By Adel Guindy *

This article surveys compulsory Arabic language curricula of the Egyptian education system. Extracts are presented and analyzed to show how these lessons are often infused with Islamic religious texts that emphasize Islam as the basis of all societal relations. All students, regardless of religion, are indoctrinated to uphold "obedience to God and His Prophet [Muhammad]."

Lessons promote that leadership positions should be held by "believers" only; that any ruler who "disobeys God and His Prophet" can be himself disobeyed; and that the believers should take a firm position against those who "do not submit to the orders of God and His Prophet." There is little mention of the constitution or laws. The article concludes that this government-endorsed curriculum is breeding intolerance and extremism among the new generations.  

Egypt once prided itself on being a tolerant, diverse state. While nearly the entire Jewish, Armenian, and Greek communities left in the 1950s, Egypt is still home to the largest Christian minority in the Arab world. Its Coptic community accounts for some 10 percent of the total population of 80 million.[1] The state resisted the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempt to overthrow what it considered a secular order. After the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981, it also fought an Islamist insurgency. Yet, while fighting the Islamist terrorist groups (which were largely defeated in the mid-1990s), the government moved to co-opt much of their platform. State-owned media, for example, now proselytize Islam.[2] While adults can decline to read newspapers, the same is not true for students receiving compulsory state education. These students must not only read tracts intended to indoctrinate Islam but also regurgitate them by rote, demonstrate mastery for teachers, and pass mandatory exams. 


Traditionally, education in Egypt was the responsibility of individuals, families, and communities, but as already in 1836, Egypt’s ruler, Muhammad Ali Pasha (ruled 1805-1848), had created a department of education. His grandson, the Khedive Isma’il (ruled 1863-1879), transformed it into a ministry in 1869.
[3] The ministry founded public schools and also occasionally subsidized schools built by the Coptic Church and foreign missionaries as well, even as it granted them autonomy with their curriculums. However, in 1955, three years after Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew the monarchy, the government nationalized education. While President Anwar Sadat permitted private schools to operate after 1970, all schools had to teach the Ministry of Education’s curricula for the Arabic language, religion, history, and social studies. Today, even Egyptian students who pursue an international baccalaureate or a U.S. diploma in Egypt must pass state exams that are part of the Ministry of Education curricula in order to graduate.

Initially, the state required only Muslims to attend religion classes and permitted non-Muslims to leave the room during lessons. Beginning in the 1990s, however, the Ministry of Education gradually introduced a religion curriculum for Christians. Christian students must leave the classroom and assemble around any Christian teacher who happens to be available during the religion class period.

Though the state is supposed to remain neutral on religious affairs, by the late 1980s religious content had begun to penetrate Arabic language courses. Some education ministers, Hussein Kamel Bahaa Eddin, for example, sought to counter religious extremists inside educational institutions, but even as the Egyptian state fought the Islamist insurgency, it enabled Islam to infiltrate its educational curriculum, perhaps in order to appease the constituency that had supported the Islamists. By adopting more fundamentalist religious positions, the Egyptian state may have felt that it could compete with the Islamists’ attractiveness among those who perhaps found solace in conservative religious views and practice.

Today, the Egyptian state curriculum’s Islamic orientation is clear. The history curriculum describes the Islamic invasion of Egypt as a “glorious” and “noble” event that liberated the people “from oppression” and “ignorance,” a slight to the indigenous Coptic population, which predates the Arab invasion. The Education Ministry also sponsors annual Koran memorization competitions,
[4] and some schools have replaced the national anthem with Islamic chants.

The Arabic language curriculum also indoctrinates pupils in Islam. The fall 2007 curriculum consisted of 126 separate Arabic language lessons for students from the second to the ninth grade, of which 52 lessons--more than 40 percent--are centered on Islamic texts. This reliance on religious texts is an ideological choice, not a necessity. Egyptian literature, like the English canon, is rich. Not only are there translations of ancient Egyptian texts such as the Book of the Dead, but modern Egypt has also produced such individuals as Naguib Mahfuz, the first Arab to win the Nobel Prize for literature; feminist physician Nawal al-Sa’adawi; and poet Naguib Surur. The American public would be outraged if 40 percent of English lessons were based on the Bible rather than on a much broader literature.

Younger children in Egypt are not immune to religious indoctrination. The first grade text, for example, requires children to “read, learn, and rehearse” verses from the Koranic chapter al-Alaq. The texts do not segregate the linguistic lesson from religious sanctity. If students understand the grammar but do not accept their rhetorical value or teaching, they may fail, as the Egyptian education process continues to rely on rote learning at the expense of critical thinking. Questioning is discouraged if not punished, and failing Arabic class mandates repeating the entire year.

This can play out in a number of ways. Anne, a seven-year-old Christian girl attending a language school in Cairo, complained to her mother that her teacher had rebuked her for failing to do her homework. The lesson, entitled “Sadiqi” (“My Friend”), directed the student to “read, learn, and memorize” the text of a hadith (narrative of Muhammad) reproduced from the canonical Sahih al-Bukhari, which read, “The Messenger of God, may God pray upon him and give him peace, said, ‘A woman was sent to hellfire (because of) a cat that she had tied up. It was not fed, nor was it allowed to eat the vermin of the earth.’” The mother told her daughter that it was a Muslim religious text, explained its underlying meaning, but ended up having to spend more time explaining the concept of hell. She helped her memorize the text. The next day, the child returned in tears again, because she had been rebuked for failing to initiate her recitation with, “The Messenger of God, may God pray upon him and give him peace, said...”



