Discrimination and Intolerance in Iran's Textbooks
|Publication Date||27 March 2008|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Discrimination and Intolerance in Iran's Textbooks, 27 March 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/484901281a.html [accessed 19 November 2017]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
The government of Iran is teaching the country's children to discriminate against women and minorities, to view non-Muslims with suspicion if not contempt, and to perpetuate the regime's theocratic ideology. Discrimination and intolerance are deeply ingrained in the textbooks that make up the core of Iran's school curriculum. The country's textbooks systematically denigrate the importance of women as individuals, largely neglect minority groups or fail to acknowledge them entirely, propagate Shi'ite egocentrism, and encourage hostility toward non-Muslim countries. The textbooks present a particular interpretation of Shi'a Islam as the basis of Iran's political order and adopt this interpretation as their ideological foundation. They often describe this political order as "sacred" and warn that criticism of the regime constitutes opposition to divine "will."
Discrimination and intolerance appear consistently throughout Iran's textbooks, across the range of subjects in the core curriculum. They are neither accidental nor sporadic. They are values the regime deliberately seeks to instill in the country's school children.
The values propagated in the textbooks are shaping the way the next generation of Iranian citizens will view the outside world and the majority of the country's population who are not Shi'a Muslim males. The textbooks stress the dichotomy between Iran and its declared enemies and promote antagonism toward the non-Muslim world, extending beyond the United States and Israel to include Europe and Russia. They also disparage the diversity of Iranian society, in which almost half the citizens come from an ethnic or religious minority and women have made significant strides forward (women have, for example, begun to attend university in greater numbers than men).
This report is based on a detailed assessment of 95 compulsory school textbooks (published in 2006 and 2007) covering the sciences, humanities, and religious subjects from Grades 1 to 11, totaling some 11,000 pages. It was conducted by a team of native Farsi speakers led by a well-known expert on Iran's education system. This assessment included a statistical analysis of 3,115 textbook images, a content analysis of 412 lessons in the Farsi textbooks in all grades, and a qualitative analysis of the 95 textbooks to evaluate all forms of discrimination.
Gender discrimination permeates Iran's textbooks. Women are accorded little importance as individuals, and their contributions to society outside the home are largely ignored. This attitude toward women is justified in the textbooks through numerous references to the Koran and the lives of prophets and Imams.
- Females are consistently shown wearing hejab (headscarves), even when they are free – by Islam's standards – to appear without. Girls younger than nine years old are shown with hejab, as are women in the privacy of their own homes. The textbooks even go so far as to depict doves wearing headscarves.
- Women are not presented as independent individuals. Rather, they are a man's wife, mother, sister, or daughter. A reference to Ayatollah Khomeini's childhood, for example, mentions his father by name but omits the name of his mother and aunt. (Grade 8 Farsi textbook, p. 6)
- While women are allowed to work outside the home, such work is considered secondary to their primary roles as mothers and spouses. For example, "A mother whose husband earns sufficient income cannot say, 'My job demands that I leave my child at the day care center every day,' and, in this way deprive her child from her constant love and attention." (Grade 10 Religion and Life textbook, p. 177)
- Despite the prominence of Iranian women in literature, filmmaking, painting, and other visual arts, very few female writers and artists are featured in the textbooks and their creativity is not recognized. In the Farsi textbooks reviewed by Freedom House, male authors appear 10 times more than female authors do.
- The statistical analysis of 3,115 images from all textbooks illustrates that women are only present in 21 percent of the images related to professional environments. In contrast, women are depicted in 77 percent of the images related to family, maternal responsibilities, and housekeeping.
Religious and Ethnic Minorities
The textbooks devote little attention to minority cultures, traditions, languages, or issues. While there is no direct hostility toward officially recognized religious and ethnic minorities, the textbooks constantly refer to Iranian society as a Persian-Islamic identity comprised of Muslim (Shi'a) people and thus fail to acknowledge Iranians of other religions or ethnic groups. The textbooks also express suspicion of ethnic minorities and denigrate certain religious beliefs.
