Iraq’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research is attempting to bridge the gap between Sunnis and Shi’ites in the country by amending history courses in its universities by calling for a new government article.
The article named “Ahl al-Bayt,” or “the members of the household,” in reference to the Prophet Mohammed’s (pbuh) family members, the Iraqi TV channel Al-Sumaria News reported on its website on Wednesday.
Family members of the prophet are highly revered by both sects; however the two sects differ in their perception on the roles they played.
The new article will make for a more balanced history education, swaying its content away from traditional Sunni perceptions of history that have long-dominated the country. Most Shi’ites in Iraq say that they have long been marginalized in the country where they are the majority but ruled under Sunni governance.
The text sets to also emphasize the understanding of the “twelve imams” and urges the topic to be studied further. Iraq’s Shi’ites, who make at least 60 percent of the population, believe in twelve spiritual and political imams who were successors to the Prophet Mohammed.
The main difference between Shi’ites and Sunnis, is that the former does not believe in the rule of the three caliphs that governed after the prophet’s death and that Ali – the fourth caliphate for the Sunnis ̶ was the one who should have ruled. For Shi’ites, a ruler should be from the prophet’s offspring while Sunnis do not see it as necessary, and Ali was cousin and son-in-law of the prophet.
“Ahl al-Bayt” will also seek to change popular stances on the Umawi and Abbasside dynasties, whom Shi’ites rejected as rulers, as well as providing further education on the Caliphate of Imam al-Hassan, grandchild of the prophet and the son of Ali.
Unlike previous attempts – which had seemingly failed ̶ to influence Iraq’s education, the new article is considered to encourage a reconciliation between the two sects and will attempt to create a common ground between the both perceptions of the “true” rulers of Islam.
However, the drawback of the new article is that it may not be uniform to all universities in Iraq. Both The University of Technology and Nahrain University in Iraq do not have to apply the changes in their history curriculum, according to the ministry.
After the toppling of the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussain in 2003, sectarian differences have exacerbated, and some universities were more “Sunni” or “Shi’ite” than others.