There are several religious themes in Egypt’s Arabic language text books. One is an emphasis on the belief that that Islam is the only source of virtue. Another is an insistence that Islam--rather than shared citizenship or humanistic values--is the basis of all societal relations. Accompanying this is an insistence that the Egyptian state’s main role is to protect and spread Islam and ensure the unity of the Islamic--rather than the Egyptian--nation. A third theme is compulsion of all students, regardless of religion, to abide by the commandments and prohibitions of Islam and to uphold “obedience to God and His Prophet [Muhammad].” The texts also impose on Christian pupils Islamic beliefs and doctrines that contradict Christian tenets, such as an endorsement of fatalism or the Islamic notion of martyrdom. The curriculum also imposes the Islamic religious view of Jerusalem without reference to the city’s importance to Christians or Jews. Likewise, it presents a sanitized historical narrative describing early Islamic invasions as “noble.”

Arabic class texts also embody the ideology espoused by the defeated Islamist insurgents who, ironically, had sought to overturn the existing order. Lessons promote the idea that leadership positions should be held by believers only; that any ruler who “disobeys God and His Prophet” can be himself disobeyed; and that the believers should take a firm position against those who “do not submit to the orders of God and His Prophet.” There is little mention of the constitution, courts, or the primacy of Egyptian law.

Motivation is more religious than pedagogical. The prefaces to the text books show, without exception, a vehement insistence that the Arabic language is special, based on its status as the language of the Koran. There is also no evidence that the level of student proficiency in Arabic after the introduction of religious content was better than before. Indeed, the Egyptian media often features or quotes education experts who say that Arabic proficiency has declined among younger generations.


Islam as the Only Source of Virtue

“My Environment Is Clean--Plant a Tree”
Activities and training: Read, memorize, and learn (the following, in a colorful frame):
God’s Messenger said, “Whenever a Muslim plants a tree or a plant, and then a bird, a person, or an animal eats from it, it shall be regarded as a charitable act by him.”

Comment: The lesson ignores that non-Muslims also engage in agriculture. In so doing, the curriculum may reinforce anti-Christian bigotry among those taught that Christians do not contribute to the country and its development, or that deeds of Christians may not be worthy even if good.

“Animals and Birds--The Vain Peacock”
Activities and exercises. Read, memorize, and learn:The Messenger of God said: “No one will enter paradise if there was in his heart an atom’s weight of vanity.” (Recounted in [hadith collection of Abu al-Husayn] Muslim [bin al-Hajjaj Qushayri al-Nisapuri]).


Comment: Omission of Christians suggests that Christianity does not oppose vanity, even though disapproval of vanity transcends religions.

“Situations and Manners--On the Road”[10]
One of the lesson’s objectives: Memorize the noble hadith.

Activities and exercises: Read, learn, and memorize:
The Messenger of God was once asked about the “right” (duty, manners) of the road. He said, “Lowering your gaze, refraining from harming others, returning greetings, and guiding the lost.” (Recounted in [hadith collection of Muhammad bin Isma’il] al-Bukhari).

 Comment: Road etiquette is a subject that transcends Islam. There is no need to insert religion into the discussion.

“Professions in the Olden Days--Professions and Industries in Pharaonic Egypt”[11]
Lesson Objectives: 8) Quote a hadith that emphasizes the value of honesty.

Comment: The lesson is about the life of Egyptians centuries before Islam, so any hadith is extraneous. A more relevant text would have been the Papyrus of Ani (1240 B.C.) where it says: “Behold I have come to you (God), brought you truth, repelled falsehood for you... I have not done falsehood against men, I have not impoverished my associates, I have not caused pain, I have not made hungry, I have not stolen... I have not uttered lies. I am not a man of deceit… I have not increased nor diminished the measure.” (Chapter 125).

“Our Society--Work Proficiency”

A poem by Ahmad Shawqi.

Information and enrichment activities:

·        Go to the library and search for Koranic verses, noble hadiths, or poems that emphasize the value of work; record them to show to your classmates.

·         Exercise 4: Mention the poetic verses that would conform to the following:

o       The Messenger said: “God is pleased when someone does something and does it well.”

o       The Most High said: “We leave not to waste the wage of him who does good works.” Koran, 18:30

o       The Most High said: “And whosoever fears God, He will appoint for him a way out.” Koran, 65:2


Comment: While the lesson addresses “work proficiency,” the writers not only insert Islamic texts, but force the pupils to search for more examples from Islamic sources, rather than from a broader array of sources. When searching for a hadith, Christian students may become targets of more aggressive proselytism.

Islam as the Foundation of Individual Values and Societal Relations

“You and Your Friend--Friendship”
Information and enrichment activities:

Among prominent quotations on the importance of friendship:
God’s Messenger said, “Man’s religion is according to his friend’s religion. Everybody shall examine with whom he has friendship!”

Ali ibn Abi-Talib said, “Man is known by his friends.”

Exercises: 9): Write a noble hadith that shows the importance of friendship on a large poster and hang it in your class.

Comment: The lesson suggests that one must not befriend those of a different religion. This emphasizes the principle of al-wal’a wal-bar’a, in which Muslims are called upon to take for allies only those in alliance with God, “His Messenger,” and the community of the faithful, and to be hostile to others. Given the sectarian violence that Egypt suffers from, this is a very dangerous message to promote, and one which runs counter to the notion of citizenship and fraternity.


