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Radicalisation begins in the mind


A few weeks ago Australians were shocked at the news that a Muslim youth had murdered an employee of NSW police in the western Sydney suburb of Parramatta.

Fifteen-year-old Farhad Jabar, born in Iran and of Iraqi Kurdish descent, gunned down accountant Curtis Cheng. Shortly after, he was shot and killed by police as they tried to apprehend him.

This disturbing event highlighted yet again the dangers of extremist religion, and raised questions about the causes of radicalisation and how best to deal with it.

The woman featured in this interview for Eureka Street TV is a Muslim and a clinical psychologist, and has a particular interest in the role of religion and spirituality in mental health. Shehzi Yusaf is based in Parramatta, and works with clients mainly from the western suburbs of Sydney.

In the interview she outlines a balanced approach in psychology that incorporates a person's religious beliefs in therapy, recognises the positive effect religion can have, and challenges narrow, fundamentalist and extremist beliefs.

She also talks about the difficulties for Muslims living in an environment where they encounter hostility and Islamophobia, and of her optimism for the future when she believes different religious groups can live together in harmony.

Yusaf was born in Pakistan, and migrated to Australia 33 years ago. Her first choice as a career was to become a doctor, but she wasn't strong enough in science, particularly in chemistry, to pursue a career in medicine. So she chose psychology instead.

She speaks four of the major languages of the Subcontinent — Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi and English — so many of her clients are from that part of the world, and are not limited to Muslims, but come from a range of religious backgrounds.

She is a Clinical Associate of the School of Psychology of University of Western Sydney, the University of New South Wales and University of Sydney.

She is also an active member of the Australian Psychological Society, and convenes its Psychology from an Islamic Perspective Interest Group.

She recently spoke at a major conference in Sydney called 'Culturally Competent Approaches to Mental Health Care: Exploring the Mental Health of Australian Muslims' and her paper was entitled 'Role of Spirituality and Religion in Enhancing Psychological Health Benefits.'

She spoke to Eureka Street TV in Castle Hill Library near her home in north-western Sydney.

This interview is in two parts - Part 1 (11 minutes) above, and Part 2 (12 minutes) below:


Peter KirkwoodPeter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant with a master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity.

Topic tags: Peter Kirkwood, Shehzi Yusaf, Islam, Farhad Jabar, Curtis Cheng



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Existing comments

Fascinating interview

Emma | 28 October 2015  

Very articulate and informative. Thanks for this excellent interview, Peter.

herman roborgh | 28 October 2015  

A lot may also be learnt from people who have left fundamentalist cultic groups ... oppression and trauma mark these people too. How these people are enculturated into a healthier environment could be worth exploring ... otherwise the cycle of revenge will continue.

mary tehan | 28 October 2015  

Radicalisation occurs mostly when children are conditioned from birth, usually by their parents, to believe that the religion of their community is a God-guaranteed path to a higher form of life, and that other religions are mistaken interpretations, due to either ignorance or perversion. Such views are common to most religions because they reflect the cultural values of the community in which each religion finds its expression. Culture makes up a large part of all religions, and is intensified if the community finds itself under attack or is oppressed by members of other religions or cultures, especially if they misrepresent the beliefs or practices of the 'other' religion. A future where different religious groups can live together in harmony, is certainly God's Will, but to arrive at it, all religions will need to update their Traditions, stripping them of self-serving hubris, and subjecting them to rigorous compliance with Goodness and Truth; and embracing True Submission to God, rather than deifying their particular interpretation of what is the Will of God.

Robert Liddy | 28 October 2015