The first interfaith school to open in Iraq since the 1970s will face a number of challenges, according to Basra church officials. For example, any accusation of carrying out Christian missionary activities can put the school, as well as its staff and students, at great risk. This makes teaching religious courses precarious, especially if Muslim students are given the opportunity to opt into Christian religion courses. Basra is also a dangerous area, especially given its close proximity to Iran and Saudi Arabia. The school is scheduled to open next year.
12/02/2017 Iraq (Al-Monitor) – The Iraqi Ministry of Education issued a permit Nov. 4 for the establishment of a private, mixed Christian school, which will teach Christians, Muslims and students from other communities. After spending a year and a half working on the official procedures, the school will officially open next year as the first interfaith school in Iraq since the 1970s.
Archbishop Habib Jajou, the Chaldean archbishop of Basra and southern Iraq, told Al-Monitor about the project. “We have successfully experimented with Christian nurseries and kindergartens,” he said, “and now we want to open a primary school as an expansion to offer successful education to both Muslim and Christian citizens, especially after we saw how many Muslim families want to register their children in Christian educational institutions. Over the past 20 years, thousands of Muslim children have been admitted into Christian kindergartens.”
Middle-class families want to send their children to schools that offer a better education and a high level of security control, which makes parents feel more comfortable in light of the increased rate of kidnappings in the city.
The reputation of Christian instructors who teach foreign languages is another factor that has made Christian schools popular. Basra residents still remember quite well the great role Christian schools played in the city’s history, such as the American Rajaa School for Higher Education, which John Van Aiss opened in 1912. This school was attended by the children of powerful families at the time, and the majority of Basra’s elites graduated from it, namely Yusuf Salman Yusuf (known also by his nom de guerre Fahd), the founder of the Iraqi Communist Party.
The quest to open the Christian school in Basra is not only about meeting the demands of Muslims and Christians alike, but it is also about the harassment Christian students suffer in government-run schools.
On Nov. 15, Jajou wrote on the Basra and the South Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese Facebook page a post titled Muslims and Christianity, in which he tackled the importance of Basra’s Muslims getting to know Christian beliefs better in order to put an end to violations stemming from ignorance of the Christian religion. The post was published after a Christian girl was severely scratched during a fight with Muslim students, for being the only Christian in a Muslim-dominated school, in which students know nothing about the Christian religion.
Jajou said, “This experiment is a test to strengthen national identity, the spirit of citizenship and coexistence, by mixing students from diverse religious backgrounds, such as Muslims, Christians and Mandaeans,” in addition to providing an educational body that reflects the diversity of the social fabric of Basra.