“Loving the Homeland--My Homeland, the Cradle of Heavenly Messages”
Egypt has a distinguished position within the glorious Arab homeland. How many prophets have lived in it and how many great men have walked on its soil. God has mentioned it several times in the Koran…. On its land lived the prophet Enoch, and Abraham, the father of the prophets, passed through it; its king gave him as a gift the lady Hagar, whom he married. She bore from him Ishmael, the grandfather of the Arabs, from whom the Prophet is a descendent. In Egypt, lived Joseph, who took charge of agriculture and economy. He brought his father Jacob and his brothers to live with him, and the Koran describes their reception by him as the Most High says: “Enter you into Egypt, if God will, in security.” Koran, 12:99.

On its land were born Moses and Aaron, who were sent to Pharaoh, the unjust ruler. On Mount Sinai, God spoke to Moses, and close by, the sea swallowed Pharaoh and his soldiers. God swore by the holy site and said, “By the fig and the olive and the Mount Sinai.” Koran, 95:1-2.

In it also lived Jesus, the son of the pure lady Mary, the Virgin, and his call spread amongst its people and (both) suffered from the pagan Romans for the sake of their faith in God. Because of the position of Egypt among its sisters, the Messenger of God said, “You will soon conquer a land which is known as the land of al-Qirat (i.e. where coins are minted). So when you conquer it, treat its inhabitants well. For there lies upon you the responsibility because of blood-ties or relationships of marriage (with them).”

Thus Egypt has been a servant to the religion of God and a protector to His prophets and a cradle of their calls and a resource of supporting His followers and soldiers.… And because God honored it with such a position, the Messenger drew attention to its role in preserving the Religion of God, spreading and protecting its teaching to the entire umma (Islamic nation), as he said, “If God allows you to conquer Egypt, take from it many soldiers, for these are the best soldiers of the Earth.” [Author’s translation]. Egypt’s people carried out that mission to the best of their ability, for in it stands the noble al-Azhar [grand mosque and leading seminary], the lighthouse of (religious) knowledge and the house of learned scholars (ulama), which has thousands of scholars and preachers. Its army rebuffed the aggressors and the greedy, and still protects till this day the lands of “Arabism” and Islam.

Comment: According to the lesson, the fundamental role of the Egyptian homeland is to be at the service of “God’s Religion” and to spread its teachings rather than be a state dedicated to the safety and prosperity of all its citizens. This lesson is particularly alarming as, at least rhetorically, it accepts the basic position of the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliated groups.

“Loving the Homeland--The Way to Strength and Success”
Every nation aspires to achieve its objectives and to reach the highest degrees of strength and success. But it can only achieve that by uniting its ranks and unifying its word [i.e. opinion] to be according to one man’s heart. The following verses specifically invite the Islamic umma to do that.

The Most High says: “And hold you fast to God’s bond, together, and do not scatter; remember God’s blessing upon you when you were enemies, and He brought your hearts together, so that by His blessing you became brothers. You were upon the brink of a pit of Fire, and He delivered you from it; even so God makes clear to you His signs; so haply you will be guided. Let there be one nation of you, calling to good, and bidding to honor, and forbidding dishonor; those are the prosperers.” Koran, 3: 103-104.

Explanation: God--may He be exalted--orders us to adhere to the teachings of the religion [Islam] because it assembles the believers and ties them together with the bonds of love and brotherhood; and it orders them not to diverge from one another, as this will lead to weakness. God asks the believers to remember His blessing on them, just as He guided them to the faith that brought them together after disarray and united them after division, for such division leads to disobedience of God, which, in turn, is a cause for entering hell. They were close (to entering it), but God saved them from hell’s fire. Thus God shows the believers His verses (signs), such that they might be guided toward the straight path, and then orders them to the duty of calling (people) to God, and to command the good and prohibit the illicit, and these are the winners.


Practice (the explanations of the verses).

Comment: The “nation” talked about in the lesson is the umma, a community united by Islam, rather than through citizenship in Egypt.

“Responsibility Means Rights and Duties--Mary the Copt”
What do we learn from this lesson? The story of Mary--Patience when under duress--the issues of national unity.

Mary, daughter of Shamun, was born in a village in Upper Egypt, where she lived throughout her childhood before moving, as a teenager, along with her sister Sirin to the palace of al-Muqawqis, the Coptic [Byzantine] sovereign. There she heard about the emergence of a prophet in the Arabian Peninsula, and that he had announced the coming of a new religion. She was at the palace when Hatib ibn Balta’a, the envoy of the Prophet to al-Muqawqis, was carrying a message from the Prophet inviting him to enter Islam. Al-Muqawqis read the message and folded it with care and respect and turned to Talha asking him to talk about this Arabian prophet. As he did, al-Muqawqis thought carefully and dictated to his cleric his response: “I have read and understood your message and what you are calling for. I have sent you some gifts and two valuable female slaves and other gifts from the riches of Egypt. Peace to you.”

Hatib returned to the Prophet with the gifts, Mary and her sister Sirin.... In Medina, the Prophet received the message and Egypt’s gift, and gave Sirin to his poet Hassan bin Thabit. Days went on, and Mary was very content in the company and care of the Prophet.

