Jor­dan tries to stem IS-style ex­trem­ism


In pro- Western Jor­dan, a leader in the fight against Is­lamic State mil­i­tants, school books warn stu­dents they risk “God’s tor­ture” if they don’t em­brace Is­lam. They por­tray “holy war” as a re­li­gious obli­ga­tion if Is­lamic lands are at­tacked and sug­gest it is jus­ti­fied to kill cap­tured en­e­mies.

Chris­tians, the coun­try’s largest re­li­gious mi­nor­ity, are largely ab­sent from the texts.

The gov­ern­ment says it’s tack­ling the con­tra­dic­tion be­tween of­fi­cial anti-ex­trem­ist pol­icy and what is taught in schools and mosques by rewrit­ing school books and re­train­ing thou­sands of teach­ers and preach­ers.

Crit­ics say the re­forms are su­per­fi­cial, fail to chal­lenge hard­line tra­di­tions, and that the first re­vised text­books for el­e­men­taryschool chil­dren still present Is­lam as the only true re­li­gion.

“Is­lamic State ide­ol­ogy is there, in our text­books,” said Zo­gan Obiedat, a for­mer Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry of­fi­cial who pub­lished a re­cent anal­y­sis of the texts. If Jor­dan were to be over­run by the mil­i­tants, a large ma­jor­ity “will join IS be­cause they learned in school that this is Is­lam,” he said.

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials in­sist they are se­ri­ous about re­form.

The rewrit­ten books will teach “how to be a mod­er­ate Mus­lim, how to re­spect oth­ers, how to live in an en­vi­ron­ment that has many na­tion­al­i­ties and dif­fer­ent eth­nic groups,” said Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Mo­hammed Th­naibat.

Th­naibat re­fused to dis­cuss hard-line pas­sages in the un­re­vised books, but said there are lim­its to re­form. Jor­dan is an Is­lamic coun­try, he said, and “you can­not go against the cul­ture of the so­ci­ety.”

Suc­cess or fail­ure of the ef­fort mat­ters in a re­gion en­gaged in what Jor­dan’s King Ab­dul­lah II has framed as an ex­is­ten­tial bat­tle with IS mil­i­tants who con­trol large ar­eas in Syria and Iraq. Ab­dul­lah has emerged as one of the most out­spo­ken Arab lead­ers urg­ing Mus­lims to re­claim their re­li­gion from ex­trem­ists.

Re­form ef­forts tar­get schools and mosques.

All school books are to be rewrit­ten over the next two years, said Th­naibat. Les­son plans will shift from rote learn­ing to crit­i­cal think­ing, and tens of thou­sands of teach­ers will be re­trained. Re­vised books for grades 1-3 are al­ready in use, and 11,000 teach­ers were given month­long cour­ses to de­liver the new cur­ricu­lum.

Among preach­ers, the gov­ern­ment hopes to pro­mote a “mod­er­ate Is­lamic ide­ol­ogy that is in line with our na­tional prin­ci­ples,” said the re­li­gious af­fairs min­is­ter, Haeli Ab­dul Hafeez Daoud.

As part of the cam­paign, the min­istry sus­pended sev­eral dozen imams be­cause of the con­tent of their ser­mons.

The coun­try has only 4,500 preach­ers for its 6,300 mosques, in­clud­ing many who are not prop­erly trained, cre­at­ing a vac­uum that has en­abled ex­trem­ist lay preach­ers to step in, Daoud said. Yet a pro­gram to re­train thou­sands has en­rolled only about 100 preach­ers in a three- se­mes­ter course for which 340 were ap­proached.

The spread of ex­trem­ist ideas has been a grow­ing con­cern in Jor­dan since the 2011 Arab Spring up­ris­ings and sub­se­quent con­flicts in­volv­ing mil­i­tants, in-

both clud­ing in Syria and Iraq.

Ex­perts say about 10,000 Jor­da­ni­ans, in­clud­ing hun­dreds fight­ing in Syria and Iraq, ad­here to Ji­hadi Salafism, the ide­ol­ogy that un­der­pins the al-Qaida terror net­work and Is­lamic State group, its in­creas­ingly more in­flu­en­tial ri­val.

