Sisi takes anti-terrorism battle to schools

Friday 28/08/2015
Long road

CAIRO - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has called on al-Azhar — the high­est seat of Sunni Islamic learning — to lead the change in Islamic discourse to bet­ter support the tolerant and moder­ate nature of Islam.
Sisi, a pronounced enemy of radi­cal Islamist movements, made the plea amid an unprecedented rise in extremism both inside his coun­try, where the military is fighting a home-grown branch of the Islamic State (ISIS), and outside it, espe­cially in Iraq, Syria and neighbour­ing Libya.
Soon after Sisi made the request, Egyptian religious authorities act­ed.
Authorities moved to take what they described as “radical books” out of mosque libraries across Egypt.
The Ministry of Religious Endow­ments, which controls the nation’s mosques, restricted the delivery of sermons inside the mosques to preachers licenced by al-Azhar. The ministry also dictates topics of the sermons, especially before Friday prayers, making tolerance, peace and love central themes of the preaching.
The Education Ministry, which oversees the educational process in thousands of state-run schools, has started a process of massive cur­ricular change at all pre-university educational levels.
The changes aim to stress impor­tant values in Islam, such as toler­ance and love. It also underlines the importance of hard work and respect for time.
“Changing school curricula is a very important step if we want to address extremism as a problem,” Nadia Gamal Eddin, a professor of education at the state-run Educa­tional Research Institute, said. “But we need to know that this step is only the first in a long road.”
New lessons are included in pre-university curricula and others were eliminated. One of the new lessons included in a textbook for high school students stresses the importance of respecting time and the effects an ideal use of time can have on a person’s success, accord­ing to local media.
Another lesson dwells on Prophet Mohammad’s last sermon. The les­son focuses on important meanings in the sermon, such as brotherhood and equality among people, regard­less of their language and race.
A third lesson, dwells on a ser­mon delivered by the well-known preacher and theologian Hasan al- Basri, who died in the eighth centu­ry. The sermon talks about the need for Muslims to have tolerance and a sense of justice for everyone, even for non-Muslims.
Terrorism expert Khaled Okasha said changing school curricula can contribute to equipping Egyptians against radical ideologies and usher in a new generation of citizens who better understand their religion.
“We will feel the effect of this change years from now,” Okasha said.
A local newspaper two years ago wrote about a primary school les­son that called for burning enemies alive. The report alarmed Egyp­tians, most of whom were shocked when ISIS killed a Jordanian pilot by burning, accusing him of killing group members in US-led air strikes in Iraq and Syria.
In 2014, an al-Azhar-affiliated book said it was permissible for the faithful to kill “infidels” and eat their flesh. The book called for kill­ing adulterers and Muslims who do not pray, even without getting per­mission from authorities.
This is what ISIS has done to those it captures. The group deals mercilessly with opponents, espe­cially if they are non-Muslims.
In Sinai, the Egyptian Army is battling the ISIS-linked Sinai Prov­ince group that demonises troops and police to justify killing. Sinai Province beheads opponents, in­cluding suspected informers.
The Muslim Brotherhood also uses religion to justify the destruc­tion of electrical lines, the killing of police and attacks against police facilities. These misinterpreted re­ligion-backed actions are what Sisi wants to eliminate. The Egyptian president has often warned against the effects of twisted religious in­terpretations.
Once he addressed the Sheikh of al-Azhar, the highest religious au­thority in Egypt, saying he would hold the sheikh accountable if religious discourse was not mod­ernised to keep people from ex­tremism. Another time, Sisi said that youths had opted for atheism because of their desperation with Egypt’s religious leaders.
Okasha said the government needs to strictly supervise what is taught in schools.
“Some teachers use lectures specified for theology to fill the pupils with radical ideas,” Okasha said. “The government must be on alert because these teachers are present everywhere in this coun­try.”