Kafir, Violent Jihad in School Textbooks: How State-Sponsored Radicalisation in Islamic World is Undermining the Global War on Terror
Pakistani-Canadian journalist and award-winning film-maker, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy in her documentary, “Children of the Taliban”, reveals how Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) recruits and indoctrinates young boys through madrassas in (now erstwhile) Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan. Youths are radicalized and are encouraged to become suicide bombers for the sake of Jihad. The documentary further elaborates that how in poor and war torn Muslim countries like Pakistan, it is likely that a young boy will go to a Madrassa which provides him food and shelter 1. The scope for modern education is anyway limited in conflict regions, as state schools are often attacked by terror outfits on the pretext that modern education erodes Islamic values.
It is a common perception that poverty and lack of formal education leads to terrorism. However, the relationship between education and terrorism has shown to be an inverse one-that is, many terrorists are the by-products of a Western education or are better educated and better off financially than the average person in their community. 2 Claude Berrebi found that “both higher education and standard of living are positively associated with participation in Hamas or PIJ (Palestinian Islamic Jihad) and with becoming a suicide bomber.”3 Similarly, Pakistan is home to many well-educated terrorists, coming from economically well off families.
For instance, Saad Aziz was a BBA graduate from prestigious Institute of Business Administration in Karachi who was found guilty of executing numerous terror strikes in Pakistan. 4
State-sponsored extremism through school Textbooks
Islamic terrorism is a globalized concept with a shared vision of establishing an Islamic rule or Dar al-Islam. The proliferation of technology through globalization has only facilitated the existing idea through internationally coordinated terror strikes by Jihadi groups. While international community came together post-9/11 to combat this non-traditional security threat, one has to closely decode the paradoxical counterterrorism approach of many Islamic countries. Most of them have cooperated with international community to avert terror attacks through intelligence sharing and AML/CFT measures. However, on countering radicalization, it has been found that most of these countries were themselves the biggest sponsors of extremism and radicalization through their own state education.
The school textbooks of many prominent Islamic countries were found to preach hatred against other religions, demeaning their beliefs and celebrating violent jihad against them. Most hate filled, and intolerant contents were found in school textbooks of leaders of Islamic world such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan, Turkey and Iran. Despite geopolitical tensions between these countries, they together exercise a great influence on Muslims worldwide.
I) Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
When ISIS took over Mosul in 2014, it began using the same textbooks and curricula as those used in Saudi Arabia, which promote Wahhabi Islam, comprising hatred toward the Shia sect and antagonism toward other faiths. 5 Saudi has faced international criticism for its involvement in terror funding and exporting radical Wahhabi ideology to Muslim countries.
The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-SE), an international research organization, published a report where it highlighted the intolerant content present in Saudi’s school textbooks. 6 To cite a few examples:
1. Islamic Studies—Tafsir, Hadith, Tawhid, Fiqh, Grade 8, Vol. 2, 2020, p. 44-
Students are taught that leaving Islam and adultery are justified reasons for leaders to kill people. Conclusions drawn from verses of the Qur’anic Al-Furqan Surah include the authorization to kill people if they leave Islam, unlawfully kill a person, or commit adultery.
2. Tawhid (3), Grades 10–12, Level 5, Literature and Qur'an, 2019, pp. 221–22 (recently removed)-
A passage teaching against befriending non-believers equated Jews and Christians with “infidels,” clearly framing them as “enemies of God.”
3. Tawhid, Grade 4, Vol. 1, 2020, p. 24-
A chapter about polytheism determines that those who practice it are not a part of Islam and will be sent to Hell for all eternity if they do not repent.
II) State of Qatar
Qatar has been on the radar of international community for sponsoring and shielding terror groups like Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Al-Qaeda. The Arab country has a long history of providing safe haven to terror financiers. The State education system reflects the state policy of sponsoring terrorism. The hate content in Qatar’s school textbooks promotes enmity against other religions and glorifies violent Jihad against non-believers.
A report titled “Review of Changes and Remaining Problematic Content in Qatari Textbooks 2021-22 Fall Editions Grades 1–12” published by The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-SE) highlighted intolerant content present in the textbooks. 7 To cite a few examples:
1. Social Studies, Grade 11, Vol. 2, 2017-2018, pp. 91–92. (Recently removed)-
When teaching about Muslim minorities around the world, a second grade textbook discusses the launch of the Kashmiri jihad movement and its military activity, through which “the jihadi warriors were able to kill more than twenty-six thousand Hindu soldiers,” thereby commending the killing of one’s enemies through jihad.