Daoud said that at one point, such ideas had a “huge and dan­ger­ous” im­pact in Jor­dan, but that ap­peal of IS has waned since the ex­trem­ists im­mo­lated a cap­tured Jor­da­nian fighter pi­lot ear­lier this year.

Some ar­gue mil­i­tancy grows from poverty and un­em­ploy­ment, and that the gov­ern­ment has done lit­tle to ad­dress the root causes.

“Ex­trem­ism does not ap­pear be­cause preach­ers call for it,” said Mo­hammed Abu Rum­man, an ex­pert on Is­lamic mil­i­tants. “It ap­pears be­cause we have young peo­ple who search for iden­tity and re­volt against the sit­u­a­tion.”

For now, the anti-ex­trem­ism cam­paign is be­ing led by the se­cu­rity forces.

Some 300 peo­ple are cur­rently in cus­tody in Jor­dan for al­leged IS sym­pa­thies, in­clud­ing 130 who have been sen­tenced, de­fense lawyer Moussa al-Ab­dalat said. About half are in de­ten­tion for ex­press­ing sup­port for IS ideas on so­cial media, he said. Those con­victed of “elec­tronic ter­ror­ism” are sent to prison for five to seven years.

Crit­ics say these very ideas are taught in Jor­dan’s schools.

Obiedat and Dalal Salameh, an an­a­lyst at the Jor­dan Media In­sti­tute and a for­mer school teacher, point to what they said are par­tic­u­larly prob­lem­atic pas­sages in school books.

An eighth-grade Is­lamic Stud­ies text tells stu­dents that “ji­had is a must for ev­ery Mus­lim” if an en­emy at­tacks or oc­cu­pies an Is­lamic land. Ji­had is also re­quired if “any power ... pre­vents us from con­vey­ing the mes­sage of Is­lam, or at­tacks Mus­lims or their coun­tries.” Those par­tic­i­pat­ing in ji­had go straight to heaven.

A ninth-grade book de­scribes a bat­tle in which an army led by the Prophet Muham­mad ex­e­cutes all cap­tured men and en­slaves women and chil­dren. The story, cited by some IS sup­port­ers in jus­ti­fy­ing the ex­trem­ists’ bru­tal meth­ods, is pre­sented with­out con­text. The au­thors write that the story il­lus­trates the need for “de­ci­sive­ness in pun­ish­ing traitors.”

Sixth-graders learn that those who don’t em­brace Is­lam will face “God’s tor­ture” and the “pit of hell.”

The pun­ish­ment for adul­ter­ers is death by ston­ing. Birth con­trol vi­o­lates Is­lam. So does try­ing to “im­i­tate” Jews or Chris­tians in their cus­toms or dress, or join­ing them in cel­e­brat­ing re­li­gious hol­i­days. Slav­ery is not for­bid­den, the books say, but Mus­lims should treat slaves well and free them when pos­si­ble. Arab na­tion­al­ism is bad be­cause it weak­ens ad­her­ence to Is­lam. Wives must obey hus­bands and not leave the house with­out per­mis­sion.

Salameh said the re­vised text­books for grades 1-3 still fall short.

“They still di­vide the world for chil­dren into Mus­lims and nonMus­lims,” she said. “They still teach chil­dren that any other re­li­gion and way of think­ing is false.”

Fa­ther Ri­fat Bader, a Catholic priest who also re­viewed the text­books, said Chris­tians are still not men­tioned in the new books. “In this burn­ing re­gion, we have to pro­mote mu­tual re­spect,” he said. “How can you do that if you don’t men­tion that there are oth­ers (non-Mus­lims) in this so­ci­ety?”

An As­so­ci­ated Press com­par­i­son of the old and new text­books found no sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences in con­tent, though the new books were or­ga­nized in a way that made it eas­ier for stu­dents to un­der­stand the ma­te­rial.

There has been a back­lash to the re­form ef­forts. The Mus­lim Brother­hood, the coun­try’s largest op­po­si­tion group, al­leges the text­book re­vi­sions are funded by the West to make Jor­dan more sec­u­lar.

