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Religious intolerance part of lesson plan in Iraqi schools

By Abeer Mohammed

9/1/2010 Iraq (Institute for War & Peace Reporting) – Zuhair Jerjis and Ahmed Mohammed are both 10. They attend the same Baghdad school and often ride home together. After school, the two get together and play video games.

But Ahmed is worried. He wonders if some day he will have to murder his best friend.

The boys go to the same school and share a ride home to the same district of Baghdad, but their parents do not share the same faith.

Zuhair’s family is Christian and Ahmed’s is Muslim. Recent religious lessons at school have left Ahmed questioning what end awaits his friendship.

“Our teacher tells us it is forbidden in Islam to make friends with unbelievers,” he said. “When I study that we have to fight the unbelievers in the name of jihad, I think, ‘Will I kill Zuhair one day?”’

Ahmed’s family is Muslim; Zuhair’s is Christian. And it turns out that in Iraq’s schools today, religious tolerance is not part of the curriculum.

Regular feature

Religious education is a regular feature of public schools in Iraq. Because Zuhair is a Christian, he is not required to attend religious classes. But because the vast majority of his classmates are Muslims, Zuhair said he often feels alone and isolated.

“When all of my friends are in the class, I have to stand outside,” he said.

As students return to classes this fall, there is growing criticism of the recently introduced curriculum, which critics say fails to tackle the causes of religious and sectarian hatred that have fueled the violence of the last six years. Worse still, they accuse it of laying the foundations for future strife.

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