The good ji­hadi



A school run by a for­mer rad­i­cal is teach­ing ter­ror­ists’ chil­dren

a dif­fer­ent path

What hap­pens when chil­dren be­gin to re­alise that their par­ents are fol­low­ing a dif­fer­ent path? What hap­pens when that path ends be­hind bars? Or on the re­ceiv­ing end of a bul­let? What hap­pens in the minds of chil­dren whose par­ents are ter­ror­ists?

Khairul Ghaz­ali had plenty of time to think about these ques­tions when he was in prison – six years, ex­actly, the short­est sen­tence among his com­rades con­victed for ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties in 2010. He had plenty of time to think not just about the chil­dren killed in the bomb­ings car­ried out by the ter­ror­ism or­gan­i­sa­tion he was a part of, but also those whose par­ents were sit­ting in cells near his.

He thought not about chang­ing the roots of ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions in In­done­sia but chang­ing the seeds, so to speak. He thought about dig­ging up those sus­cep­ti­ble to per­pet­u­at­ing Is­lamic mil­i­tancy and re-plant­ing them in a new, health­ier plot of land.

This ul­ti­mately ended up be­ing 30 hectares near Medan, the cap­i­tal of

North Su­ma­tra, now the site of Ghaz­ali's Al-Hi­dayah Is­lamic Board­ing School.

Ghaz­ali was born into a fam­ily that was part of Darul Is­lam, an Is­lamic group founded by mili­tias that fiercely be­lieved in turn­ing In­done­sia into an Is­lamic state. As a teenager, in 1984, he joined In­done­sia's Je­maah Is­lamiyah, a sep­a­ratist ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion borne from Darul Is­lam. As a young adult, Ghaz­ali helped carry out bomb­ings and bank heists around the coun­try be­fore be­ing jailed in 2010.

When of­fi­cials from In­done­sia's Na­tional Agency for Counter-Ter­ror­ism (BNPT) vis­ited the prison where he was be­ing held,

“This school is to pre­vent rad­i­cal­ism from touch­ing the chil­dren of ter­ror­ist fam­i­lies ”

Ghaz­ali shared with them his vi­sion to stunt the fu­ture of In­done­sian ter­ror­ism through ed­u­ca­tion, to give chil­dren whose par­ents have been in­volved in ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties an emo­tion­ally safe place to learn, a place where they weren't ex­posed to vi­o­lence. The school would be an em­bod­i­ment of the shift in his def­i­ni­tion of ji­had.

By the time he went on pa­role in 2015, word of his idea had spread among na­tional and lo­cal gov­ern­ment, and the gover­nor of North Su­ma­tra sent a plea to the Min­is­ter of State-Owned En­ter­prises on Ghaz­ali's be­half to grant him the land. With the help of friends and fam­ily, he re­alised his vi­sion and built Al-Hi­dayah.

With round cheeks sand­wiched be­tween a tuft of beard and thick-rimmed glasses, Ghaz­ali brims with jovi­al­ity, his wrin­kle-free 52-year-old skin hid­ing the tur­moil of his past. “This school is to pre­vent rad­i­cal­ism from touch­ing the chil­dren of ter­ror­ist fam­i­lies,” he says. “I chose a place some­what away from the crowd or in the sub­urbs in or­der to have the land and soil for chil­dren to learn life skills.”

The 20 male stu­dents cur­rently en­rolled live on cam­pus and learn the stan­dard­ised In­done­sian school cur­ricu­lum sup­ple­mented with lessons in English, Ara­bic, en­trepreneur­ship, agri­cul­ture and psy­chol­ogy. Some have fa­thers be­hind bars; oth­ers have wit­nessed their fa­ther's death. But this is not a res­cue mis­sion, and although Ghaz­ali vis­its the homes of the stu­dents, they must come with the con­sent of their par­ents or guardian. The school's re­li­gious ethos fol­lows rah­matan

lil ‘alamin, teach­ing Is­lam through a lens of peace and tol­er­ance. On one oc­ca­sion a stu­dent was with­drawn when his par­ents re­turned to rad­i­calised be­liefs.

Al-Hi­dayah's key goal, how­ever, is to sur­round stu­dents with oth­ers who come from sim­i­lar homes, who see each other as nor­mal, who are taught why and how to step off the path they might have un­know­ingly been on and sup­port one an­other along the way.

“Be­ing dif­fer­ent from other chil­dren is not easy, and these stu­dents have to be coun­selled on how to cope with mock­ery from other kids, how to de­velop their self-es­teem, how to think they are equal com­pared to other ‘nor­mal' chil­dren,” says Hamdi Mu­luk, a pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at the Univer­sity of In­done­sia who has re­searched and pub­lished ex­ten­sively on the psy­chol­ogy of ter­ror­ism. “Chil­dren also might not un­der­stand what ter­ror­ism means. This can make them feel con­fused, not con­fi­dent, fear­ful of be­ing re­jected. And if they feel frus­trated, they might con­vert this to re­venge or hate. This can be­come a se­ri­ous prob­lem when they reach their teenage years. Some­one has to ex­plain to them re­al­is­ti­cally what hap­pened to their par­ents.”

While ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties in In­done­sia are cur­rently few and far be­tween, Ghaz­ali was a prime con­trib­u­tor dur­ing a pe­riod when they were at an all-time high. When he joined Je­maah Is­lamiyah, In­done­sia was un­der the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Suharto, a mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor who pur­sued the archipelagic coun­try's unity through the doc­trine of Pan­casila – a five-pil­lared ide­ol­ogy that pro­motes co­ex­is­tence of mul­ti­ple re­li­gions – over Sharia law. There was no tol­er­ance in Suharto's regime for rad­i­cal Is­lam, and their de­sire to flee from this op­pres­sion pushed Ghaz­ali and oth­ers into Malaysia and Thailand, of­ten us­ing time abroad to equip them­selves with bomb­mak­ing and weaponry skills.

