The sunset prayer had just ended, and Sheik Ahmad al-Jilani was already calling his class to order. When the latecomers slipped into the front row, Jilani nodded at them briskly. “Young men,” he began, “who can tell me why we do jihad?”
The members of the class were still new and a bit shy. Jilani clasped his hands and smiled encouragingly. Before him, sitting in school desks, were a dozen young Saudi men who had served time in prison for belonging to militant Islamic groups. Now they were inmates in a new rehabilitation center, part of a Saudi government initiative that seeks to deprogram Islamic extremists.
Jilani has been teaching his class, which is called Understandings of Jihad, since the center was established early last year. A stout man who makes constant, self-deprecating references to his weight, the sheik is an avuncular figure, popular with his students. On thi
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