Mr. Al-Ghaith to YT: “The religious institutes embody a noble effort to bring about quality education to all Yemenis” [Archives:2001/21/Interview]

May 21 2001

The debate over the merging of the religious institutes’ curriculum with the governmental public schools’ curriculum has intensified recently and topped the agenda of the local press. The clear opposition of both Islah’s and the institutions’ management to this move has become evident on many occasions.
To shed more light on the institute management’s opinion, Mohamed bin Sallam of the Yemen Times met with Mr. Abdullah Mohamed Abu Al-Ghaith, 50, the General Manager of the Technical Affairs Department of the institutes. Mr. Al-Ghaith is a graduate of the Islamic Studies Department of Sana’a University and has been part of the management of the institutes since 1978. His tasks involve managing the academic curricula in different subjects plus printing of books and distributing them to different institutes in the governorates of the republic.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: Could you give us an introduction on the curricula of the religious institutes and how they are chosen?
A: As you may know, the religious institutes’ curricula in the Republic of Yemen are all common in most of the different academic stages of public education under the supervision of the Ministry of Education. However, the religious institutes are distinguished for having more focus on Islamic and Arabic language subjects, while giving the other different sciences the same level of attention. The curricula of the institutes were designed specialists in 1978 in the former Arab Republic of Yemen, and were updated in a conference in 1982 in Sana’a University. The curricula then were formally approved by the government. All the books taught in the institutes are printed at the printing house of the Ministry of Education.
Q: What is your opinion about the latest decision of the government to integrate the curricula of the religious institutes with the curricula of public schools?
A: I believe that the latest decisions of the government in this regard are no more than political decisions not related to the educational aspect of it. I do however hope that the president would personally interfere to protect the religious institutes from those decisions as I believe that those institutes are among the most successful educational institutes in the republic, especially at a time when the educational system is suffering from total collapse.
Instead of deciding to integrate the curricula, the government should have focused more on reviving the weak educational system in public schools. We consider the main factor behind our success to be the attention we give to the successful management of classroom by the teacher, along with the curriculum which strengthens the student’s national identity and expands his knowledge in his religion and language.
Q: How true are the views that you depend heavily on the Wahhabi Islamic movement in your educational curriculum?
A: This is totally wrong! Our books and subjects are based on the Holy Quran and the Sunnet of our Prophet Mohamed. The scholars who devised the subjects and curricula were among the most prominent Sunnet scholars in the country. They have not included any bit of information that is biased to any religious group or sect.
Q: How do you explain Islah’s concern and attention in particular to the religious institutes?
A: I don’t believe that Islah is the only party or group that supports our institutes. The religious institutes receive the support of all the authorities concerned plus all those who have students studying in those institutes. The religious institutes embody a noble effort to bring about high quality education to all Yemenis regardless of their political or social backgrounds.
Q: Why is the GPC waging war against your institutes? Is the GPC serious in taking over the institutes through the Ministry of Education?
A: Our brothers in the GPC misunderstand the objective and duty of the religious institutes. There also is a clear contradiction between the actions of GPC members and the fact that they continue to send their daughters and sons to those institutes.
The religious institutes are already being supervised by the Minster of Education and most of the material taught in the institutes match what is taught in public schools all over the country. In fact, we teach the same subjects that are taught in other schools, except for the two courses of Islamic Education and Arabic language. Hence there can be no intention whatsoever to take over the institutes by the Ministry. On the other hand, the Minister of Finance also monitors the financial aspects of the institutes. There is nothing to hide, and it is the people’s right to have a choice where to send their children to study.
If the GPC believes that the religious institutes are a strategic property or element of Islah, then one could easily say that all the public schools and institutes all over the country are a strategic property or element of the GPC. In other words, this could mean that the GPC controls all those millions of students studying in government-controlled public schools. This is nonsense!
Q: Is there any coordination between the religious institutes and the Iman University or any other university?
A: We only coordinate with the Ministry of Education, which is also the institution that takes care of printing the assigned books for our institutes.
Q: Do the institutes receive any financial or moral support from any side?
A: We don’t receive any financial aid from any organization, group or individual. We only receive funds from the Ministry of Finance and from the government.
Q: It is said that the religious institutes have their own summer camps where they are brainwashed with Islah’s ideas and principles. How true is this claim?
A: This is nonsense! In fact, the budget of the institutes is too small to have any such activities. Whoever believes that he has strong evidence that this is the case is welcome to prove it.
Q: How are Arab teachers delegated to teach at the religious institutes?
A: Firstly, the number of Arab teachers has dropped dramatically during the last few years in public schools and religious institutes alike. We used to have around 60,000 teacher in the past and now we only have 7,000, of whom 2,000 teach in religious institutes. Those teachers are contracted on the basis criteria set by the Ministry of Education and the authorities concerned. We don’t have any teachers in our institutes, who are affiliated to any political party.
Q: Do you provide scholarships to your students?
A: We currently provide no scholarships whatsoever. However, we do have tens of students enrolled because their fathers teach at the institutes.
Q: How many students graduate every year?
A: I believe around 1,000 students enrolled in 2000. Hence, the number of graduates could not exceed 1,000.
Q: Why are you neglecting the teachings of the Zaidi religious sect in your curriculum?
A: We have not neglected any certain religious movement’s teachings at all. We basically teach according to the Holy Quran and the Sunnet of Prophet Mohamed. In fact, we do not want to drag Yemen to a state of division and hatred. We focus on what is common for all Muslims in Yemen and in the world. There is one common curriculum that all Yemenis and Muslims believe in, and that is based on the Holy Quran and the Sunnet of Prophet Mohamed. We do not want to involve our students in the different ideologies and teachings of the hundreds of different sects. We simply don’t want the next generation to suffer from an ideology crisis.
Q: Any last word?
A: There is an important issue that I want to address to all the official establishments and to all the national groups in this country regarding the importance of healing the educational system in this country. The educational system in Yemen is deteriorating every day. The level of education has reached unprecedented low levels.
I hope that we could all work on finding a solution that would revive the educational standards and bring about educational reforms instead of focusing on cheap politics.
I would like to remind those who continue to fight the religious institutes that those institutes are an extension of those formed at the time of Prophet Mohamed and are not something new.
The experience of the religious institutes is not something unique to Yemen alone. It is also available for kids from their early childhood at Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, Egypt.
I do fail to understand why the religious institutes are being targeted at this particular time, preventing our sons from learning their religion and language in a more efficient manner.