2. Islamic Education, Grade 8, Vol. 1, 2021-2022, pp. 72–73-
Jihad’s “sublime purpose” is the conversion of non-believers to Islam, which is used to justify violent Islamic conquest; if people will not join Islam, they are to be conquered.
3. Islamic Education, Grade 6, Vol. 1, 2021-2022, pp. 98, 101-
Interpretations of Qur’anic verses from the Luqman Surah conclude that polytheism is one of the most grievous sins that corrupt mankind and results in punishment from Allah. Sixth graders are also taught to disobey their parents if they try to influence them to become polytheists or infidels, or make them commit other sins.
III) Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Post independence of Bangladesh, the Pakistani dispensation realized that Islamization of the society is necessary to avoid further Balkanization of the country. Apart from promoting Madrassas, the school textbooks were altered to promote an exclusive Islamic identity by demonising other faiths.
Pakistan’s nuclear physicist and activist, Parvez Hoodbhoy argues that Single National Curriculum, the new education policy of Pakistan, is further escalating Islamization of education. He says that “in single curriculum, we notice that there is no major difference between the way subjects such as Urdu, English, Mathematics, etc, are taught in public schools and madressahs. The only big difference that has become clear is in the subject of Islamiat where the students have to learn hadith and different prayers for different occasions.” 8
A report titled,“Teaching intolerance in Pakistan” published by United States commission on international religious freedom highlights the intolerant content in public textbooks of all the four provinces in Pakistan. 9 To cite a few examples:
Punjab State Textbook: Grade 10 – Urdu Chapter: Pakistan Ideology p.22-23-
“Hindus tried to extinguish the Muslim dominated province of East Bengal and Assam in order to squeeze/hurt Muslims through a conspiracy.”
Khyber Pakhtunkwa School Textbook: Grade 8 – Islamic Studies Chapter: Jihad p.100-
“Prophet (PBUH) said that ‘Jihad will continue till the end of times.’Jihad is going on in different parts of the world. Many Mujahidins of Islam are participating in Jihad for sake of Allah, for protection of their religion, to help their oppressed brothers, and to get freedom from tyranny... As a student if you cannot practically participate in Jihad you can at least financially help in preparation of Jihad.”
Sindh Textbook Grade 8 – Social studies, Chapter: Pakistan Ideology p.95–108-
“In the United India, the Hindu majority poses a serious threat to Muslim religion, culture, and language. To counter it the creation of Pakistan was inevitable.”
Balochistan textbooks: Grade 9 – Islamic Studies, Chapter: Jihad p.94-
“Jihad in Islam means making efforts for pre eminence of truth by all means of sacrificing one’s financial, physical and mental capabilities for the sake of Allah, Even one should not hesitate to sacrifice lives of their family, relatives, and friends.”
IV) Islamic Republic of Iran
Along with North Korea, Iran is placed under FATF’s high-risk jurisdiction list (also known as Black list) and has been sanctioned by the USA for its nuclear program and supporting Islamists groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, and Houthi rebels in West Asia.
The Antisemitic and anti-western approach of the dispensation is reflected through the contents found in Iran’s textbooks. The hate filled content against state of Israel and western world is highest as compared to any other Islamic country.
A report titled Incitement: Antisemitism and Violence in Iran’s Current State Textbooks” published by Anti Defamation League (ADL) gives a detailed account. 10 To cite a few examples:
1. Grade 7, Heaven’s Messages: Islamic Education and Training, p. 65-
"Despite numerous warnings from the Holy Prophet to the Jews, they again broke the treaty and provided financial and military assistance to the enemies of Islam. The Jews were even inciting the polytheists to go to war and annihilate the Muslims."
2. Grade 9, Heaven’s Messages: Islamic Education and Training, p. 134-
“Whoever rises to jihad against the enemies by the command of God is always victorious; because if he defeats the enemy, in addition to honor and pride, God’s great forgiveness and reward is waiting for him. And if he is martyred in war with the enemy, he attains a position that is incomparable in the view of God. Therefore, jihad in the way of God is a battle that never fails.”
3. Grade 8, Social Studies (Civics, History, Geography), p. 132-
“The only way on the path of confrontation with Israel until it is completely eradicated is to unite the Muslims, continue the resistance, and strengthen the courageous protests and popular struggle of this country (intifada).”
V) Republic of Turkey
Modern-day Turkey was founded on the principles of secularism by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. However, under the Justice and Development Party government led by current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the country is heading towards Islamization of the society. The school textbooks, which were earlier tolerant to minorities and other cultures, now promotes enmity against other cultures and justifies acts of terror. The idea of Turkish world domination is promoted, along with glorification of martyrdom.
