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Kuwait tones down Islamic texts, angering fundamentalists

Thursday, January 9, 2003

ABU DHABI Kuwait has revised the way it teaches Islam in an effort to discourage anti-Western insurgency.

Kuwaiti officials said that under a 25-year education plan, Islamic courses from grade school until university will be revised to ensure that students are not encouraged to employ violence. They said tenets of the religion have not been amended but certain terms regarded as inflammatory have been replaced.

Islamic fundamendalists have protested the changes in the curriculum and textbooks, Middle East Newsline reported. They said Kuwait has submitted to U.S. pressure to remove references to Islamic activism and revise the history of the religion.

Higher Education Minister Mosaad Al Haroun denied that Kuwait was under any U.S. pressure to change its curriculum. He said Kuwait will not end its support for key Arab and Islamic causes, particularly the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

Deputy Prime Minister Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah said the changes in the curriculum were introduced over the last few months as part of a plan to improve education in the sheikdom. Al Ahmed stressed that key terms of Islam will not be removed or revised. This includes the meaning of "jihad," translated as holy war in Arabic and used by Islamic insurgents to justify attacks on the West.

But officials said the government plans to replace the word "jihad" with the word "sacrifice" or "tadhiya," in Arabic. They said other terms that could be removed include "Jewish terrorists" and "Zionist entity," used to refer to Israel. The focus is meant to be on books used in elementary schools.

Al Ahmed rejected the use of the word "jihad" as meaning war against non-Muslims. In an interview with the Kuwaiti Al Rai Al Aam daily, the minister said "jihad" is a term employed only against enemies.

"Will this bring us to normalization with Israel?" parliamentarian Walid Tabtabei asked.

Tabtabei asked this and other questions in a session of parliament last week with Al Haroun. The questions included whether the educational curriculum was being changed to conform to the U.S.-led war against terrorism.

Officials said the government has pledged to coordinate the review of the curriculum with parliament, which is largely dominated by Islamic fundamentalists. They said Al Haroun will meet with any parliamentarian concerning the issue.

The Education Ministry has formed several committees to review the curriculum to determine whether textbooks contain messages that encourage violence in the name of Islam. Mohammed Al Msaileem, the ministry's assistant undersecretary for research and educational department, said the panels will focus on textbooks used in Islamic studies, Arabic language and history.

Al Msaileem said some of the textbooks might have been misinterpreted to imply that Kuwaiti schools are encouraging Muslims toward extremism and attacks against other religions. He said the panels will seek to ensure that the message taught in schools will stress the Islamic principles of brotherhood, mercy and tolerance.

"We hope to draft a report to respond to any charge that our educational curriculum imply calls for incitement, which is contrary to the call of our religion Islam, basic values of the Kuwaiti people, the state policy and constitution," the official said.

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