- Religious Minorities: Sunnis, Zoroastrians, Christians (Armenians and Assyrians), and Jews are officially recognized minorities. The textbooks refer to these religions and their prophets with respect but elsewhere tend to overlook Iran's religious diversity: "In certain parts of the country, some families may face difficulties due to floods or earthquakes. In such cases, our country's Muslim people rush to assist those afflicted." (Grade 6 Social Studies textbook, p. 50)
- "Hidden" Minorities: The textbooks refer to the Baha'i religion as a "false sect" and accuse Baha'is of being tools of foreign powers. Followers of Sufism, a form of mysticism related to specific branches of Islam (Shi'a or Sunni), are not even mentioned at all. The textbooks call persons who do not follow a specific religion or sect "kafar" or "a person who denies the existence of God or creates rivals or partners for God or does not accept the mission of the prophets." (Grade 7 Religious Studies textbook, p. 83) In other instances, a person who blasphemes can be "nadjes" (impure) and an example of "nedjasat" or things considered intrinsically impure, such as human excrement, animal corpses, pigs, alcohol, etc.
- Ethnic Minorities: The textbooks recognize the languages and regions where certain nationally recognized ethnic minorities reside (Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, and Baluchistan). In several instances, however, they mention the dangers of separatist tendencies of ethnic minority groups and portray the efforts of these groups to gain autonomy as threats to the Iranian state.
Regional and Global Outlook
The textbooks portray the Islamic Republic of Iran as the protector of the region's Islamic movements and the rights of Palestinians and as the model of government for other Islamic nations. They ask the region's Muslims to unite and be a part of the community of Muslims (ommat). The textbooks also stress the need to prevent the expansion of Western influence on Muslims in the political, cultural, and economic arenas.
- Iran and the West: The textbooks criticize the West (Europe, North America, and Russia) from four main angles: (1) Europe and the United States are portrayed as enemies of Iran's political independence; (2) the West conspires against the current Islamic regime and against Islamist movements generally; (3) colonial rule by Europeans was unjust to the Islamic countries of the Middle East, and the interests of Islamic countries conflict with those of Western countries; and (4) the Islamist discourse of the textbooks expresses opposition to the West as the birthplace of modern society and sees a clash of civilizations between the West and the Islamic world.
- The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: The textbooks view Israel as an "enemy" of Islamic countries and Muslims and an "agent" of the U.S. and other Western countries. In the textbooks, Israel is "The Regime Occupying the Holy Land," its land is "Occupied Palestine," and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the most important concern of Islamic countries. For example, "God willing, the day will come when Muslims will all be united and free Palestine and rescue the Holy Land from the clutches of the enemies of Islam." (Grade 3 Social Studies textbook, p. 57)
- Iran and the Region: All countries in the region share a common Islamic identity and civilization and are encouraged to create linkages to strengthen themselves against the West (or "foreigners"). The textbooks criticize countries in the region that act as Western allies and are not in harmony with the Islamic Republic's anti-Western stance. In their view, the region's most important problem is the clash between Muslims and the Western countries that support Israel.
- Attitudes towards Neighboring Countries: Iran has an amicable attitude toward its neighbors, with the exception of Russia and Iraq. Russia is said to have repeatedly interfered in Iran's affairs throughout history, especially with respect to Iran's communist party, Toudeh. Concerning Iraq, the textbooks highlight Saddam Hussein's dependence on the West or the "superpowers," which perpetuated its eight-year war with Iran.
Intolerance and Shi'ite Egocentrism
The textbooks present Iran's Islamic Republic as a sacred regime that has come into existence as a result of God's will and is built upon the traditions of the Prophet of Islam and the Shi'ite imams. Because it is sacred, this regime cannot be criticized. The textbooks perpetuate a dichotomy between the "self" and the "other," for instance between Iran and its enemies, between the godly and the infidel, or between the truly pious and the monafegh (the hypocrite), and this dichotomy fuels antagonism toward groups or individuals who are different.
