The Ministry of Education:A Rhetoric of Hatred? [Archives:2005/828/Opinion]

March 28 2005

One would expect that the last government organ in the Republic of Yemen that would adopt a platform of hatred and religious intolerance would be the highly responsible Ministry of Education. In all honesty, it is safe to say that the ME has not officially launched any program, curriculum or syllabus to disseminate any factional strife among the different groups of citizens that are especially tied to religious orientation. Nor is this observer aware of any declared policy laid out by the government to ferment conflict among the religious sects adhered to by the Yemeni people. Actually, from a historical perspective, at least among the two leading Islamic religious sects in Yemen, the Shafe'i (Sunni) and Zeidi (somewhat Shi'a), violence or even intolerance is anathema to their respective teachings.

Most textbooks issued by the Ministry of Education on Islamic teachings almost from the time of the September 26, 1962 Revolution have drawn most of their material from conforming common principles shared by these two moderate sects (relative to the other offshoots of the Sunni and Shafe'i sects respectively).

On another note, it is worth noting that the major sects of Islam do not differ on the major areas of faith, worship rites and even social contracts, whether they are classified as Sunni or Shi'a. Moreover, violence between the different sects of Islam is a rare exception in the history of Islam. Most sects rightfully shun the killing of Moslems by fellow Moslems, irrespective of the sect they adhere to. There are ample texts of Islamic jurisprudence [of Quranic origin, or derived from the related sayings and practices of the Prophet Mohammed (Peace of Allah be upon him) and his early faithful followers] that stress the brotherhood of all Moslems, without regard to their ethnic background, social standing and political or factional association (as most Islamic sects are in fact born out of political inclinations than dogmatic beliefs). An important note to bear in mind is that the so called “founders” of the various Islamic sects that bear their names, did not seek to create any institutional schism from the mainstream “Ummah” or Nation of Islam. Some were however indeed prodded by some of their followers to lead revolts or protests against the prevailing ruling regime of the Moslem Empire, as a whole, or in specific territorial dimensions, due to the tyranny or corruption that characterized the prevailing regime, which should be set straight, as these traits are unacceptable in government, according to Islam and most be corrected. But these revolts or protests were not intended to impose a certain sect on the general Moslem citizenry, even if the new authority may be under the influence of a particular sect. Thus, history has attested to Moslem rulers of minority sects in their domains sometimes ruling, but few sought to generalize their sects on all their constituencies, even if their sect was the majority in the domain. In any case, most, if not all the Moslem sects came into being long after their “founders” have passed away and most often were institutionalized under certain political circumstances. Most of the alleged “founders” of Islamic religious sects regarded themselves as “reformers”, who sought to correct what they felt were clear deviations from their scholastic renditions of proper Islamic dogma in their times. For the most part these highly respectable theologians were noted for their outspoken views on tyranny and repression by the current prevalent ruling regime, which they rightfully taught was unacceptable in Islam. Many of these religious experts on Islamic jurisprudence often referred to the teachings of other “founders” of other sects to substantiate their views and thus produced a healthy accumulation of legal opinions acceptable to most of the Moslem religious sects.

Having said all of the preceding background, it is sad to point out that there are opportunists amongst Moslems throughout the ages, who ascribe to the genuinely un-Islamic practice of fueling heated debates and sometimes violent conflicts among followers of different Islamic sects. Often this will be more apparent under political regimes that are autocratic and corrupt, which would augment such activities to keep their constituencies bogged down in senseless feuding between the followers of various sects. The regime itself may not always be the engineer behind such factional conflicts, but will not stand in the way of opportunists, who might render such a political convenience for the regime. Sometimes, these opportunists are prodded by external sovereign regimes or religious institutions that have a vested interest in seeing a particular area unstable.

In Yemen, such opportunistic elements have ceased upon the chances to promote their political interests or material gains through such sleazy tactics, many of whom are able to rely on substantial external political as well as financial backing, usually from neighboring Gulf states or perhaps regional or global powers. For the most part, these opportunists have seldom openly made use of their assigned executive positions in Government to foment such religious in-fighting, especially if they were in the Ministry of Education. However, a recent new appointment as an Undersecretary of the Ministry of Education has become a source of strong controversy in the public, because of his proliferation of diatribes and insinuations, especially about Yemeni citizens that are followers of the Zeidi sect. Mr. Tawwaf has the right to believe whatever he likes, but one would feel that a senior official of an important ministry like the Ministry of Education ought to know better, or else should be contained by his superiors, as such public controversy is neither within the scope of duties of the Ministry, nor a healthy projection of the educational mission expected to be delivered by the Ministry of Education. Moreover, such religious fanaticism as preached by the vigilant Undersecretary would probably not go well with the donors, from whom the Ministry is recipient to substantial support and who are currently under the impression that Yemen is indeed combating terrorism and misguided religious extremism as preached by Mr. Tawwaf. May God keep Yemen free from all factional strife, because there are enough worries for the citizens of Yemen to address than a rhetoric of hatred preached by responsible senior government officials, who ought to know better.