevent radicalization

A 60-page report published by the Finnish Ministry of the Interior highlights the importance of strengthening collaboration between the authorities and the religious communities to improve integration and to promote equality and access to public services among its members.

A Muslim prays in a prayer room. Photo: Rudolf Langer.

In August 2017, a series of stabbings took place in the Finnish city of Turku (south west). The attack ended up with two women killed and eight people injured.

The perpetrator of this action was Abderrahman Bouanane, a young rejected asylum seeker from Morocco who had been radicalized months before and claimed to be a soldier of the Islamic State (ISIS). After his arrest, the police found among his belongings propaganda materials of that terrorist group. But he acted as a 'lone wolf', without any contact with the organization.

Almost one year later, in June 2018, Bouanane was condemned for two counts of murder and eight counts of attempted murder with terrorist intent. The whole of Finland was in shock, including the communities of immigrants: this peaceful country had not faced before such type of violence and nobody had been sentenced for committing terrorist crimes in its territory before. How could someone had been radicalized like this?

As a result of those crimes, Finnish authorities decided to investigate radicalization processes and how to prevent them. The goals were to clarify the processes, assess the current situation and the state of cooperation between organizations and authorities, specifically to find out how cooperation with different religious communities has been organized and also how it should be improved.

The outcome, almost two years after the incident, is the 60-page report 'Observations and recommendations for local collaboration on referral mechanism of persons of concern in local multi-stakeholder collaboration for preventing violent radicalization', published by the Finnish Ministry of the Interior. 

The document conveys the essential idea that promoting cooperation with different communities and making their members aware of their rights is essential to prevent radicalization. The problem sometimes lies in how to get the right information to reach those communities. In that sense, one of its key contributions is that it gives religious communities an important role in this task.

The experience of parishes

In the report, the experts remark that in Finland there is a long tradition of cooperation between the church and the authorities. It is a fact that in many areas of the country the parishes operate closely with municipal services offering spiritual support, integration support, family services and youth services.

The authors of the study say this work made by the church is "very professional and often complements the work and services of the authorities". They also stress that, when it comes the time to deal with concrete cases, "the case management capabilities are good if the operators have established cooperation practices and they trust each other".

The report suggests applying similar formulas to the Islamic community. "Similarly to parishes, the members practice their religion in Muslim prayer rooms and mosques. In addition to religious teaching, prayer rooms arrange various free-time activities for families and children. The community has an important role in sharing information and gathering people together, and it can be used to easily reach a large group of members that authority communication cannot reach", say the experts.

Language and other barriers

But the authors also admit that this is not an easy task, mainly due to the lack of resources. "Prayer rooms are mainly based on volunteer work and they rarely have hired staff, which hinders their participation in cooperation".

In this sense, the experts highlight that "the members of the Muslim prayer rooms are often multi-cultural and there are a lot of immigrant families that are not familiar with the Finnish services system or authorities. Language barriers, lack of information and fear of the authorities make it difficult to reach these families and connect them with services".

These facts provoke that some people in these communities may not have experience of basic services or knowledge about their right for services that could benefit them, improve their social inclusion and strengthen equality. The reason, as the experts say, is that many of them may have suffered persecution and violence by the authorities in their countries of origin, so they think "authorities mean trouble". This is why some of them avoid dealing with authorities.

A bridge between members and authorities

According to these experts, the prayer rooms lack resources but they have other valuable things for the Finnish authorities: "The communities have plenty of culture and language competence that the authorities lack. Their understanding of the culture and systems of Finland and their member's home countries is a local asset, and they can build a bridge and trust between the members and the authorities".

In practice, as explained in the report, the Muslim communities already support integration as part of their activities ranging from helping with the available services and their use to teaching the Finnish language. However, the level of cooperation with authorities varies among the interviewed prayer rooms.

Police officers in prayer rooms

This interaction is "particularly close" in the cities of Turku and Oulu and its main form is that police officers visit the prayer rooms during the evenings or weekends. There, they talk with the community members about the work of the authorities and answer their questions. "This an important work because the members often feel that prayer rooms are safe and the threshold for meeting authorities is low even if they have had poor experiences before",  say the experts.

The report remarks that the interviewed parties noted that, when they are concerned about a particular person, "they need clear information about who or what party to contact on the local level". All the operators interviewed in Oulu, including the religious communities, had a clear picture of who to contact in these cases.

If you want to read the whole report 'Observations and recommendations for local collaboration on referral mechanism of persons of concern in local multi-stakeholder collaboration for preventing violent radicalization', published by the Finnish Ministry of the Interior, you can download it HERE

Cooperation with mosques and prayer rooms, a key factor to prevent radicalization