Mary the Copt found in the Messenger a friend, a family, and a homeland, and God willed that she became pregnant with Ibrahim. [Details are given about the birth and later on the death in early childhood of Muhammad’s only son Ibrahim]. Then the Messenger joined the Supreme Companion (God), and after that Mary lived five more years devoted to worship, seldom seeing anybody but her sister Sirin. Mary died after that, and it is to her credit that she strengthened the relations between the Muslims and the People of the Book (Jews and Christians), and between Egypt and the Hijaz, and made the Prophet recommend her people, the Copts, to his nation (umma), saying “be good to the Copts, for in them there is a covenant (dhimma) and a ‘womb’ [blood] relation.”


Comment: Aside from questions regarding historical veracity, the message is that the national unity between Muslims and Copts in Egypt is based on the marriage of a Coptic slave consort to Muhammad. Copts may enjoy “good treatment,” not because they are equal citizens, but because Muhammad had recommended it. Egyptian students, indoctrinated by notions of Muslim supremacy, may conclude that the Copts are subordinate citizens unequal in law.

“Man and Future--Education for the Future”
What do we learn in this lesson? 1- The position of Islam towards childhood and care for children…. 3- Why Ibn Abbas was called habr al-umma (the religious leader of the nation) and the Interpreter of the Koran.” 4- Hadith of the Messenger to Ibn Abbas.

The lesson: Nations educate their children to face up to the future with its multiple probabilities. Islam was ahead [of other religions] in taking good care of the future of the child and caring for children. In this hadith, the Messenger teaches Abdallah Ibn Abbas some words. Ibn Abbas was but a young child, but he grasped these words and acted according to them, until he was called the “Pontiff (i.e. religious leader) of the Nation and the Interpreter of the Koran.”

According to Abdallah ibn Abbas, he said, “I was behind the Prophet one day, and he said ‘Shall I not teach you words? Preserve God so that He can preserve you; preserve God and find Him in front of you, so if you ask, ask from God, and if you seek help, seek help from God; so if all creation united to benefit you with something, they would not benefit you if God had not written it for you, and if all of creation united to hurt you, they would not hurt you if God had not written it for you. The pens have been removed and the [ink on the] sheets has dried’” (recounted by [Abu Isa Muhammad ibn Isa al-Sulami] al-Tirmidhi).

Comments: The lesson conveys the value of childhood only through the eyes of Islam yet fails to mention and include texts from international conventions on child rights to which Egypt is a signatory. The text also imposes fatalism on children when many parents--Christians or those who are not religious Muslims--would rather teach children about how they might succeed through hard work.

“Life Is Relations and Bonds--The Compensation of Laborers”
It is thanks to God’s compassion toward His followers that He conferred on them the blessings of love and kindness and made between them strong ties. The following verses show you that the Most High said, “And vie with one another, hastening to forgiveness from your Lord, and to a garden whose breadth is as the heavens and earth, prepared for the god-fearing who expend in prosperity and adversity in alms giving, and restrain their rage, and pardon the offenses of their fellowmen; and God loves the good-doers, who, when they commit an indecency or wrong themselves, remember God, and pray forgiveness for their sins--and who shall forgive sins but God?--and do not persevere in the things they did and that wittingly. Those--their recompense is forgiveness from their Lord, and gardens beneath which rivers flow, therein dwelling forever; and how excellent is the wage of those who labor!” Koran, 3:133-136.

Explanation. Lessons to be benefited from the verses. Exercises.

Comment: Teaching that paradise is the reward of good-doers who are pious “believers” (i.e. Muslims) is awkward for classmates who are not Muslim.

Everyone Is Bound by Islam

General Exercises on Unit 1[19]
Refer to the Holy Koran and bring forth: 1-a) Ten noble verses that call for doing good and show the reward; 1-b) Memorize the noble verses and record them under the title of “best words in the domain of good doing”; 1-c) Write under each verse the name of the sura [verse] from which it was quoted, and the verse number;…. 4) Demonstrate your understanding of the noble verses studied in this lesson and how society’s progress is related to (religious) rectitude, etc.

Comment: Non-Muslims should not be bound by such purely religious injunctions.

“Social Behavior--Dealing with Rumors”
What do we learn in this lesson? The importance of following the right course.
The Holy Koran is God’s course on earth, and whoever follows it will find the right way and be saved, but whoever disobeys will be lost and will perish. Among its great guidance is that whatever we hear, as news or rumors, we must ascertain its truth, and we must obey God and His Messenger, and that we should reconcile the antagonists and resolve their disagreements amicably so that people live in peace.

God the Most High says: “O believers, if an ungodly man comes to you with a tiding, make clear, lest you afflict a people unwittingly, and then repent of what you have done. And know that the Messenger of God is among you. If he obeyed you in much of the affair, you would suffer; but God has endeared to you belief, decking it fair in your hearts, and He has made detestable to you unbelief and ungodliness and disobedience. Those--they are the right-minded, by God’s favor and blessing; God is All-knowing, All-wise. If two parties of the believers fight, put things right between them; then, if one of them is insolent against the other, fight the insolent one till it reverts to God’s commandment. If it reverts, set things right between them equitably, and be just. Surely God loves the just. The believers indeed are brothers; so set things right between your two brothers, and fear God; haply so you will find mercy.” Koran, 49: 6-10.

