Accessibility links

Yemen Universities Ordered to Adopt Moderate Curriculum - 2002-01-16

Yemen's government has ordered all religious institutions in the country to adopt a moderate curriculum as it tries to curtail extremist Islamic fundamentalism.

Yemen's cabinet ruling will affect state run universities and dozens of private institutions and schools that teach a strict fundamentalist interpretation of Islam.

The goal of the government, according to published reports, is to create a generation of citizens that is not extremist or prone to violence.

The order came after the U.S. embassy in Yemen announced this week it is temporarily halting consular services because of what the State Department described as "a credible terrorist threat to U.S. interests in Yemen."

The United States has been concerned about security threats in Yemen, where an October 2000 attack on the destroyer USS Cole killed 17 sailors. The United States blames the attack on al-Qaida, the terrorist group led by Osama Bin Laden and believed to be responsible for the September terrorist attacks against the United States.

U.S. officials say they believe that elements of al-Qaida are in Yemen, however Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has said there is no al-Qaida presence.

Universities in Yemen were ordered to immediately begin adopting the moderate curriculum of Egypt's al-Azhar University, the foremost Islamic authority in the Sunni Muslim world. The Egyptian university condemned the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States and held several gatherings to explain that Islam does not condone violent acts.

Abdullah el-Ashaal is an expert on Arab affairs with the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, a research center for Arab studies in such areas as politics, economics and religion. He applauds the Yemeni decision, but warns it could trigger further acts of terrorism if the public believes it was the result of pressure from the United States.

"I am afraid this step may be interpreted outside and inside Yemen in a different way," said Mr. el-Ashaal. "Especially because in the American press we have some impressions that the United States wants to impose a certain type of Islam on the Moslems and this may push them to the corner and, in this case, I am afraid a new kind of extremist, motivated mainly by political models, may be created in the future."

The reform of education in Yemen began a year ago. Hundreds of government schools previously teaching a fundamentalist education program to 500,000 students were brought into the mainstream curriculum.

Milad Hanna is a religious expert with the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. He thinks the government's decision, which he calls courageous, was made without U.S. pressure.

"I think this piece of news shows, very clearly, that they are a very sensible government," said Mr. Hanna. "They are not making it under pretense or under pressure of the American government, but they are convinced that the survival of the third millennium needs a moderate religion, which people are accepting."

According to Mr. Hanna, Yemen's decision could influence how other Arab states deal with the issue of Islamic fundamentalist teachings.