Middle Eastern Powers Vie In Shaping A Next Generation Of Muslims

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Middle Eastern Powers Vie In Shaping A Next Generation Of Muslims

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Written by Dr. James M. Dorsey.

Education is emerging as a major flashpoint in competing visions of a future Muslim world. Rival concepts being instilled in a next generation are likely to shape what amounts to a battle for the soul of Islam.

Reports earlier this year published by the Israel-based Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-SE) chart the divergence in educational approaches.

At one end of the spectrum are Pakistan and Turkey, two of the more populous Muslim countries whose claim to leadership of the Muslim world is rooted in conservative, if not ultra-conservative interpretations of Islam, that increasingly shape their education systems.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates reside at the other end with their reduced emphasis on religion in education and emphasis on science as well as religious tolerance and inter-faith dialogue.

Straddling the two approaches is Qatar, the world’s only other Wahhabi state alongside Saudi Arabia even if it adhered to a more liberal interpretation long before the rise of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Since coming to office, Prince Mohammed has significantly reduced the role of ultra-conservative religious figures and institutions, cut back on global funding of Wahhabi activity, enhanced women’s rights and built a Western-style entertainment sector.

Sandwiched between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Qatar sees global support of political Islam, including the Muslim Brotherhood, as its best defense against the Saudi and Iranian governance models.

Qatari textbooks reflect the tightrope the Gulf state walks between professing adherence to concepts of democratic freedoms, human rights, tolerance, and pluralism, yet refusing to break with anti-Semitic and anti-Christian notions as well as philosophies of jihad and martyrdom prevalent in political Islam.

What the different approaches have in common is what makes both problematic: an endorsement of autocratic or strongman rule by either explicitly propagating absolute obedience to the ruler or the increasingly authoritarian environment in which the Islamicised education systems are being rolled out.

Underlying the different approaches to education are diverging interpretations of what Islam represents and what constitutes a moderate form of the faith as well as seemingly haphazard definitions put forward by various leaders.

To be sure, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in contrast to the values propagated in Turkish and Pakistan school curricula, tackle issues that are widely seen as potentially contributing to breeding grounds for radicalism and extremism.

These include supremacist concepts, discriminatory portrayals of minorities, emphasis on rote learning and attitudes towards violence.

In an interview in early May, Prince Mohammed expressed seemingly contradictory definitions of what his version of moderate Islam entailed. On the one hand, the crown prince suggested that it involved a liberal application of Islamic law guided by principles of tolerance and inclusivity.

Yet, at the same time, when asked about tackling extremism, Prince Mohammed cited a hadith or prophetic saying that urges the faithful to kill extremists. Saudi dissidents charged that the crown prince was justifying the targeting of those who criticized him, such as Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

“Today, we cannot grow, attract capital, offer tourism, or move forward with the existence of extremist ideology in Saudi Arabia. If you want millions of jobs, decline of unemployment, economic growth, and better income, then you must uproot this project… Any person who espouses an extremist ideology, even if he is not a terrorist, he is still a criminal who must be held accountable before the law,” Prince Mohammed said, arguing that the days in which religious ultra-conservatism served a purpose were in the past.

The divergence in educational approaches takes on added significance because countries that vie for leadership of the Muslim world like Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Turkey as well as Iran, export their visions of what the faith stands for in a variety of ways. These include funding of religious, cultural, and educational institutions in third countries and lobbying for policies that bolster their approach and counter that of their rivals.

While cutting back significantly on its overseas funding and harnessing the Muslim World League (MWL), once a prime vehicle in the Saudi promotion of ultra-conservatism, to propagate the kingdom’s more recent message of tolerance and inter-faith outreach, Saudi Arabia at times does not shy away from employing those it now denounces as extremists.

Indonesia is a case in point. The World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), another government-sanctioned non-governmental organization once used to further Saudi ultra-conservatism, prides itself on the funding of mosques in Indonesia built by the Prosperous Justice Party (Partai Keadilan Sejahtera or PKS), a Muslim Brotherhood affiliated group.

When MWL secretary general  Mohammed al-Issa visited the headquarters in Jakarta of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the world’s largest Muslim movement, he opted to take with him Hidayat Nur Wahid, a leader of the PKS, and a staunch rival of the National Awakening Party (or PKB) that is associated with NU.

The Saudi flaunting of its political Islamic Indonesian associate appears designed to counter Nahdlatul Ulama, the single most serious challenger to the various concepts of Islam put forward by Middle Eastern powers, including the kingdom.

Nahdlatul Ulama promotes a concept of humanitarian Islam that is rooted in a reinterpretation of religious texts, recognizes the need for reform to revise or remove what the group calls “obsolete” concepts such as that of the kafir or infidel, and is supported by a broad base of Islamic scholars.
For its part, Turkey’s religious authority, Diyanet, that resides in the office of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has seen its budget increase 23-fold in the last two decades, making it by far one of the best funded government agencies.

