Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Syria's Islamic Textbooks Teach Political Indoctrination and Intolerance

Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Syria's Islamic Textbooks Teach Political Indoctrination and Intolerance

Article excerpt


Religious education in Syria is compulsory. Muslim students are required to study Sunni Islam and Christians must study Christianity. The school system is divided into three stages. The first six years represent the elementary stage, the next three years are the middle stage, and the last three years make up the secondary stage. From the age of eight years (the third grade) until eighteen years (the final year of high school), Muslim students are exposed to political indoctrination, intolerance of non-Muslims, and dogmatic instruction through their Islamic studies.

This article is divided into three parts. The first includes samples of 40 quotations from the textbooks to demonstrate the regime's use of religious injunctions to shape and control the thought process and values of Syrian youth. The second part addresses the political motives behind a purportedly "secular" Alawi regime adopting a Sunni educational agenda. Last, an appendix lists 100 textbook quotations of political indoctrination, intolerance of non-Muslims, and dogmatic instruction.

The ten textbooks under review are in use as of 2011. Except for the fifth grade textbook, which was printed in 2009/2010, the books were printed in 2010/2011. Textbooks for grades three, four, seven, and ten were revised and edited comprehensively for content, teaching method, and format in 2010 by a special committee formed by the ministerial order 2053/943, April 1, 2010. The eleventh grade textbook was revised "extensively" during the 1996/1997 academic year. The twelfth grade textbook was revised "extensively" in 1997/1998. The remaining textbooks were first printed in 2001/2002 (fifth grade), 2002/2003 (sixth grade), and 2004/2005 (eighth and ninth grades) and were reprinted with revisions in 2010/2011. Quotations from the textbooks are the current author's translation from the original in Arabic.


Syria's Islamic education is designed to help prolong President Bashar al-Asad's hold on power. The Ministry of Education loads the Islamic textbooks with religious injunctions to obey Asad and to support his politics. The following three sections outline the ministry's use of Islamic textbooks to blend religious dictums with political indoctrination, intolerance of others, and promotion of dogmatic reasoning. An expanded selection of 100 such teachings appears in the appendix.

Political Indoctrination

The extensive use in the textbooks of words such as "jihad," "war," and "martyrdom," as well as criticism of Jews are indicative of the Syrian Ministry of Education's political indoctrination mission. In addition, adulations for both President Bashar al-Asad and the late Hafiz al-Asad are part of the Syrian Islamic curriculum.

Students in elementary school reading the story of Noah are taught that the Golan Heights and Jerusalem will be liberated no matter how long their occupation might last, because Noah spent 950 years patiently imploring his people to worship God before he was blessed with God's protection from the flood (third grade, p. 96). In the fourth grade, children learn that the Muslim faithful endears himself1 to God if he performs those acts that God loves the most-jihad, in particular (fourth grade, p. 93). A picture depicting three boys throwing stones at an Israeli tank in a city street illustrates this message and instructs the pupils to write two lines describing the role of children in defending the homeland (fourth grade, pp. 93, 95). Fifth graders are taught that Muslims must obey "God, His Messenger," and those in authority among them (fifth grade, p. 56). Fifth graders are also taught that jihad is among God's best-loved acts (fifth grade, p. 77). In sixth grade, students learn that Palestinians' defense of the al-Aqsa Mosque is the finest expression of national pride and dignity (sixth grade, p. 129) and that jihad delivers Muslims from darkness into light (sixth grade, p. …

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