“Chil­dren also might not un­der­stand what ter­ror­ism means. This can make them feel con­fused, not con­fi­dent, fear­ful of be­ing re­jected ”

When the regime fi­nally fell in 1998, Je­maah Is­lamiyah re­turned to In­done­sia to carry out ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties around the ar­chi­pel­ago. The Bali bomb­ings in 2002 and 2005 killed 202 and 20 peo­ple, re­spec­tively, the 2003 Jakarta bomb­ing at the Mar­riott Ho­tel killed 20, the 2004 bomb­ing of the Aus­tralian em­bassy killed nine and the 2000 bomb­ing of the Philip­pine em­bassy killed two. There was also a 2010 bank heist in Medan in which an es­ti­mated $44,000 was stolen. Two days later, a mid­night at­tack on the po­lice head­quar­ters in Ham­paran Perak, North Su­ma­tra, left three of­fi­cers dead.

Fol­low­ing this fi­nal at­tack, and know­ing they were be­ing pur­sued by the In­done­sian Spe­cial Forces' counter-ter­ror­ism squad known as Den­sus 88, Ghaz­ali took his com­rades to his home in Tan­jung Balai, about five hours east by car from the scene of the crime. Their hide­out was quickly dis­cov­ered and, a month later, Den­sus 88 raided Ghaz­ali's home, end­ing in the death of two ter­ror­ists and prison sen­tences for the rest.

The bed­lam of Ghaz­ali's for­mer life could not be in starker con­trast to his cur­rent sur­round­ings.

The school is a sim­ple and peace­ful place, com­pris­ing two class­rooms with pas­tel lemon-and-lime-coloured walls, a mosque, a cou­ple of of­fices, a work­shop space, three out­door play ar­eas and dorms. Tu­ition is free, the eight teach­ers all work as vol­un­teers and fund­ing comes from Ghaz­ali him­self, as well as a co­hort of high-rank­ing gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials who got be­hind the project: the head of BNPT, Suhardi Alius; Na­tional Po­lice chief Tito Kar­na­vian; and the po­lice chief of Medan, Mar­diaz Kusin.

Alius was one of the first gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to be­come aware of the school,

hear­ing about it from mem­bers of his staff who vis­ited Ghaz­ali in prison, and is now the school's most ac­tive sup­porter. While such a place cer­tainly aligns with the goals of BNPT, the school moved Alius on a per­sonal level and he fundraised among his friends to help build the school's mosque with­out touch­ing gov­ern­ment money.

“These chil­dren are vic­tims,” Alius says. “They're of­ten os­tracised and ex­pe­ri­ence so­cial pun­ish­ment, and as they get marginalised and se­cluded they might get closer to their par­ents' ide­ol­ogy. But here, they're loved and given at­ten­tion and put in so­ci­ety in­stead.” He's made the trip from his base in Jakarta to visit the school three times, and BNPT now de­vel­ops Al-Hi­dayah's cur­ricu­lum as part of its an­nual task list.

De­spite the up­lift­ing na­ture of his idea, Ghaz­ali has strug­gled to re-so­cialise him­self and es­tab­lish his school as part of the lo­cal com­mu­nity, which ini­tially op­posed the project on sus­pi­cion that its ethos was a sham and that Ghaz­ali was us­ing it as an un­der­cover way to con­tinue work­ing for his for­mer or­gan­i­sa­tion.

“At first I was op­posed by the com­mu­nity,” Ghaz­ali says. “There was stigma; we were con­sid­ered to be pro­duc­ing child ter­ror­ists. We were re­ported to au­thor­i­ties who even­tu­ally came to see me and saw we were not print­ing fu­ture gen­er­a­tions [of ter­ror­ists].”

De­spite such ac­cu­sa­tions, re­jec­tion is just as stri­dent from the other side too. His for­mer com­rades now view him as a traitor – a pup­pet of the gov­ern­ment and a doll of Den­sus 88 and the BNPT.

Soon, though, the brother of one of the Bali bombers will be es­tab­lish­ing a sim­i­lar school in the East Java vil­lage of Teng­gu­lu­nan, which will also be sup­ported by BNPT and the lo­cal gov­ern­ment. Alius says there might even be a third school on the hori­zon.

Ghaz­ali would never claim that AlHi­dayah is a per­fect model but, for the stu­dents who stay, his new form of ji­had seems to be work­ing.

“I've stud­ied here since Au­gust 2016,” says Ah­mad Irgi, an 11-year-old stu­dent who had dropped out of pub­lic school af­ter fifth grade. His fa­ther died in prison in 2015. “My mother brought me here to study reli­gion and skills so that I can be a pi­ous and able son. Now I have a lot of friends. And many of them have shared my same fate.”

And what, ex­actly, does Irgi hope his fu­ture holds? A ca­reer as a po­lice of­fi­cer.

“Now I have a lot of friends. And many of them have shared my same fate ”

Ghaz­ali now teaches reli­gion through the prism of peace and tol­er­ance

A stu­dent prac­tices al­ge­bra on a white­board at the school

Khairul Ghaz­ali on the school grounds

Stu­dents study out­side a class­room at Al-Hi­dayah

Khairul Ghaz­ali (left) teaches stu­dents at the Al-Hi­dayah Is­lamic Board­ing School

Names adorn a class­room wall at the school

A stu­dent car­ries a fold-up chair across the cam­pus

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