A former member of Jemaah Islamiah, a jihadist group linked to al Qaeda, he served six years in prison for involvement in the killing of two policemen. In prison, he underwent a "spiritual conversion". Once released, Ghazali founded an Islamic school to educate terrorists’ children about moderate Islam and prevent them from developing “feelings of hatred towards the state”.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Khairul Ghazali’s life went from that of an Islamic terrorist to educator and disseminator of moderate values of Islam.
Ghazali, 51, a former member of an Indonesian jihadist group, he opened a school to educate the children of terrorists, marginalised by society and easy prey to fundamentalism.
The father of nine children began his terrorist career in the 1980s through the influence of Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Baasyir, founder and key member of Jemaah Islamiah, a jihadist network linked to al Qaeda.
After adopting the extremist view of jihad, the group moved to Malaysia, where it raised money to fund training camps and prepare attacks in Indonesia.
Ghazali was arrested in 2010 for his involvement in the shooting at the Cimb Niaga Medan Bank (North Sumatra) in which two policemen were killed. It is during the six years in prison that the terrorist experienced a real "spiritual conversion".
“Already during the first three-month trial I had decided in good conscience to leave behind my mistakes,” Ghazali told AsiaNews by phone.
He realised the mistake in acting on a wrong view of jihad. "I was very concerned of having committed crimes because of a wrong interpretation of a concept. That is what I wanted to change for the rest of my life. "
From this came the idea of doing something good for others. "In prison,” Ghazali said, “I realised that the life of my family was ruined because it did not have the main income earner. I realised that I had failed in my first responsibility as a husband and father. With this in mind I decided to leave the past behind and start a new chapter of my life. "
After he was released from prison, the former terrorist decides to build a small pesantren (Islamic school) in Deli Serdang (near Medan, his hometown). The primary purpose was to take in the children of his former fellow terrorist inmates.
"I was concerned that children could develop feelings of hatred towards the state since their fathers had been arrested, and this is always a difficult thing to explain to young people. "
Abandoned by the parent and marginalised by society, these children risk becoming easy prey for extremists. For this reason, "I visit families and I ask mothers if they can send their children to my pesantren, where they are educated and housed,” Ghazali explained. “I want to take care of them in order to minimise the chances that they fill with feelings of revenge."
At present, the ‘Darusy Syifa’ pesantren hosts 32 boys: 20 from families of Ghazali’s former comrades, and 12 from poor local families. Here, they learn about moderate values of Islam and the correct interpretation of the concept of "jihad", which excludes as its meaning the idea of armed struggle against the infidels.
Khairul Ghazali’s activism against Islamic terrorism has led him to publish several books, including Aksi Teror Bukan Jihad (Acts of terror are not jihad) and Kabut Jihad (The fog of jihad).