Meanings and compositions

O believers: know that the Messenger of God is in you and with you, guides and directs you, with the inspiration of God the Most High in whatever has mercy for you. Among God’s favor on you is that He guided you to belief and made it lovable in your hearts, and cleansed your hearts from that evil (disbelief [kufr], corruption, and disobedience) and made you among the guided faithful who reason things, submit to God, and are confident of His choice. This is a firm truth and a lawful basis that guarantees the safety of the society against disunity and diversion, as believers are all brethren, who are like one body; if one of its members complains, the others feel the pain. Thus the Koran directs us toward what to do in case disagreements occur.

Comment: Non-Muslim pupils in a compulsory class should not be forced to accept that “The Koran is God’s course on earth and whoever… disobeys it is lost and perishes.” Indeed, mandating that students accept this strikes at the heart of confessional freedom.

Imposing Islamic Interpretations on Non-Muslims

“Heroic Deeds--The Martyr”
Objectives of the lesson: Become acquainted with the meaning of the word martyr--read the hadith correctly. Identify the signs of beauty of expression in the hadith--the martyr’s reward from God.

Who is the martyr? This is what we learn from this noble hadith: According to Sa’id bin Zayd, the Messenger said: “He who is killed while guarding his property is a martyr; he who is killed while defending himself is a martyr; he who is killed defending his religion is a martyr, and he who dies protecting his family is (also) a martyr.” Reported by Sa’id ibn Zayd, related by al-Tirmidhi.

God the Most High says in His Noble Book: “So let them fight in the way of God who sells the present life for the world to come; and whosoever fights in the way of God and is slain, or conquers, We shall bring him a mighty wage.” Koran 4:74; and “And say not of those slain in God’s way, ‘They are dead’; rather they are living, but you are not aware.” Koran, 2: 154.

Discuss with your classmates the qualities of the one who defends the truth and struggles and lifts the slogan of “Victory or martyrdom for the sake of God.” How could we implant such qualities?

Exercise: 2- Refer to this verse:
God the Most High said, “Count not those who were slain in God’s way as dead, but rather living with their Lord, by Him provided.” Koran, 3: 169.

Comment: By highlighting the Muslim martyr who fights and dies for the sake of God, the lesson imposes the Islamic interpretation of martyrdom, which is at sharp odds with the traditional Christian understanding of the term. The lesson appears to glorify those who seek to fight for what they believe to be God’s will, a dangerous lesson to imbue with incitement to violence so prevalent in both mosque and media.

“Man and Future--He Creates Whatever He Wishes”
What do we learn in this lesson? 1- The power of God, be praised, in the creation of the universe and determining its laws; 2- Man’s role in inhabiting the universe; 3- Verses from Sura al-Qasas.

The lesson: God created man and prepared the universe for him to live in it… God, be praised, draws the attention of man to that this universe obeys the orders of God and follows His laws; He who is able to change these laws whenever He wills and however He wills, with nothing that could challenge His will, and it is man’s duty to strive for his future with faith in God’s choice for him. Let us read these verses.

The Most High said: “Thy Lord creates whatsoever He will and He chooses; they have not the choice. Glory be to God! High be He exalted above that they associate! And thy Lord knows what their breasts conceal and what they publish. And He is God; there is no god but He. His is the praise in the former as in the latter; His too is the Judgment, and unto Him you shall be returned. Say: ‘What think you? If God should make the night unceasing over you, until the Day of Resurrection, what god other than God shall bring you illumination? Will you not hear? Say: ‘What think you? If God should make the day unceasing over you, until the Day of Resurrection, what god other than God shall bring you night to repose in? Will you not see? Of His mercy He has appointed for you night and day, for you to repose in and seek after His bounty, that haply you will be thankful.’ Upon the day when He shall call to them, and He shall say, ‘Where now are My associates whom you were asserting?’ And We shall draw out from every nation a witness, and say, ‘Produce your proof!’ Then will they know that Truth is God’s, and there shall go astray from them that they were forging.’” Koran, 28: 68-75.

Explanation. Exercises: 1-a) What are God’s blessings stated in these verses? 1-b) Mention other blessings not mentioned in these verses. 1-c) What punishment awaits the associators in this world and eternity? 1-d) What reward for the believers in this world and eternity?… 5) Explain the stubbornness of the associators and disbelievers (kuffar) and their trials to blunt the evident facts in the universe about the unity of God.… 8) Write the following in two types of calligraphy: “God the most High said, ‘Glory to God, and far is He above the partners they ascribe (to Him).”


Comment: This compulsory theology lesson, depicts God as unbound in His actions by anything but His own will; a concept that contradicts the Christian belief. The lesson also emphasizes the dogma of predestination, which, again, contradicts Christian beliefs. The repeated references to the “associators” subtly attack the notion of the Trinity and could lead to harassment of non-Muslim students in the class.

Islam Trumps Fact

“Peace Is Man’s Hope--Oh, Quds! [Jerusalem]”
Al-Quds [Jerusalem] is a blessed, sacred, and ancient city that God has blessed and to which his prophet Muhammad has traveled. Al-Quds is a “neighbor” of the al-Aqsa mosque, the first of the two points towards which prayer was directed (qibla), and the third sanctuary after the two noble sanctuaries (al-haramayn), to which people journey and to which the hearts of believers in God turn; for it is not just a mosque for prayers, but the basis of a conviction, and a symbol of sacredness, purity, blessing, and victory. Today, al-Quds bleeds, it moans loudly, and its calls for help to fill the horizon. History will never forgive Arabs and Muslims should they fail to save and liberate al-Quds.

