Posted by Joshua on Sunday, July 25th, 2010
I received this opinion piece by Elie ElHadj and agreed to publish it, although I have edited it for length. You can read his original full article here. I hesitated before agreeing to publish it because the opinions expressed are controversial and stated powerfully; the open discussion of religious topics is often frowned upon in Syria because of the potential for stirring up sectarian hard feelings. I decided to publish it anyway, because debate is good and because the recent law to ban the niqab has raised the larger issue of how the Syrian government and society should deal with the larger issues of private schools and Islamic education. I stress that the views expressed in this article do not reflect those of Syria Comment’s editors; although, I recognize that some of its conclusions are shared by many, if not most, Syrians. It is part of an on-going debate. I hope to be able to publish an opinion piece defending the spread of Islamic schools in Syria in the not distant future. (That is a challenge to those readers who will disagree with the views expressed in this article. Joshua Landis)
Stop Wahhabi Indoctrination of Syrian Youth
By Elie Elhadj, July 25, 2010
for Syria Comment
The Website ALL4SYRIA reported (in Arabic) on July 17, 2010 that private Islamist elementary schools have been proliferating in Syria. The title of the article: Secrets and Background Behind the Decision to Ban the Wearing of the Niqab in Syria’s Schools and Universities Taken by the Office of National Security. The article may be accessed on:
A Summary of the ALL4SYRIA article
Islamist groups in Syria have succeeded in controlling most private elementary schools (up to sixth grade), estimated to be around 200 schools (presumably in Damascus) with approximately 25% to 30% of all elementary schools enrollment. The article revealed that teachers are all women, don the Niqab (black covering of face and body), and belong to Islamist proselytizing groups, typically led and controlled by women. ALL4SYRIA added that classroom teaching material contravenes Ministry of Education curriculum and textbooks, that young children are instructed to insist that their mothers must wear the Niqab so that they avoid burning in hell’s fire, that large amounts of money have been paid by Islamist organizers to purchase secular private schools from their owners; for example, Dar Al-Faraj, Dar Al-Na’eem, Omar bin Al-Khattab, The Arab Islamic College, Ummat Al-Majd, Al-Yaqzah…).
Significance of the report
Such a development is disconcerting. Syria must be vigilant. At the core of Islamist teaching, just like Wahhabi teaching, is indoctrination and brainwashing in fanaticism. Sunni Islamists, Syria’s included, embrace Wahhabi extremism with all their being. Their speech and actions are akin to being members of a religious cult. If allowed to go unchecked, such a development would cause irreparable damage to Syria’s way of life and to its multi-ethnic multi-religion harmony, including discrimination against and persecution of the country’s many religious minorities and sects, particularly the ruling Alawite minority, which orthodox Muslims regard as heretics.
To appreciate the consequences of Islamist teaching one need not look beyond the Saudi educational curriculum to see its effects on Saudi youth and Muslim youth in Islamist/ Wahhabi sponsored schools elsewhere. While Saudi textbooks might not be seen in Syria’s classrooms, the dogma, dictums, values, attitudes, and beliefs imparted through the words, mannerism, dress, and personal behavior of Islamist teachers would, nonetheless, mold impressionable young children with Arabia’s seventh century culture.
Content of Islamist education
Students in Wahhabi controlled schools are taught to denigrate other religions and Islamic sects, including other Sunnis. Starting with the First grade, children are taught that Jews, Christians, and others are destined to be consumed in hellfire. As the children grow up, the same message is honed more explicitly. Fourth graders are taught to hate the polytheists and infidels. Fifth graders are taught that someone who opposes God, even if he/she were one’s own brother/sister becomes his/her enemy. In Sixth grade, students are taught that Islam bans the mourning of the dead tradition that Shi’ites venerate (Center for Religious Freedom of Freedom House with the Institute for Gulf Affairs, Saudi Arabia’s Curriculum of Intolerance, with Excerpts from Saudi Ministry of Education Textbooks for Islamic Studies, 2006.
