Students returned to schools in parts of northern Iraq ruled by Islamic State militants to find lessons including history, geography and literature are off the timetable.
The al-Qaeda breakaway group has ordered schools to open in the territory under its control, and issued a ban on most subjects except religious studies, according to a letter sent to the local education ministry office in Mosul.
A replacement curriculum would soon be provided by the group, the letter said, while the phrase “the Republic of Iraq or Syria wherever found or seen should be replaced with Islamic State” in existing text books.
The move reflects the group’s efforts to entrench itself in parts of Iraq and neighboring Syria, where it declared a so-called Islamic caliphate. In the Syrian city of Raqqah on the banks of the Euphrates River, residents and human rights observers say the militants have stoned women to death for adultery and reported that the markets have been flooded with black cloaks for girls as young as 6 years old.
The militants have “threatened to punish any teacher who refuses to go to school,” said Maha al-Azzawi, 33, who teaches math and Arabic at an elementary school in Mosul. “It’s 2014 but I feel we went back 14 centuries.”
Before the fighting there were 850,000 students in Nineveh province attending 2,450 schools, according to Yasser al-Ebadi, an official in the Nineveh Education Department. Thousands fled to Kurdish-controlled regions in the wake of Islamic State’s advance, many of them belonging to Christian and Yezidi minorities.
“95 percent of schools are under Islamic State control,” said al-Ebadi by phone from Mosul. Classrooms have been segregated, with only women allowed to teach girls, he said. Islamic State officials say they have their own printing machines and will distribute books that will “focus on Islamic education, sharia and Islamic jurisprudence,” said al-Ebadi. None have been delivered yet.
Nour al-Nuaimi, 27, in her final year of studying to be a nurse, said she tried to escape from Mosul to pursue her education in Kirkuk, 40 miles away from the city, and under Kurdish control. She said that after passing several Islamic State check-points she was turned back by the first Kurdish Peshmerga forces she encountered.
“I feel like my future is ruined,” she said by phone from Mosul.
Another student, who asked to identified as Abu Iraq for security reasons, said that militants had closed down the law college he attended, saying that conventional legal practices would no longer be tolerated “in a state ruled by Islamic Sharia law.”
The strictures imposed by militants on Mosul’s young are creating a backlash, according to Dalya Al-Barzanchi, 21, a student at Mosul University.
“At first, when Islamic State captured the city, a third of Mosul’s residents welcomed them, thinking they were rebels against an unjust government,” said Al-Barzanchi by phone from the city. “Now I can tell you, 98 percent of Mosul wants them kicked out of the city as soon as possible.”