Tolerance, Nationalism, and Islam

Islam often serves to support these concepts. Students are taught that “Islam wants (Muslims) to cooperate and be a cooperative society” (Fifth grade Islamic studies, p.37). Throughout the curriculum, Islam and concepts of citizenship and statehood serve to reinforce one another, while the importance of self-sacrifice for the welfare of greater society is emphasized. Textbooks reference Islam to highlight the continuity of ancient Islamic history and the modern age, as well as the divinely mandated unity of Arabs and Muslims. Quran interpretations are aimed to underscore the importance of a modern-day inclusive Arab-Muslim society, regardless of sectarian differences. Seventh grade Islamic studies in both curricula, for instance, include the statement, “of the initial reasons for the collapse of a society is the spread of hatred and division between its members” (Al-tarbiyya al-islamiyya -  lilsaff al-awal al-mutawaset, Iraqi Ministry of Education, 2000, p.20). The excerpts below are from Islamic studies lesson at the primary level:

“Characteristics of the Believer: (A Muslim) loves his nation, relatives, and neighbors...” (Fifth grade Islamic studies, p.37).

“He who is a true Believer, worthy of respect of others and of Allah’s approval, is one who serves the nation and the homeland...” (Ninth grade Islamic studies).

Even topics such as education and democracy are presented within the context of Islam. The excerpts below are from a fifth grade civics textbook:

“Why does the nation provide its people education?” (Because) ignorance is a lethal enemy…and Islam urges us to study" (Fifth grade Civics, p. 50).

لماذا تقوم الدولة بتوفير التعليم لأبناء الشعب؟ يُعَدُّ الجهلة دواً فتاكاً....يحثنا الدين الإسلامي على التعلم

Shura in Islam: A model for Democracy: …Early Muslim preferred to have a participatory decision-making process in service of the greater good” (Seventh grade Civics, p. 55).

الشورى في الاسلام انموذج للديموقراطية:

يعد مبدا الشورى ركنا مهما في حياة المسلمين ...فقد فضل المسلمون الاوئل ان يكون لفضلا القوم اشتراك في اصدار قرارتهم واحكامهم خدم لصالح العام.

While the new curriculum is innovative in that it gives legitimacy to differences within Iraqi society, it follows the model of its predecessor in refraining from any specific mention of Sunnis or Shias (it does, however, contain religious material relating to the two, a controversial issue that will be discussed further on). Nevertheless, a new emphasis on Muslim-inclusiveness as opposed to a purely Arab context for unity is indicative of an important effort to address Iraq’s Sunni-Shia divide.

A statement at the beginning of revised Islamic studies textbooks highlights the importance of Muslim unity and of avoiding sectarian division. The statement reads (Arabic text below), “Islam is our heritage, it is our faith as Muslims, and today we suffer from the divisions that have torn apart our nation. We were united under Islam fourteen centuries ago; it was not the contiguity of our lands that united us or brought our nations together, but rather, a unity of thought and practice.”

Revised secondary level textbooks conclude with recommendations to the teacher, such as the one below, instructing them to instill in their students respect for freedom of faith and doctrine and the rejection of destructive extremism that may impact the unity of Muslims and Islam. The teacher is also told to teach that judgment of other Muslims as sinners is forbidden, and to forbid the murder and dishonor of other Muslims. Teachers should tell students that violence is forbidden because Islam is the religion of mercy, love, and peace.

In contrast, the old curriculum speaks of an abstract “spirit of love and tolerance,” and the importance of “distancing students from extremism, racism, and arrogance.” It makes no mention of relations—including possible divisions—within the Muslim community itself (Al-Tarbiya al-islamiya lil-saff al-thalith al-mutawasat (Ninth grade Islamic Studies), Iraqi Ministry of Education, 2001; see also: Al-Tarbiya al-islamiya (Islamic Studies Grades 2-6), Iraqi Ministry of Education, 2003, p.48).

Next: Jihad and Martyrdom