Diyanet has funded mosque construction from the nearby formerly Ottoman countries in the Balkans to Africa and even Cuba. The Maarif Foundation, a vehicle used to take control globally of schools once operated by followers of Fethullah Gulen, uses school materials supplied by Diyanet.

Turkey accuses Mr. Gulen, a preacher who lives in exile in the United States and an erstwhile ally of Mr. Erdogan, of engineering a failed military coup in Turkey in 2016. Turkey has since arrested thousands of alleged Gulen supporters and removed large numbers of suspected supporters from the government bureaucracy and the military.

Multiple countries have handed local Gulen-operated schools to the Maarif Foundation. At last count, the foundation operated 323 schools, 42 dormitories and one university in 43 countries.
By the same token, the UAE supported by Saudi Arabia, has employed its religious soft power and commercial and economic sway to lobby for a tougher French policy towards political Islam prior to the crackdown initiated by President Emmanuel Macron.

The lobbying emphasized common interests in countering political Islam and Turkey, with which France is at odds in Libya and the eastern Mediterranean as well as on the issue of political Islam. It gave the French leader welcome Muslim cover to target political Islam and Turkey as he gears up for an election in 2022 in which Marie Le Pen, the leader of the far right, nationalist and anti-immigration National Rally, looms large.

As part of the crackdown on political Islam, France required children to attend school from age three. It also all but eliminated options for home schooling or the operation of privately-funded schools.

Mr. Erdogan laid down the gauntlet declaring in 2018 that “the joint goal of all education and our teaching system is to bring up good people with respect for their history, culture and values.” Mr. Erdogan spoke of a “pious generation” that “will work for the construction of a new civilisation.” It’s that new civilisation that is at stake in the battle for the soul of Islam.

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud,Itunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, Spreaker, Pocket Casts, Tumblr, Podbean,Audecibel,  Castbox, and Patreon.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist and a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute as well as an Honorary Senior Non-Resident Fellow at Eye on ISIS.

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jens holm

I only wrote 1/3 of it.

I see no reforms in that. When leaders makes changes like that they mainly are not given until the leaders dies.

To me a real reform would be all parts of Islam was translated to all local languages, so all locals could read what was written or not.

That also includes, that so many not even can read, write and understand their own languge.

We see it for the muslim incommers here. We learn them danish to integrate them and by that they suddenly change Islam in their homes according to a two danish versions of Islam named as a modern and a traditional one.

We and the muslims themself also makes childrens islam for the little ones i comic text and movies as preparations…

Old men cant rule as they prefare and vomen and children has more freedom but also reepsonsability then ever.

Raising children in Sunni also is to raise into where You are and its traditions as well as it goes. If muslims arrive here its the responsability for the parents, that their children can make a good life. By that those parents should focus on the future for their children and not the past for themself.

Hardky none incomming muslims has left the country unless for marrige and when some are married back to a country we see the same for newcommers for marrigetolive here.

So vitals are not Leaders saying thisand that. Its very visible they make themself as Leaders for ebtter control as well.

So the magic is learning more Yourself.

As I recall it muslims dont come in heaven in large family grupos but die one by one. faith is Your own and in Your own version. Thats should be a must too of course inspired by reading, debating and studying.

Davos

Whoa imagine IF jesus or prophet Muhammad said something like this “This is my way, but you make your own”

what would be of it? A total chaos in the religion and none would want to be be part of it. Such is a ‘modernization’ of religion.

yuri

jens has no culture—only faith in cheese

IronDoom

Important thing is that Muslims in Denmark remain true to their traditional values because eventually they will outbreed the Danes and replace them. Ditto for all other European countries.

S Balu

ISRAELI BASED INSTITUTE IS SUBTLE FRONTAGE OF zionist PROPAGANDA TOOL
JUST LIKE ISRAELI TERRORIST ARM IS CALLED ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCE TO MISLEAD
THE INNOCENT
THEY FORGET TO INVESTIGATE THEIR zionist RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS
THE WHOLE WRITE UP IS ONE TOILET ROLL

yuri

interesting summary

None of you

Muhammad is fake and a Satanic entity
Look at all Muslim they kill each other like animals.
If you tell me that is not true you are delusional.

Look at how many Muslim countries are at war with each other..

The funny part is that when they do… all they kill each other for God…

It is sad but is funny aswell… when they say they believe in God but they put a bullet through the head of his own family members..

This is called self extermination..

Good luck boys,…. keep the good work going..

May God save you from yourself

Last edited 1 month ago by None of you
Rafael Ferreira

Future boom boys.

Last edited 1 month ago by Rafael Ferreira