A poem by Harun Hashim Rashid.

Meanings. First idea: Al-Quds is the “scent of history.” Second idea: Al-Quds is in pain. Third idea: A call to the great Islamic homeland. Fourth idea: Al-Quds is an Arab (city).

Comment: The lesson both excludes any mention of Jerusalem’s importance to Jews and Christians and politicizes the role of Jerusalem, especially when it talks of Muslims failing to “save and liberate” the city, even though Egypt is technically at peace with Israel.

“My Homeland, Glory, and History--Our Glories Between Past and Present”[24]
Boasting is cherished by many peoples. We are proud of our Pharaonic past and the ancient Egyptians’ knowledge, art, and advancement. We are proud of our Arab past after the revelation of Islam since the Arab Islamic culture was a religious civilization and a scientific and literary civilization, as the noble conquests (futuhat) extended to China in the east and Andalusia in the west; to Persia in the north and Africa in the south.

Meanings: The objective of the noble conquests was neither aggression nor transgression.


Comment: In contradiction with historical fact, wars waged to spread Islam and expand its empire are presented as noble and of which the purpose was neither aggression nor transgression.

Encouraging Islamism

“Situations and Manners--Class Leader”[25]
Activities and exercises: Read, rehearse, and learn:

God the Most High said, “And those who answer their Lord, and perform the prayer, their affair being counsel between them, and they expend of that We have provided them, and who, when insolence visits them, do help themselves.” Koran, 42:38.

Comment: The lesson suggests that positions of leadership, even in a school setting, should be reserved for those who are (religious) Muslims. Indeed, it is not uncommon for teachers and administrators to pass over Christians with better grades in order to award honors to their Muslim peers.

“Our Society--Obeying Those in Authority, and Society’s Security”[26]
Objectives of lesson: The pupil must be able to:

·         Recite out loud the Koran verse and the noble hadith in a correct and expressive way.

·         Show the meanings of the noble verse and the noble hadith.

·         Experience some of the aspects of beauty.

What do we learn in this lesson?

·         Obedience of God, obedience of His Messenger, and obedience of those in authority.

·         Hurrying to perform one’s duties.

·         Referring to the (religious) lawful sources.

Lesson body:

Who is a “Person in Authority?” It is he who cares for (is in charge of) someone else. A father is in authority; the work manager is in authority, and anybody responsible for others is in authority. And obedience towards him is a duty except in what is forbidden by God, according to His saying: “O believers, obey God, and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. If you should quarrel on anything, refer it to God and the Messenger, if you believe in God and the Last Day; that is better, and fairer in the issue.” Koran, 4:59.

The following noble hadith shows that such obedience is in what is beyond the disobedience of God: Related by Abdallah ibn Umar that the Prophet said: “A Muslim must listen and obey in whatever he likes or dislikes except if ordered to disobey (God), (in which case) no listening and no obedience.”

Explanation: It is necessary to obey whoever is in authority except when his orders contradict the will of God [as interpreted by Muslim scholars].


What if:

a- The ruler disobeys the orders of God?

11- Read the verse (Koran, 4:59) and answer the following:

b- To whom should the ruler and the ruled subjects refer if they disagree about anything?

12- Read the hadith and answer these questions:

a- What is meant by disobedience?

c- Islam supports the unity of the umma (nation) and its concordance on one opinion. Explain that in the light of your understanding of the noble hadith.

Comment: The lesson suggests ideas commensurate with the basic approach of a theocratic state that abides only by the Koran and Sunna (manner and deeds of Muhammad) rather than by a constitution, laws, or international conventions. The rules are clearly set for when to obey or disobey those in authority.

“My Health--Obedience to God Is a Duty”
God, may He be exalted, calls upon all people to beware of Satan and to steer clear of his path, for it is the path of evil and corruption, as Satan is an enemy to man and carefully watches and entices him to corruption, with all the means at his disposal.

The Most High has said: “O believers, wine and arrow-shuffling, idols and divining-arrows are an abomination, some of Satan’s work; so avoid it; haply so you will prosper. Satan only desires to precipitate enmity and hatred between you in regard to wine and arrow-shuffling, and to bar you from the remembrance of God, and from prayer. Will you then desist? And obey God and obey the Messenger, and beware; but if you turn your backs, then know that it is only for Our Messenger to deliver the Message Manifest.” Koran, 5:90-92.

Objectives of the lesson: Pupils should be able to:

·         Recite the Koranic verses in a correct and expressive way… and to extract what the text leads to.

What do they learn?

·         Satan is the enemy of man.

·         Alcohol and gambling are among the corrupting influences.

·         God forgives whomever He wills of all his sins, except joining partners (associates) with Him.

·         Obedience to God is mandatory.

Meanings. Explanation. Signs of beauty:

·         “O ye who have believed” is a call that shows God’s love of the believers.

·         “Obey God and obey the Messenger”: an expression denoting the truthfulness of the Messenger and the necessity of obeying his orders.

Information and enrichment activities:

·         When God prohibits something, it is only because this is for man’s good.

·         Go to the computer room in the school and collect Koranic verses that denote whatever God, may He be exalted, has made illicit, and post it on the school’s wall magazine.

Comment: This offers a clear message about “obedience to God and His Messenger” as the basis of human relations--the founding ideas of a theocratic state. In addition, there are direct hints about the associators, which allow some teachers to mock Christian belief in the Trinity.

