Al-Qaeda tries to indoctrinate Syria schoolchildren

A Syrian chemistry student turned teacher explains a math lesson to a student in Aleppo city. Al-Qaeda affiliates in some opposition-held areas in Syria are separating the sexes and imposing their own interpretation of Islamic sharia in schools. [Jim Lopez/AFP]

A Syrian chemistry student turned teacher explains a math lesson to a student in Aleppo city. Al-Qaeda affiliates in some opposition-held areas in Syria are separating the sexes and imposing their own interpretation of Islamic sharia in schools. [Jim Lopez/AFP]

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Syrian businessman Bassel al-Hardan left Idlib province for Cairo with his children when the situation began to deteriorate in the schools his children attended.

Al-Hardan told Al-Shorfa his twin daughters, 13, and his son, 10, had been suffering from the presence of militant groups attempting to impose their own interpretation of Islamic sharia on students and teachers.

A month and a half ago he decided to leave Idlib "for the sake of securing a decent education for my children, which is the main reason why I decided to leave Syria for now", he said.

"The state of education is near catastrophic in opposition-held areas and the conditions are not conducive to an educational atmosphere," al-Hardan said. "The militant Islamist groups are using their power to influence the educational boards in schools and are forcing principals to separate the sexes even in schools with not many students or teachers."

His daughters were forced to wear headscarves and abayas to school so they would not be harassed by members of the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) and Jabhat al-Nusra, he said.

"My daughters do not wear the veil and I argued more than once with militants about this issue," he said.

His son did not fare any better, he added, as some militants preached to students while they were at school about "jihad" and other such issues and attempted to brainwash the children in order to later recruit them into their ranks.

"After their lectures, they hand out promotional brochures to students and request that they attend their religious classes so the militants can continue their brainwashing," al-Hardan said.

Recent reports indicate al-Qaeda affiliated ISIL is pressuring some schools in the areas it controls to impose an "Islamic dress code" for girls.

On November 21st, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights warned about this trend.

"Members associated with the ISIL distributed leaflets at a girls' school in the city of Saraqeb in Idlib province instructing female students from fifth grade primary till third year secondary school to dress according to the group's interpretation of an Islamic dress code, and they warned that students who refuse to dress accordingly will be banned from entering the school," the Observatory said.

Interfering in school affairs

This is not the first time ISIL has interfered in school affairs and education and imposed rules related to behaviour, dress code and teaching.

Several weeks ago, ISIL elements stormed a school in Tariq al-Bab area and forced the teaching staff to leave the school at gunpoint, claiming they were male teachers teaching female students. They ordered school officials to stop teaching until an all-female teaching staff became available.

For about two months in Tweihineh village in the countryside of northern Aleppo province, ISIL has forced students to wear "Islamic clothing", which for girls means an abaya, gloves and face cover. Boys are also made to wear "sharia compatible clothing", which these groups interpret as Pakistani-style shalwar qamiz and a skull cap, the Observatory said.

Mohammed al-Khaled of the Saraqeb unit associated with the Local Co-ordination Committees in Syria, said ISIL distributes leaflets that warn girls they have to wear the veil and abide by the group's mandated dress code in schools. The leaflets also stress the need to separate the sexes in the classroom.

"These groups ignore the deplorable situation in schools and instead focus on imposing their views," he said. "Most schools are almost destroyed and some are completely destroyed."

There are now just four schools in Saraqeb, al-Khaled said, while in the past, there were 15, including primary schools, secondary schools, one secondary boys' school and another for girls.

In the surrounding countryside, just 10 schools are open and operating, and all serve no more than 5,000 students, he said, as many local families have fled to other parts of Syria, Turkey or other countries in the region or elsewhere.

"Although Saraqeb's community was known to be conservative even before the revolution and there are a lot of veiled girls in the city that are usually secondary school students, there also are girls that do not use the veil," al-Khaled said. "Most families also oppose the interference of ISIL in schools."

"In Saraqeb, there are people who are aware and educated and they did not demand freedom for the sake of imposing an Islamic dress code or denim pants," he said.

Level of education declines

"The war in Syria has started to directly impact the level of education in the country," said Hisham al-Maallah, a former administrative staff member in Aleppo's educational district. "Each faction is trying to take advantage of the younger generation to serve their purposes."

"The militants, particularly those affiliated with al-Qaeda, are using their influence to spread their ideology and to impose dress codes and teaching subjects on people," he said.

This has become a common occurrence in the provinces of Aleppo, al-Raqa and opposition-controlled areas of Idlib, he said.

Meanwhile, the opposition-controlled areas are cash strapped and are unable to meet the needs of the schools and students, al-Maallah said.

"Each student costs 4,000 Syrian liras ($28) for primary and lower secondary education and 7,000 liras ($50) for upper secondary education," he said.

It is essential that the needs of these students be met and that a suitable educational atmosphere be established for them, al-Maallah said, rather than focusing on issues such as the Islamic dress code or separating the sexes, as the jihadist groups are doing.

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    wafaa mohammed

    2014-2-5

    We seek God's help and support! The disaster is that they speak in the name of Islam and sharia, while they are very far from Islam and sharia. Islam is the religion of moderation. I do not know what the cause of this extremism and terrorism is. We seek God's help and support! May God protect Syria and its people.

  • العبيدي الهذلي

    2014-1-7

    I ask God the Almighty to make the Sunnah of the Prophet, peace be upon him, applied throughout the Muslim world.

  • ابن الأسد

    2014-1-3

    Damn you O backward people. We ask God to protect Bashar Al-Asad. We will always chase you, O scums of Al Saud.

  • خالد وليد البيطار

    2013-12-22

    I disagree with this opinion, because those who said this are either ignorant about the clear rulings of sharia, according to the evidence of the Quran, and authentic Sunnah, or hypocrites. This is a binding religious duty.

  • feras

    2013-12-18

    As long as your affairs are good, schools are free, education is secular, clothes are determined by personal freedom, the schools are mixed and no one asked you about anything before the revolution, so why did you make this stinking revolution? The Arabs really stink.

    • wafaa mohammed

      2014-2-5

      God is enough for me and He is the best guardian. The Al-Qaeda organization is full of tension, violence, extremism, and terrorism. The calamity is that they talk about Islam and Sharia. God is the Helper. The condition of Syria will remain like this without any change.

  • عبدالله فقير

    2013-12-18

    We thank God, because this is a blessing from God. There is nothing wrong. Application of sharia is good, but this should be done through encouragement rather than intimidation.

  • صالح عيدروس الجفري

    2013-12-17

    The knowledge means light, while ignorance means darkness. May God protect the people of Syria and Levant.

  • محمد قنديل

    2013-12-15

    This is a western plan and they urge the Christians to emigrate to make the Muslims only in this area and then make us eliminate each other.

  • ماجداالبدرى

    2013-12-5

    Peace be upon you…. How are you?