AHMED: "Mommy, am I going to have to kill my best friend because he's a Christian?"

IRAQ: Zuhair Jerjis and Ahmed Mohammed are both 10. They attend the same Baghdad school and often ride home together. After school, the two get together and play video games. But Ahmed is worried. He wonders if some day he will have to murder his best friend.

The boys go to the same school and share a ride home to the same district of Baghdad, but their parents do not share the same faith. Zuhair’s family is Christian and Ahmed’s is Muslim. Recent religious lessons at school have left Ahmed questioning what end awaits his friendship.

“Our teacher tells us it is forbidden in Islam to make friends with unbelievers,” he said. “When I study that we have to fight the unbelievers in the name of jihad, I think, ‘Will I kill Zuhair one day?’

Ahmed’s family in Muslim; Zuhair’s is Christian. And it turns out that in Iraq’s schools today, religious tolerance is not part of the curriculum.

As students prepare to return to classes this fall, there is growing criticism of the recently introduced curriculum, which critics say fails to tackle the causes of religious and sectarian hatred that have fueled the violence of the last six years. Worse still, they accuse it of laying the foundations for future strife.

The main concerns about the school program are that it favors the Shia interpretation of Islam. In addition, many are concerned that some teachers focus on subjects not directly addressed in the curriculum, such as the treatment of non-Muslims and jihad, or holy war.

“The current changes have a huge sectarian impact,” he said. “The updating process should focus on the shared aspects (of Islam), not on a specific sect.” Some of the areas of dispute are subtle and reflect the centuries-old schism within Islam.

Sanaa Muhsin, an Islamic studies teacher in Baghdad’s Shaab district, said she regularly instructs her students that “each Muslim had a duty to carry out jihad – namely to fight unbelievers.” She identified unbelievers as those who did not follow Allah or the Prophet Mohammed.

Some students appear to be learning the lessons well. Sajjad Kiayyad, 7, of Baghdad, said he plans to become a holy warrior when he grows up. “I will fight the Americans because they are Jewish and unbelievers,” he said. “I will be victorious, or I will be a martyr in heaven.”

Maryam Ali, 9, also of Baghdad, said she is carrying out her own jihad by calling on “unveiled female friends to cover their heads.”

Freji, the education ministry adviser, insisted that teachers had been instructed to steer clear of issues that aroused conflict. The new curriculum, he said, focused on the fraternal aspects of Islam. “The Islamic religion, and therefore the Islamic curriculum, emphasizes forgiveness and mercy.” KansasCity H/T Sheik Yermami

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