Blind Faith No More: Deconverting ISIS Recruits in the U.S.


A Virginia Imam has found a way to talk young Americans out of joining ISIS. Here’s how he’s deconstructing their blind faith and what we can all learn from his approach.

How ISIS recruits American young people

In October 2014, three Denver girls skipped school, flew to Germany and boarded another flight bound for Turkey. They were going there to join ISIS.

Luckily, the FBI intercepted the teens before it was too late. But unlike al Qaeda, ISIS is successfully attracting recruits from the U.S. and Europe. Since January, more than 25 Americans (men and women) have been detained for attempting to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

According to the FBI, ISIS provides disenfranchised young people with a sense of purpose and belonging. For kids who lack strong family ties, ISIS offers an identity and purpose in exchange for blind faith in its cause.

Deconstructing blind faith 

Strip away its archaic and misguided belief system and you’ll find that ISIS is a well-oiled publicity machine. Its propaganda apparatus targets lonely youth via their preferred communication channel: social media.

ISIS’s communication tactics are sophisticated. They’re tech-savvy. And unfortunately, they’re really effective.

But Mohamed Magid, chief imam at the third-largest mosque in America, has developed a strategy to talk vulnerable American youth out of joining ISIS. Located in Sterling, VA, Magid’s approach is simple:

He tells them to use their minds.

ISIS’s messaging pressures the teens to exercise blind faith. On multiple fronts, Magid challenges that messaging and confronts the distorted version of faith it requires:

  1. The Quran: ISIS twists the words of the Quran to influence potential recruits. Magid shows the youth that rather than supporting the terrorist group’s actions, the Quran condemns the activities and beliefs that ISIS routinely engages in.
  2. Charity: When young people tell Magid they are joining ISIS to improve the lives of Muslims, he points out that ISIS has killed more Muslims than any other group in the world. He then invites the young people to get involved in U.S. Muslim relief efforts that provide assistance to Syrian refugees.
  3. Obedience to God: Finally, Magid tells young people that all Muslims are clearly required to respect their parents and perform other actions, but joining ISIS is not a clear-cut act of obedience to God. It doesn’t please God because it’s not a genuine act of devotion.

Real faith seeks understanding

Almost a thousand years ago, Anselm of Canterbury said,

I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.

Anselm understood that the relationship between faith and reason is complicated. Ultimately, some things (like the existence of God) can’t be proved. That’s why we need faith.

But faith without reason is equally misguided. It’s blind faith and it’s downright dangerous.

Whether we like it or not, we’re all vulnerable to allowing our passions and emotions override our common sense:

  • When we refuse to listen to other people’s point of view.
  • When we engage in carte blanche political partisanship.
  • When we accept whatever we see, hear or read without question.

Passion and belief are good things. But the lesson we can all learn from Anselm and Magid is that blind faith or faith that refuses to seek understanding is really no faith at all. It’s lunacy. It’s ISIS. And it’s definitely not what we need right now.


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