The report titled, The Erdoğan Revolution in the Turkish Curriculum Textbooks published by The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-SE) in conjunction with Henry Jackson Society gives a detail account of radicalization in Turkish Curriculum. 11 To cite a few examples:
1. 2019 Contemporary World and Turkish History book-
“In the aftermath of the Cold War, with self-confidence, the US began to see itself as "first among equals." It began to dominate international relations and comply less with international agreements. US definitions and references began to determine whether the states would be punished or which systems were to be eliminated. These above-mentioned practices of the US constituted one of the reasons for the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization's attack on September 11.”
The following lines, while describing the 9/11 attacks, pin the blame on US and justify the act of Al-Qaeda. A similar explanation is given regarding ISIS, where US invasion of Iraq is blamed.
2. The 2019 Fundamental Religious Knowledge text explaining Jihad-
“Muslims are entitled to fight only if others declare war against them. The new curriculum stresses the importance of fighting for Allah as a fundamental pillar of Islam by relying on one of Prophet Muhammad's hadiths: that a Muslim cannot be considered a believer unless he fights in the name of Allah.”
Ummah, Kafir and Violent Jihad: religious sources of Islamic terrorism
American political scientist, Samuel Huntington, in his book, “Clash of Civilizations”, described Islam as an absolutist faith, which merges religion and politics and draws a sharp line between those in the Dar al-Islam (territory under Islamic rule) and those in Dar al-Harb (territory not under Islamic rule). 12 Therefore, the idea of secularism and minority rights are forbidden in Dar al-Islam, but on the contrary equal rights for Muslims are demanded in Dar al-Harb. The intolerant and hate filled content found in all the school textbooks cited above, preach hatred against other faiths, promote an exclusive Muslim community worldwide and celebrate the idea of holy war against infidels. This reflects enmity against those in Dar al-Harb.
Mr Ram Madhav, Governing Council member of India Foundation, a New Delhi-based premier Think Tank, while addressing a question on inclusivity of Muslims in the Indian society, identified three concepts mentioned in Islamic scriptures- Ummah, Kafir and Violent Jihad. He urged Indian Muslims to discard these concepts as it makes integration into national society difficult for them. 13 In Islam, Ummah refers to the whole of Muslim community (believers) as one nation, Kafir means non-believers (enemies of Islam), and violent Jihad is holy war against enemies of Islam.
Similarly, while analysing the concept of Ummah, Kafir and violent Jihad from the counterterrorism perspective, these three concepts are also the religious sources of global Islamic terrorism. The Afghan Jihad was a classic case where calls were given to the Muslim community worldwide (Ummah) to join the holy war (Jihad) against the enemies of Islam (Kafir). Like Afghan Jihad, the pattern is similar in other cases of Islamic terrorism such as in Chechnya, Kashmir and Syria.
International pressure has forced countries like Saudi Arabia to eliminate certain sections of hate content from its school curriculum. However, a radical change in the content seems unlikely due to strict implementation of Sharia law in the country. On the contrary, its neighbouring Arab country, United Arab Emirates, has adapted to an inclusive society where different faiths can co-exist together. In fact, lately, it is one of the most tolerant Islamic countries where people from different religions can practice their faith openly. The school textbooks also promote diversity, mutual respect and peaceful co-existence with people from different faiths. 14
Change in school curricula itself cannot ensure to be an effective measure. Promoting critical thinking through education and holding intra-faith dialogues to critically analyse religious beliefs should also constitute as important components of reforms. The Islamic world should discard religious beliefs which can be a source of Islamic terrorism. For instance, Nahdlatul Ulema, the largest Islamic independent organization based in Indonesia, discarded the term Kafir in 2019. The organization believes that the term is offensive and theologically violent to non Muslims. 15
Thus, the onus is completely on the Islamic world to uphold the rule based world order. Endorsing for an exclusive Muslim identity by demonising other faiths is gross violation of the principles of universal equality, justice and fraternity. The state-sponsored enmity and hatred by these Islamic countries not only hinders the global counterterrorism efforts, but also creates a trust deficit between Islamic and non-Islamic civilisations.
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Berrebi, C. (2007) Evidence about the Link Between Education, Poverty and Terrorism among Palestinians. Peace Economics, Peace Science and Public Policy, Vol. 13 (Issue 1), pp. 18-53. https://doi.org/10.2202/1554-8597.1101
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Yashas Arya is the Founder and Managing Director of Indic Researchers Forum.
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