“Manners--Duty of the Group”[28]
What do we learn in this lesson? Following God’s orders and avoiding his prohibitions.

God has gifted Man with the blessing of his mind, to use it for distinguishing between what is useful and harmful, and to follow God’s orders and avoid his prohibitions… for liberty is not absolute but bound in such a way as not to deviate from God’s course and not to harm others.

In this noble hadith, the Messenger deals with this issue: al-Nu’man bin Bishr related that the Prophet said: “There are people who do not transgress the limits (laws) of God the Highest, and there are others who do so. They are like two groups who boarded a ship; one of them settled on the upper deck, and the other on the lower deck of the ship. When the people of the lower deck needed water, they said, “Why should we cause trouble to the people of the upper deck when we can have plenty of water by making a hole in our deck.” Now, if the people of the upper deck do not prevent this group from such foolishness, all of them will perish; but if they stop them, they will be saved.” Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 3 [2313].

Meanings. Explanation regarding those who obey God’s orders and avoid His prohibitions, and the group’s duty in taking firm action against others (who do not follow).

Signs of beauty. Exercises: What is meant by God’s “limits/punishments” (hudud)? [There are five hudud in Islamic law, which can lead to stoning, amputation, crucifixion, or flagellation].

Comment: The lesson prioritizes obedience to God’s laws, according to Islam, as the major duty of community.

“Woman Is Half the Society--For Men What They Earn. For Women What They Earn”[29]
By way of appreciation of woman’s position in society, Islam kept her dignity and preserved her identity and invited men to be fair to her by giving her the rights that God the Most High has ordained for her, such as dowry, inheritance, and good company. The following verses regulate the relationship between man and woman, and clarify the rights of each from the other, and show the right way to obtain God’s favor for His worshipers.

The most High said, “O believers, consume not your goods between you in vanity, except there be trading, by your agreeing together. And kill not one another. Surely God is compassionate to you. But whosoever does that in transgression and wrongfully, him We shall certainly roast at a Fire; and that for God is an easy matter. If you avoid the heinous sins that are forbidden you, We will acquit you of your evil deeds, and admit you by the gate of honor. Do not covet that whereby God in bounty has preferred one of you above another. To the men a share from what they have earned, and to the women a share from what they have earned. And ask God of His bounty; God knows everything. To everyone We have appointed heirs of that which parents and kinsmen leave, and those with whom you have sworn compact. So give to them their share; God is witness over everything.” Koran, 4:29-33.

Meanings of words and compositions. Explanation. Signs of beauty. Exercises.

Comment: Treatment and inequality of women in Islamic states is both controversial and relevant in Egyptian society. The lesson, however, imposes a view and does not allow students to raise openly concerns about Islamic law.


There is nothing wrong in principle with exposing Christian students to Islamic texts. However, Islamic indoctrination combined with the failure to mention Christian beliefs implies the inferiority of the latter. Non-Muslim students are subjected not only to a simple campaign of soft proselytizing but also to coercive pressures. Christian students are left with few options. If they argue their conscience, then they fail and may be accused--along with their families--of “deriding religions,” which under the Egyptian penal code is punishable by up to five years imprisonment.[30] They may also regurgitate by rote their teachers’ statements, in which case they are taught to engage in dissimulation and hypocrisy. Or, they may internalize in submission what is taught as consistent with their own dhimmitude (subjugated religious minority status).

In discussions with some Coptic youth about the need to better integrate into the national community,
[31] one high school student confessed that he “hated Islam and Muslims.” He felt deep guilt because of such sentiments but justified them by his being “besieged” by Islam at school, at home (due to the loudspeakers of the adjacent mosque), on television, and on the street. He would escape to church to “maintain sanity.” For some Coptic Christians who take refuge in the church and thus emphasize the primacy of sectarian identity in Egypt, there has even been an Islamization of thinking that manifests itself in concern for the appearance rather than the essence of religion, and a tendency for youth to approach clergy for opinions akin to their Muslim counterparts’ requests for fatwas (religious edicts), which obviate the need for their own personal exegesis.

The effect of the Arabic curriculum on Christians is a clear infringement on their rights according to the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious, and Linguistic Minorities and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The impact on Muslim youth is no less important. The Arabic curriculum warns Muslims against befriending “followers of other religions.” They are not taught anything related to their non-Muslim compatriots with only rare exceptions, such as the U.K.-based organ transplant surgeon Sir Magdi Yacoub, whom the third-grade curriculum mentions, or a passing mention of “Coptic civilization” in a fifth grade lesson on tourism. Furthermore, Muslim pupils are taught that they alone belong to “the most noble nation brought to the worlds,” effectively giving them a right to master and dominate the rest of humanity, and preparing them to become obedient “soldiers” in the service of religious fascism. It is no surprise then to find new generations more intolerant and extremist than their parents and more willing to support militant Islamism.

The use of religion in language instruction is not in the long-term interests of the Egyptian state. The issue need not divide Egyptians by religion. Many secular Muslims and those who prefer that the state remain aloof from religious matters object to the mixing of religion and education.

In January 2008, Watani weekly sent the original study on which this article is based to the prime minister, the minister of education, the speaker of the Egyptian People’s Assembly and its education committee, and the National Council of Human Rights. These institutions have remained silent and did not acknowledge the problem during a major conference on the future of education, which President Husni Mubarak convened in May 2008.

