A new institute in Iraq that aims to change the country’s discourse toward religious minorities through educational programs for Muslim students and clerics has published its first curricula.
The Institute for the Study of Religious Diversity, the first of its kind in Iraq and the Middle East, was established nearly a year ago by Masarat, a Baghdad-based nonprofit nongovernmental organization that focuses on minorities, collective memory studies and interfaith dialogue, in cooperation with a number of universities and civil-rights groups.
The new curricula are a series of textbooks on non-Muslim minority faiths, which include Mandaeanism, Yazidism, Judaism and Christianity, that will be used in a new course that was taught for the first time this year. All of the curricula were designed by experts, academics and leaders within the groups they describe.
Initially, the focus will be on teaching students of Islamic seminaries (both Sunni and Shia) in traditional religious institutions and students of Islamic sciences faculties at some of Iraq’s public universities. There are plans to expand the course to media and journalism students, too.
The institute hopes that better understanding of different religions in Iraq will influence the rhetoric of Muslim clergymen and the wider Islamic discourse and prejudices regarding religious diversity, and help to combat radicalism and hate speech in the country.
“The idea is to prevent the preferential treatment of one particular religion as the ʹbestʹ or the ʹdominantʹ faith over others and actively work against the introduction of religious monopolies,” said Saad Salloum, Masarat’s general coordinator for cultural and media development and a political scientist at Mustansiriyah University, in Baghdad. (See a related article, “Iraqi Champion of Diversity, in a Discouraging Time.”)
“For the first time in our contemporary history, we are offering a Yazidi curriculum authored by a Yazidi expert who spent three decades collecting and documenting his people’s oral traditions,” said Salloum. “Moreover, we started to teach the beliefs of more modern officially unrecognized religions, such as the Baha’i faith and Zoroastrianism, an ancient religion recently revived in Iraqi Kurdistan after centuries of disappearance.”
In Their Own Words
For leaders of the minority groups, the institute’s new course provides a platform to combat stereotypes and misunderstandings that have caused their believers much suffering in the Middle East.