To put overall Saudi school curriculum in perspective, it is helpful to describe some of what the older students learn. Eighth graders are taught that building mosques on graves, even by Muslims, is the work of polytheists and unbelievers. In Ninth grade, teenagers are taught in apocalyptic terms that violence against Jews, Christians, and other non-believers is sanctioned by God. Tenth graders are taught that, in law, the life of non-Muslims as well as women is worth a fraction of that of free Muslim men. Eleventh graders are taught that Muslims do not yield to Christians and Jews on a narrow road out of honor and respect (the Prophet reportedly said: “Do not initiate greeting the Jews and Christians, and if you encounter one of them on a road you should force him toward the narrow side” The Six Books, Sahih Muslim, tradition 5661, p. 1064 and Sunan Abi Dawood, Ibid., tradition 5205, p. 1603). Twelfth graders learn that the spread of Islam through jihad is a religious duty, that jihad is the summit of Islam, that through jihad Islam’s banner was raised high, that jihad is one of the most magnificent acts of obedience to God.
Islamists/Wahhabi education emphasizes the belief in predestination.
Outside the classroom, Islamist/Wahhabi propaganda promotes an anti-Western agenda—Westernization results in the loss of Islamic ideals and practices, encourages the introduction of Western political systems, political parties, and parliaments, which interfere with social cohesion and consensus, brings misery and suffering to Muslims, undermines Muslim conduct, leading to mixing of the sexes, opening of nightclubs, discarding of the veil, charging of interest on bank loans, and celebration of non-Islamic holidays such as Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Labor Day. (Madawi Al-Rasheed, A History of Saudi Arabia, Cambridge University Press, 2003, 191).
Islamist/Wahhabi doctrine denounces Arab nationalism and socialism, as atheistic innovation. Abdulaziz Bin Baz, Saudi Arabia’s former grand mufti (1993-1999), called Arab nationalism an atheist jahiliyya (the pre-Islamic age of ignorance and darkness). Ibn Baz described nationalism as “a movement of ignorance whose main purpose is to fight Islam and destroy its teachings and rules” (Ibid. 190). As for the Arab military-ruled republics that since the 1950s have adopted nationalism as a basis for Arab unity and as a political objective, Ibn Baz branded them “the enemies of Islam.” Saudi history textbooks highlight that Arab nationalism is “European in origin, Jewish in motivation . . . [and] represented as a conspiracy promoted by the West and Zionism to undermine the unity of Muslims” (Ibid. 191).
Islamist/Wahhabi education engenders hostility towards all those who hold different religious beliefs or political or national aspirations. Opponents are viciously attacked as kuffars (atheists), orientalists, or agents of the CIA and Mossad, deserving death. Islamist/Wahhabi education is designed to enslave the faithful through superstitions and irrationalities in order to prolong the dictatorship of the coalitions that typically govern Arab countries; namely political families and the ulama class.
What should Syria do?
Syria can take four actions. First, trace and cut off the flow of funds that sustains Islamist groups. The source is most likely to be Syria’s home grown Islamists and Syrians who had worked or are still working in Saudi Arabia and who embraced Saudi Islam plus rich Saudis on a mission to spread the Islamist creed around.
Secondly, proselytizing groups, like other Islamist organizations, must be declared illegal and their financial backers prosecuted.
Thirdly, teachers who deviate from the Ministry of Education’s curriculum must be punished.
Fourthly, promulgate a twenty-first century personal status law befitting a supposedly “secular” country like Syria to replace its current antiquated Shari’a based laws and courts for Muslims and spiritual courts for non-Muslims. A country that claims to be “secular” should become truly secular. Syria’s government appeasement of Islamists is like riding a tiger. The tiger may someday devour the rider.
Post Script addendum:
It should be noted that the word “Islamist” refers only to the tiny minority among individual Muslims who are extremists in their religious fervor and beliefs; specifically, the Hanbalite Wahhabis. The word “Islamist” does not apply to the 95% of Sunnis who follow the other three schools of jurisprudence (Hanafites, Maliktes, and Shafiates). This great majority is moderate, enlightened, and tolerant. On a macro level, the word “Islamist” refers to extremist Islamic states, not to moderate Islamic countries. While Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Syria, and Turkey, for example, are Islamic countries, Saudi Arabia is an Islamist country.