It is ironic that Egyptian officials, who do not hesitate to flout Egypt’s contractual obligations to the international conventions or to raise publicly issues relating to Muslim minorities in Europe, would dismiss any questions regarding the Islamization of the Egyptian education system as undue interference in Egyptian domestic affairs.

Egypt is in need of a major educational overhaul. Youth should be educated in the domain of civic duty in which all men and women are treated as equal citizens, keeping the divisive factors of religion outside the secular classrooms. They should be taught the skills of rational and creative thinking and of discovering that one’s dignity is based on one’s intellectual contributions and goodness of character, rather than on the religious group into which they were born.


*Adel Guindy is a senior editor of the Cairo Coptic weekly Watani. This article is based upon the author’s study “Al-fashiyya al-Diniyya wa Talbanat al-Ta’lim al-Masri” [“Religious Fascism and the Talibanization of Egyptian Education”], published in Watani, December 2007/January 2008. 








 Official Egyptian census figures count Coptic Christians as six percent of the population. Using baptism records, the Coptic Church estimates the figure to be 12 million. The CIA 2008 World Fact Book sates that ten percent of Egypt’s population is Christian.



 See, for example, “Al-Dastur al-Akhlaqi lil-Koran” [“The Moral Constitution of the Koran”], Al-Ahram (Cairo), December 22, 2007 or “Asrar al- Koran” [“Secrets of the Koran”] weekly articles.



 See, for example, “Al-Dastur al-Akhlaqi lil-Koran” [The Moral Constitution of the Koran], Al-Ahram (Cairo), December 22, 2007, or “Asrar al- Koran” [“Secrets of the Koran] weekly articles.



 Education Law #139/1981, Article 6-2.



 Author’s interviews with mother and child, October 2007; it was this incident that led to the study on which this article is based.



 Farouk Shousha, the Secretary General of the Arabic Language Academy lamented the serious deterioration in the level of Arabic among the graduates, saying, “it has become an issue of national security,”



 All translations from Egyptian curriculum are by author. Translations of hadiths were taken from Islamic sources unless otherwise noted as author’s translation. Translation of Koranic verses taken from A.J. Arberry (ed.), The Koran Interpreted: A Translation (New York: Touchstone, 1996). In all cases, traditional religious blessings (salawat) such as “May God pray upon him and give him peace” that appear in the original version each time Muhammad is referred to have been removed for readability.



 Author’s translation. Primary school, Grade 2: Unit, “My Environment Is Clean”--Lesson 3, “Plant a Tree.”



 Primary school, Grade 2: Unit, “Animals and Birds”--Lesson 3, “The Vain Peacock.”



 Primary school, Grade 3: Unit, “Situations and Manners”--Lesson 6, “On the Road.”



 Primary school, Grade 4: Unit, “Professions in Olden Days”--Lesson 1, “Professions and Industries in Pharaonic Egypt.”



 Primary school, Grade 6: Unit, “Our Society”--Lesson 3, “Work Proficiency.” Hadith translated by author.



 Primary school, Grade 4: Unit, “You and Your Friend”--Lesson 1, “Friendship.”



 Junior high, Grade 1: Unit, “Loving the Homeland”--Lesson 1, “My Homeland, the Cradle of Heavenly Messages.”



 Junior high, Grade 1: Unit, “Loving the Homeland”--Lesson 3, “The Way to Strength and Success.”



 Junior high, Grade 1: Unit, “Responsibility Means Rights and Duties”--Lesson 2, “Mary the Copt.”



 Junior high, Grade 2: Unit, “Man and Future”--Lesson 2, “Upbringing (Education) for the Future.”



 Junior high, Grade 3: Unit, “Life Is Relations and Bonds”--Lesson 1, “The Compensation of Laborers.”



 Primary school, Grade 6: General exercises on Unit 1



 Junior high, Grade 1: Unit, “Social Behavior”--Lesson 1, “Dealing with Rumors.”



 Primary school, Grade 6: Unit, “Heroic Deeds”--Lesson 5, “The Martyr.”



 Junior high, Grade 2: Unit, “Man and Future”--Lesson 1, “He Creates Whatever He Wishes.”



 Junior high, Grade 2: Unit, “Peace Is Man’s Hope”--Lesson 4, “Oh, Quds! [Jerusalem].”



 Junior high, Grade 3: Unit, “My Homeland, Glory, and History”--Lesson 1, “Our Glories Between Past and Present.”



 Primary school, Grade 3: Unit, “Situations and Manners” Lesson 4, “Class Leader.”



 Primary school, Grade 6: Unit, “Our Society”--Lesson 5, “Obeying Those in Authority, and Society’s Security.”



 Primary school, Grade 6: Unit, “My Health”--Lesson 7, “Obedience to God Is a Duty.”



 Junior high, Grade 1: Unit, “Manners”--Lesson 2, “Duty of the Group.”



 Junior high, Grade 3: Unit, “Woman Is Half the Society”--Lesson 1, “For Men What They Earn. For Women What They Earn.”



 Article 98-F, Penal Code, Law 106/1971.



 Author’s interviews, Cairo, November 2007.




Adel Guindy is a senior editor of the Cairo Coptic weekly Watani. This article is based upon the author’s study “Al-fashiyya al-Diniyya wa Talbanat al-Ta’lim al-Masri” [“Religious Fascism and the Talibanization of Egyptian Education”], published in Watani, December 2007/January 2008.

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