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Changes in Egypt’s Schoolbooks May Help Counter Islamic Terrorism

School children in the middle east

World Bank Photo Collection

John Burger - published on 04/27/15

New reforms met with both caution and criticism

Government ministers in Egypt are taking steps to nip new generations of Islamic terrorism in the bud by making changes in primary and secondary school curricula, according to a report on the website of Voice of America.

The country’s Ministry of Education is removing some religious texts and passages on historical Islamic figures including Saladin, the 12th century Muslim ruler and anti-Crusader hero.

The changes, though, are provoking the ire of Egyptian Islamists.

Salafists say the deletions recommended by a curriculum development panel set up in March amount to the government declaring war on Islam. But the Prime Minister, Ibrahim Mehleb, who has endorsed the recommendations made after a brief review of textbooks says jihadists are exploiting outdated ideas to incite youngsters to violence. … 

Some fatwas and Hadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad) are also being omitted, including one saying, “I was ordered to fight people until they testify that there is no god but Allah.”

Some who oppose the changes accuse the authorities of “an assault on our history” and of deleting the words of the Quran.

But the country’s education ministry says, “Some of the material was inciting violence and was first entered into the curriculum during the Muslim Brotherhood’s era.” Officials say the censoring of material used to encourage violence is part of a larger ideological battle the government is determined to wage against Islamic extremism.

The plan seems to be in response to the call of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi for a radical reform of Islam. The VOA article pointed out that the changes are: 

…in line with a controversial speech the Egyptian president gave earlier this year before an audience of leading religious scholars calling for a “religious revolution” in Egypt. He said dominant Islamic thought had become too closed and antagonistic to the world. “It’s inconceivable that the thought that we hold most sacred should cause the entire nation to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world,” he told the scholars. 
President el-Sissi said Islam wasn’t the problem per se. The problem lay with “that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sanctified over the centuries, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible.”

He made that call amid rising violence against non-Muslims, especially the Islamic State group’s beheading of 21 Copts working in Libya earlier this year. Ashraf Ramelah, president of Voice of the Copts, told Aleteia that el-Sissi may be well-intentioned but still must overcome the hurdle of influencing the main Islamic religious authority in the country—Al-Azhar. The president, he said, "has not successfully influenced the Al Ahzar stronghold which consistently counters el-Sissi’s efforts to renew Islamic discourse. Publicly, Al-Azhar leaders are welcoming the president’s initiative, but in reality they are against any change."

Ramelah is cautiously optimistic about the curriculum reform but points out that nothing is set in stone yet. He is also concerned that el-Sissi has not come to the public defense of Islam al-Beheiry, a Muslim scholar who is under a death fatwa because he spoke freely about inaccuracies in the hadiths of Islam. "Beheiry challenged traditions held by Al-Azhar scholars, and now his program is shut down along with a death fatwa issued against him. El-Sissi is silent.

The VOA article quoted Egypt expert Samuel Tadros of the Hudson Institute in saying, “Egypt’s current educational system is an incubator for extremism and radicalization.”

“Attempting to address the question of intolerance, radicalization, and extremism in the Egyptian educational system must begin by addressing the very structure of that system and not merely changing curricula,” Tadros said.

EgyptIslamist Militants
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