Understanding Islam: Root Causes and Stages of Radicalism

Let’s be honest. The bitter truth is that whenever we talk about radicalism or terrorism, Islam and the Muslims comes to people’s mind as the foremost perpetrator. But little do most people know especially the anti-Muslim kind is that Islam itself is at the forefront of addressing these issues because the Muslims understand that many Muslims become radicalized especially in these trying times.

It is therefore important for me, as a Muslim to share what Muslims has to say about the origins of radicalism and how we could possibly protect the people who are constantly being bombarded with radicalizing information through the internet in this day and age.

Radicalism is defined as the beliefs or actions of people who advocate thorough or complete political or social reform. Often, these actions lead to the disruption of public order and safety. In Philippine history, the Filipino independence movement against the Spanish could be divided into the pacifists which are characterized by Jose Rizal and other Filipino intellectuals and the radicals which are characterized by Andres Bonifacio and the Katipunan.

But radicalism today is not as simple as it was back then as anyone could be radicalized in any belief or opinion he may have simply heard of or seen once. Anyone could be radicalized by his emotions in his empathy towards the social injustice that his fellow from any marginalized sector in the society goes through. Anyone could be radicalized by being made to believe that things have become hopeless and the only way to social reform is a total socio-political upheaval whether or not they understand the concept or the ramifications of such.

For a few years already I have been a part of a global effort of Muslims to fight violent extremism among its ranks and I see that we are winning. But today, we shall speak about the radicalism that could victimize anyone, Muslims or otherwise.

IGNORANCE AND MISUNDERSTANDING: Ignorance is the primary root cause of radicalism. Whenever someone is ignorant about something he is incapable of making informed decisions making him most vulnerable to provocation, brainwash or peer pressure.

Ignorance and misunderstanding usually go together as someone who is ignorant could misunderstand things and people misunderstand things if they do not know enough. These root causes could be attributed to the inaction of the religious leaders, Muslim or otherwise in keeping their people educated or wanting to be educated especially in morality and the manners that is most befitting for anyone who believes in God.

Religious knowledge in Islam has been put to a high regard as a primary obligation of each individual Muslim whether they are religious leaders or ordinary members of the society. Prophet Muhammad said, “Studying religious knowledge is an obligation for every Muslim.” Narrated by Imam Al Bukhari.

INJUSTICE: Humans are bound to err and cause damage to his fellow human but this becomes a root cause of radicalism due to the inaction of the people of authority. When political leaders and authorities fail to identify, address and solve crimes and social injustices such as marginalization and discrimination of Muslims and other minority groups that inflame radical beliefs. When the political will to promote regional stability is virtually non-existent and the only political presence there is, is not for public service but rather for public exploitation, radicalism is never far and if it is not there yet, they shall feel its presence soon enough.

BELIEF IN DOUBTFUL THINGS: Lack of knowledge is ignorance and lack of wisdom leads to misunderstanding. All these forms of ignorance lead to another stage of radicalization where the victim may overreact to something he may have heard that is being said to have happened such as rumors or propaganda that is being spread especially by radical groups to gain sympathy from the vulnerable sector of the society. Allah said in the Quran, “Whenever news comes to them about security and danger, they spread the news about it. If only they consulted the prophet and their leaders first, those who investigated should have known it already.” Quran 4: 83. This verse is clear. And for anyone who has knowledge that this should be the conduct of anyone about any social injustice such as discrimination and marginalization or hate crimes against one’s religion, then these should have been solved through proper channels and the radicalized individuals will find lesser things to overreact to.

HOPELESSNESS: The radicalized individual feel that there is no way that change could be achieved except through violence. His belief in doubtful things and his vulnerability to propaganda and agenda setting has left him mistrusting everyone especially those in authority. He even finds it hard to believe in religious authorities because at this stage of radicalization. In the case of Muslims, radical propaganda has made them believe already that most of the Muslims now have committed acts of disbelief by cooperating with Non-Muslims so there is no need to listen to anyone. He turns to no one else except the terrorist indoctrinator that he met on social media. He believes in nothing except the propaganda video lectures he’s seen on video sharing sites without verifying its credibility.

At this stage of radicalism, many of the characteristics of the radical appear in him. He becomes hasty in the establishment of the Shari’ah or the Caliphate or doing Jihad and achieving martyrdom. He overreacts to anything especially if it’s news involving Muslims or anyone he believes he is standing up for. He loses his reasoning ability too that he doesn’t look at both sides of the coin anymore. What he feels and what he believed in are the only things that matter now. Until he may be already too deep in it and we are already too late.



This is the point of no return when no one could help us except Allah. When the damage to life and property has been done already all because someone got confused and hopeless and we failed to take action. It has always been said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and this has never been nearer to the truth than on the issue of prevention and countering violent extremism. Know the patterns, see the signs and intervene as a leader, a parent or a friend if you see anyone exhibiting the signs of radicalization.