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Education and Youth Identities

Panel XIII-21, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, November 5 at 1:30 pm

Panel Description
  • Educational Reforms in Al-Azhar Institutes More than two million students in Egypt today receive their Islamic education through Al-Azhar Institutes. Since its establishment in1936, Al-Azhar Institutes’ Islamic program has undergone various changes with regards to the number of years required to complete the curriculum, topics covered, and textbooks used. This study examines the most recent modifications to al-Azhar Institutes’ fiqh curriculum introduced in 2013. In the aftermath of the Arab spring (2010-2012), Al-Azhar faced accusations that its teaching of classical jurisprudence promotes extremism and preaches sectarian division. In response, al-Azhar prepared “simplified” versions of the classical fiqh textbooks to be used at the middle, and high school levels . This study seeks to answer the following questions: What was the nature of these modifications in the fiqh curriculum? Were the modifications motivated by ideological or pedagogical reasons? Were the modifications a state-sponsored project or ʿulamā led-ffort ? Using comparative content analysis and focusing on the fiqh sections of the middle- and high-school textbooks, this study compares the “simplified” content with the original content to identify patterns of change and to propose reasons behind the changes. My analysis suggests that one main purpose of the modifications was to make the textbooks age appropriate to middle and secondary school students. Additionally, my comparison shows the systemic removal of topics and passages that could be seen as threatening the national security of Egypt. Hence, I argue that state stability, national unity, and security were main purposes for textbook modification. However, does this make the curricular changes a state-led project? Evidence suggests that, though the curricular changes eventually serve the state and its stability, they were not directed by the state, but rather were conducted in accordance with the Azharī ʿulamā’s conceptualization of a revival (tajdīd) of the Islamic tradition (turāth). The study contributes to the scholarly literature on modern Egypt by bringing attention to the country’s Islamic educational system and by highlighting the role al-Azhar can play in maintaining the stability of the state and strengthening national unity during critical times.
  • The nationalist discourse frequently employs the allegory of the family to describe the nature of relations and interactions between the nation and its members. The imagining of this larger national family not only ensures a direct link from the body to the polity eliminating any source of commitment in between but also consolidates itself as the exclusive destination of loyalty for its members. With the objective of constructing a new national family in order to produce its citizens as standardized members of the modern national society, the republican regime in Turkey as well aspired to efface connections between the individuals and their kinship, ethnic and religious ties and to eliminate any forms of community-based social structure that challenges its emerging national family. At odds with the arguments that see the individual as straightforwardly associated with the nation state and a national family, this paper asks the question how do the schools hold the community together by maintaining cultural practices. It revisits a space in-between to make sense of the network of relationships clustering around the Armenian schools. Although the main objective of this paper is to unpack the complexity of relations around the Armenian schools by using a family allegory, it further discusses how the concepts of the nation state, community and family interact with each other where power is constituted in a communal field. I use this allegory not only because the space of Armenianness harbors close family ties in its functioning and durability within the particular context of the Armenian schools, but familial-like traits and forms of intimacy pertaining to the nuclear family is also a significant factor of the configuration of the Armenian community when preserving the schools. Depicting communal interactions by the family allegory, I contend that the private sphere and the communal sphere overlap in the operation of the schools and therefore engender a particular practice of governing. In order to unfold this communal space in which familial culture holds sway, I conducted an interview-based ethnography in 6 Armenian schools in Turkey and interviewed more than 120 participants including students, teachers, parents, school administrations and other actors involved with the schools in various ways. My approach allowed me to comprehensively illustrate quotidian intimate relations that are usually reminiscent of a family into the analysis and portray nuances which construct this communal space as a safeguarded internal space.
  • This paper discusses the reverse gender gap in the quality of education in Bahrain and the complications of that gender gap imposed by the sectarian and demographic distribution of Bahraini public schools K-12. Although the reverse gender gap has been thoroughly studied and reviewed by many in educational and scholarly circles, its specificities have not been further explored in the context of Bahrain. Bahrain is a particular case because Bahraini public schools especially in the primary and intermediate levels are largely homogenous in terms of sect, since they reside within villages that are distributed along sectarian lines. Bahrain has distinct areas whose residents are mostly Shi’i, areas whose residents are mostly Sunni, and areas that are more mixed in terms of their sectarian distribution. In this paper, I tackle the question of whether this distinction plays a role in the quality of public education in Bahrain, and how it specifically relates to the reverse gender gap. Specifically, I would like to ask: what factors contribute to the gender disparity in the quality of education in Bahrain? Why and how are those factors complicated by the socio-religious backgrounds of the students and the location of the schools? And lastly, how have these factors changed over time both in terms of perception and reality? By perception of quality, I mean the local understanding of the quality of the schools and the performance of its students among the parents, teachers, and students themselves as opposed to the “reality” depicted in quantitative and qualitative analysis of the schools’ performances in both local Bahraini reports produced by the Bahrain Quality Authority (BQA) and international reports. I use the term socio-religious to encompass not only sect, but the socio-economic conditions that are –in Bahrain– sometimes married to and impacted by the sect that one is affiliated with and is raised to abide by. Girls schools in mostly Shi'i areas tend to perform best both in terms of perception and reality. In this paper, I will use both official data published by BQA and participant observations of 15 public schools and interviews with BQA officials, parents, students, and teachers in Bahrain with different sectarian and demographic compositions and draw on a review of available literature to confirm this variance in quality and form a descriptive analysis of the process that lead to its creation.
  • The writing of history textbooks in Syria during the war Over the past decade, the conflict in Syria has spilled over into everything, even textbooks, including history textbooks. Instead of having one unified school history textbooks in all Syrian schools, there are now different school histories taught to Syrian children and teenagers. These textbooks were issued and imposed on schools by the authorities that share control over Syrian geography. The Syrian government was the only authority to edit and print these textbooks, now, other forces established their own institutions, including educational ones, and began to develop school curricula in which they prove their principles and goals, presenting the narrative that serves them, especially for the current history after 2011. The most important of these parties in addition to the regime government are both The Islamic State (ISIS), the Kurdish self-administration, and the Syrian opposition affiliated with the “Syrian Interim Government” and the one affiliated with the “Syrian Salvation Government” in Idlib. Syria, after nearly half a century of school curricula, influenced by the nationalist ideology of the Baath Party, which glorify the personality of Hafez al-Assad, and later his son Bashar, it moves to new textbooks that present history from the perspective of PKK and glorify its leader Abdullah Ocalan and his ideas. Then comes the textbooks of the Islamic State organization with its extremist ideology. Finally, the Syrian opposition, used the textbooks issued by the regime itself after important modifications were made to them before the Turkish Ministry of Education commissioned Syrian teachers to write special textbooks for schools in northern Syria, controlled by Turkey. what do these history textbooks provide? What are the points of convergence and points of difference between them? How should we approach to these text books which are also historical archives revealing the ideological conflicts and the deep crisis in the country. The purpose of this essay is to prove that school history in Syria has become hostage to ideological conflicts and is dominated by tendencies that do not believe in Syrian patriotism. This will exacerbate the deep national crisis that Syria has been experiencing for more than half a century. The study will be based on the descriptive and comparative approach, describing the different approaches and comparing them to reach conclusions. Samples will be selected from the same history textbooks of the four main parties that share control of Syrian territories.