21 Oct 2010

Moroccan authorities shut Iraqi school

Magharebia - March 25, 2009

Moroccan authorities closed Rabat's Iraqi School this week over allegations that the institution promoted Shi'ism.

By Naoufel Cherkaoui for Magharebia in Rabat

The Moroccan Ministry of Education closed the Iraqi School in Rabat on Saturday (March 21st), following accusations of violating private education regulations and imparting Shi'ite religious interpretations on students.

The decision was made based on a complaint filed to the Moroccan security authorities on March 3rd by Abdel-Razzak al-Shamari, an Iraqi Sunni residing in Morocco. He accused the school's principal of disseminating Shi'ism following the dismissal of his three children for "sectarian reasons".

"One day," al-Shamari said, "I was surprised when my daughter started to ask me about things not included in the curricula, such as the 12 Imams and Imam al-Mehdi, which are Shi'ite terms. After I spoke with her, I was surprised that the school was trying to instil this information into the heads of students in a deliberate and careful way."

Omar, one of al-Shamari's sons, claimed that his schoolmates beat him just because he is a Sunni. "Meanwhile, neither the teacher nor the headmistress cared when I complained to them."

The Ministry dispatched a pedagogical committee to observe the educational process and curricula in the school. Two days later, the committee concluded that "the educational system followed by the establishment is contrary to the provisions of Act 06-00 on the status of private education in the Kingdom of Morocco".

Headmistress Rehab Mohcen denied in press statements that the three children were dismissed. She said that the decision to close her school was "unjust and hasty". She also denied that the school was promoting any particular religious sect.

"The cause of the problem was that one of [al-Shamari's] daughters was injured in a minor accident, but the father's reaction was to attack the school and to create a problem."

Mohcen went on to say that al-Shamari's accusation was probably linked to Morocco's decision to sever diplomatic relations with Iran, the largest Shi'ite country in the Muslim world.

"In fact," Mohcen told the Al Arabiya satellite TV channel, "the school curriculum clearly forbids promoting any religious sect or showing any preference of any kind".

The school was founded in 1977 by Faycal Abdelhassen, an Iraqi poet. It accommodates students in the primary, middle and secondary levels.

The timing of the school closure is unfortunate, with final exams just weeks away for some classes.

On Monday, dozens of the school's students and their parents protested in front of the building demanding the school be reopened.

To ensure the minimum effect on students, the Moroccan Educational Academy in the district of Rabat has distributed the students from the Iraqi school to three other schools in Rabat. It also held a meeting last Monday with parents to discuss the necessary measures for a long-term solution.

"We were promised by the Academy that they would start a discussion with the teachers of the Iraqi school regarding the curricula," said So'ad, the mother of a Moroccan student.

Academy President Tijania Fertat said her institution would take the required steps to ensure smooth exams. As for the rest of the classes, she assured parents "there will not be any changes introduced to the curricula this year".

Some observers and religious scholars defended the ministry's decision to close the school, heralding the move as a way to prevent religious tensions in Morocco.

"The state is taking all the necessary measures to protect sectarian unity," said Mohammed Darif, an expert in Islamic affairs. "Moroccan authorities have previously closed all Qur'anic teaching centres and societies affiliated to the radical salafist movement."

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