In mosques, mod­er­ate preach­ers com­pete with ex­trem­ist ideas pro­moted on YouTube and other so­cial media.

Ibrahim Nael, an imam in the work­ing class town of Ru­seifa near Amman, said he signed up for the gov­ern­ment course to be able to de­liver stronger re­li­gious ar­gu­ments when de­bat­ing IS sym­pa­thiz­ers.

“You get lots of young peo­ple who are en­thu­si­as­tic to go and fight in the ranks of these groups in Iraq and Syria, with­out know­ing if these groups are right or wrong,” he said. “Lots of peo­ple who re­ceived my preach­ing in the mosque changed their minds and cleaned up their con­fu­sion.”

Nael, 40, a lay preacher with a vo­ca­tional high school ed­u­ca­tion, lacks for­mal re­li­gious train­ing — not an un­usual bi­og­ra­phy for imams in Jor­dan.

The Mus­lim Brother­hood al­leges that the lack of qual­i­fied preach­ers is a re­sult of bar­ring Brother­hood sup­port­ers with the right preach­ing cre­den­tials from the pulpit, open­ing the door to ex­trem­ist am­a­teurs.

Only now has the gov­ern­ment “dis­cov­ered that those (Salafis) are a threat and stopped them,” said Hamza Man­sour, a lead­ing fig­ure in the Brother­hood, which con­sid­ers the Is­lamic State group too ex­treme.

Oth­ers say the author­i­ties act mainly against preach­ers who crit­i­cize the monar­chy or the se­cu­rity forces. “All the gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions are try­ing to do here is to as­sert loy­alty to the regime,” said Has­san Abu Haniyeh, an ex­pert on Is­lamic mil­i­tants.

Sheik Mo­hammed al-Wahsh, an imam at a large mosque in Amman, said he was sus­pended from preach­ing late last year af­ter he crit­i­cized Jor­dan’s han­dling of a con­flict with Is­rael over a con­tested Mus­lim holy site in Jerusalem.

Al-Wahsh, who con­tin­ues to re­ceive a salary for other mos­quere­lated du­ties, said it’s his sec­ond sus­pen­sion since 2000, when he crit­i­cized the Jor­da­nian mil­i­tary.

The se­cu­rity forces “don’t call you un­less you crit­i­cize the king,” said Awad Abu Ma’aita, a proBrother­hood preacher in the south­ern town of Karak.

Imam Zaki al-Soub pro­motes ul­tra- con­ser­va­tive Salafi ideas in his ser­mons at a mosque in Karak. But in con­trast to the Is­lamic State group’s vi­o­lent Salafism, the 36-year-old al-Soub calls for loy­alty to the gov­ern­ment to avoid blood­shed.

One of the gov­ern­ment’s star preach­ers, Ab­del Fat­tah al-Madi, is a Syr­ian refugee who has de­liv­ered ser­mons about tol­er­ance at a num­ber of mosques since com­ing to Jor­dan two years ago.

Al-Madi, who teaches in the gov­ern­ment’s train­ing course, said he draws large crowds each Fri­day as word spreads about his lib­eral at­ti­tude. He said mod­er­ates can win the war of ideas, but that young peo­ple drawn to ex­trem­ism also need prac­ti­cal al­ter­na­tives, in­clud­ing jobs. Oth­ers were pes­simistic. Abu Rum­man said only a po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic over­haul would de­feat ex­trem­ism.

“The ab­sence of democ­racy and re­form, these is­sues are the con­di­tions for rais­ing ex­trem­ism in the Arab world, and in Jor­dan in par­tic­u­lar,” he said.


(Top) In this Sun­day, Aug. 2 photo, Jor­da­nian boys gather around an Imam at a mosque dur­ing a re­li­gious class in Amman, Jor­dan. (Above) In this photo taken on June 11, Ibrahim Nael, an imam in the work­ing-class town of Ru­seifa near the cap­i­tal, Amman, speaks dur­ing an in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press in Amman.

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