Suha Oda – Yalla – Mosul
A lecturer pushes her hands deep into her coat pockets, trying to repel the bitter cold as she walks between the model of the human digestive system and the skeleton hanging in the corner. The stark white walls of the classroom are dull, the only light spilling in from a metre square window – covered so the few female students, outnumbered by vacant chairs, can lift their veils to study. Outside, armed members of the Hisba (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s [ISIL] morality police) are wandering the corridors of the faculties and the classrooms. This is how Shadia, a lecturer in a medical faculty in Mosul, describes the situation in her classroom.
Yalla has spent the last two weeks speaking with women working in education in Mosul, in an effort to shed light on their situation. Shadia Wrya (not her real name) bravely agreed to talk to us via Skype, which despite a patchy internet connection remains the most reliable way to contact residents of Iraq’s second largest city.
Fights and affiliations in the classroom
Shadia said, “I have to be in the class at nine every morning, Daesh [ISIL] force me to work and I have not received my salary since last year.”
Shadia has twenty female students in her class, some of whom use studying as an escape from the boredom and monotony in homes beset by hunger and extreme poverty, and in constant fear of death – either from international coalition missiles or at the hands of ISIL militants. Others attend believing that life is good, and ISIL does not prohibit women from studying. Those whose fathers belong to ISIL arrive in the mornings with full stomachs, having come from warm homes. For the majority, however, the reality is that fuel for heating has been in extremely short supply since the start of the harsh winter.
The lecturer described the situation. “Ideological differences amongst the students cause disputes daily, which often require mine and the management’s intervention to settle.
“One day some of them said ‘Allah help us’. They were challenged, beaten and described as infidels, as this prayer means they hope for the demise of the ‘caliphate’.”
Syrians and Jordanians teach ‘Aqidah’ classes
Shadia continued, “The cost of travelling between home and the faculty is my biggest daily challenge, besides accessing the entrance of the faculty without the Daesh guard complaining about my clothing. We secretly call the entrance the Rafah Crossing.” [A notoriously difficult border between Egypt and Israel.]
“The guard once refused me entry because my bag was colourful, and another time because my shoes made a noise and nearly arrested me when I raised my voice in disapproval. He settled on ejecting me and I returned home crying.”
The ISIL information centre hangs hundreds of posters around the streets of the city and inside the university. Some posters are of women wearing the black niqab, titled “Your respectful clothing is your paradise.” Others warn men against wearing jeans, instead insisting roomy trousers should be worn, attention paid to growing a beard, and to refrain from staring.
The medical faculty is the only university department open to women under ISIL rule. In response to the large number of absentees, ISIL has closed many other departments at the University of Mosul, and prohibits the attendance of girls in the faculties of engineering. The group has reduced the length of study for pharmacy and dentistry to three years, and four years for general medicine.
The Education Bureau has not changed the medical curriculum aside from adding the subject of “al-Aqidah,” of which Yalla has received an electronic copy. The topics of the subject focus on opposing the ideas of “Democracy, Patriotism, Equality Between Men and Women, and Secularism.” Additionally, it classifies Ba’ath party members as infidels, as they are considered the reason behind “the undoing of Islamic religious foundations and are against its teachings.”
Shadia said, “The female students receive al-Aqidah lessons once a week for two hours, taught by teachers of Jordanian and Syrian nationality.”
Recent coalition bombing raids have heavily damaged the Faculty of Dentistry Medicine, store rooms at the Technical Institute and the Agricultural Faculty. The same raids have resulted in the deaths of ten students, three of whom were women.
The teachers of Mosul say ‘No’ to ISIL
The situation inside primary and secondary schools is not dissimilar, teachers continuing to work despite the Iraqi Government holding back their salaries as “compulsory savings”. The ISIL Education Bureau makes monthly visits to schools, instilling fear in students and teachers alike.
Riya is head teacher at a school for young girls. She is married and has four daughters who have not accessed formal education since ISIL took over the city in June 2014. She said, “I objected to the curriculum presented to the students, and as a result I received a vicious threat from the father of one of them the next day.”
ISIL killed Ashwaq al-Naimi, a teacher at al-Zohor Preparatory School, last month for inciting students against studying the ISIL curriculum.
The group abolished fees at the beginning of last September, in an effort to attract children whose families had withheld them from school. “We have only forty students in a school for three hundred, despite this ISIL forces us to open,” revealed the head teacher. ISIL recently distributed a questionnaire, asking if staff wished to continue teaching. When 80% of respondents answered “no”, the survey was cancelled.
“The teachers were not afraid to answer ‘no’ because the questionnaire was anonymous. This, in my opinion, is a form of resistance even if it appears cautious.”
“Fiqh al-Shariah” allows the circumcision of females:
Fiqh al-Shariah is an ISIL book published for girls’ high schools. Boys’ high schools place an emphasis on physical education in its place. Fiqh al-Shariah focusses on verses of the Qur’an and Hadiths related to female purity and menstruation, and condones female circumcision.
School principal Riya told Yalla, “The ideas of Fiqh al-Shariah intersect with the Islamic materials belonging to the Iraqi Ministry of Education because they both depict reproduction as the main purpose of the existence of women.”
The image of the women does not differ at any stage of ISIL educational materials. If you should read ‘al-Qira’a,’ for the early stages of primary schools, women are pictured wearing niqab inside houses surrounded by children, and stand behind the man ‘al-Mujahid.’ with his weapon and beard.