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Alarming radicalization; Kurdistan needs reform in religious schools

The Islamic State (IS/formerly ISIS) establishment has one unique and intriguing aspect, which can be highlighted in studying its diverse follower-base and sympathizers. The leadership of this organization has managed to attract youth from multicultural backgrounds, various regions and countries. Its cells operate in Europe, United States and Asia.

Radicalization in Kurdistan

The recruits of ISIS are largely from Arab states, but unfortunately this organization has managed to find sympathizers in Kurdistan Region and Iraq. The inevitable question is, how can ISIS communicate with Kurds, French, Turks, Americans, and others? It has managed to echo its politicised teachings in Kurdistan Region, propagating its ideological beliefs widely. The number of Kurds joined ISIS is alarming. According to Kurdistan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs’ statistics more than two hundred Kurds joined ISIS in the past six month.

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has the responsibility of curbing the spread of this ideology, while its Peshmerga armed forces are on the frontline fighting them. Religious scholars and leaders play an important role socially. They exercise control over religious institutions and are able to provide counseling/advise to people on social and daily affairs.

Throughout Kurdistan region, thousands of people gather every Friday during congregational prayers, listening attentively to scholars. All of this prompts the following questions, where are these scholars educated, and what curriculum do they have within their schools of thought? These are pertinent questions that must be answered adequately.

United States and various European governments fund research institutes on radicalisation, role of religious communities on politics, coexistence and social stabilities. Universities and research centres conduct conferences to better understand the root of radicalization in the West. In contrast to this, KRG has no strategy to fight radicalism through education.

The KRG perceives radicalisation as a security issue on a global scale, while radicalism can be confronted at a young age.

After 1991, following Kurdistan’s uprising, multiple international organizations invested in the region’s civil society, education system and economics. Saudi Arabia and other gulf countries have funded religious schools throughout Kurdistan. In particular, Saudi opened a college in Duhok to educate Kurds in “Islamic science”. The college operated until 2005, and was later transferred to Koya University, Erbil province. This institute was both funded by Saudi and its curriculum was designed by Saudi institutions. According to Kurdistan Ministry of Religious Affairs, tens of youth enroll in Saudi Arabia’s religious schools and colleges through a special scholarship program funded by Salafi/Wahabi institutions of Saudi Arabia.

This poses a problem because they should be regulated by the Ministry of Education. These schools are often marginalised and not incorporated within KRG’s education reforms. In the past, educational reform conferences have ostracized and ignored these religious schools. Instead, the religious schools have been categorized under the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

Kurdistan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Higher Education should collectively collaborate and work together to conduct radical reforms within religious schools. The reforms should have religious scholars input, which will extend cooperation, and be perceived as a necessary reform, as opposed to one that is antagonistic towards religious sensibilities of the public.

Curriculums within religious schools should promote coexistence, tolerance and social integration. Kurdish theologians such as Seikh Muhammed Khal, Sheikh Marf Node,  Saed Norsi, Masoud Muhammed and many others should be incorporated into the curriculum rather than importing foreign ideas. The importance of studying Kurdish scholars thoughts within these schools is that they have adapted the religious interpretations within Kurdistan’s cultural diversity in Kurdistan’s society, while Saudi Arabia schools focus on radical interpretation of Shari’a Laws.

About Sarkawt Shamulddin (54 Articles)
Sarkawt Shamsulddin is a political analyst on Middle East Affairs and co-founder of the Kurdish Policy Foundation

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