- Islam is presented as the exclusive religion of social justice and the defender of the poor and oppressed (mahroum) both in Iran and abroad. The textbooks praise poverty as a social virtue and repeatedly discuss the simple lifestyles of important religious, political, cultural, and scientific figures. "Einstein led a simple life and did not pay much attention to the clothes he wore." (Grade 6 Farsi textbook, p. 171)
- The citizen portrayed in the textbooks abandons his/her personal autonomy to be part of a larger group that comprises the religious society, family, village or city, nation, and Islamic community.
- According to the textbooks, jihad (holy war) is a Muslim's duty but is not a sign of violence in Islamic culture and thought. Rather, jihad is more a reaction against violence. "... Perhaps you will ask, then why does jihad exist? What purpose do battles and armed warfare serve? The answer is, Islam is the religion of peace and calm and, until armed action becomes necessary, it will not issue an order for jihad. However, when it is called for, not only does Islam brook no fear of war and jihad, but it also issues orders for it to be waged and considers it a religious duty and among the best ways to worship God." (Grade 8 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 67)
- Martyrdom holds an important place in the textbooks. Martyrs are praised dating from the beginning of Islam until the present day and their sacrifice is commemorated in the textbooks as a sacred and religious act. "Heaven has eight doors through which those who are destined for heaven enter. One gate is ... for martyrs and pious people ... " (Grade 2 'Heavenly Gifts' religion studies textbook, p. 44)
Iran's textbooks aim to instill the Islamist Republic's ideology, based on religious doctrine, in Iranian youth. This ideology leads to discrimination and exclusion, giving precedence to Shi'ite men over women and minorities, belittling the individual contributions of women to society, and propagating Shi'a egocentrism. Discrimination and intolerance are neither accidental nor sporadic. They are consistent and systematic throughout the textbooks at the core of the curriculum in Iranian schools.
Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic, Iran's textbooks changed several times to include a strong Islamic discourse that perceives itself as the representative of the region's Islamic nations. This Islamic discourse claims to be the political model for the world and, with this in mind, educates and prepares the next generation for this responsibility. In other words, Iran's curriculum reflects the political system's ideal human being and society.
Textbooks play an important role in shaping and socializing students. In countries like Iran, where the government is a key actor in preparing and controlling school curricula, and where educational environments lack the freedom to criticize the textbooks' content, a student's learning will become deeply affected. Iran's political leaders have used the educational system to instill religious lessons that would educate a "cooperative" generation familiar with the dominant discourse of the Islamic Republic. Despite all the ideological changes done to the curriculum since 1979, Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, believes the textbooks contain secular content and wants a new cultural revolution.i In addition, the head of the Ministry of Education stated recently that boys and girls must have separate textbooks.ii
The purpose of the Iranian Textbook Analysis is to assess forms of discrimination and intolerance in the curriculum that targets various social groups. Other organizations that have examined Iran's textbooks have not looked at discrimination at various forms and levels. Freedom House's research includes statistical data and a qualitative and quantitative analysis of the textbooks used in 2006-2007. The analysis of the images in the textbooks from Grades 1 to 11 shows discrimination and intolerance in three main areas: 1) women; 2) ethnic and religious minorities; 3) regional and international outlook.
This analysis is divided into five broad subjects:
Chapter 1 examines the principal characteristics of Iranian textbooks and pays special attention to religious content presented in lessons.
Chapter 2 examines gender and the differences between men and women in textbook images and content, particularly as they relate to the labor market, family, education and culture, the human body, and individuality.
Chapter 3 examines the treatment of ethnic and religious minorities residing in various parts of Iran, as well as officially recognized religious minorities (Sunnis, Zoroastrians, Christians, and Jews), "hidden" minorities (Baha'is and other religions) and groups not belonging to a particular religion.
Chapter 4 examines Iran's stance toward the West, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and attitude toward neighboring countries.
Chapter 5 examines the manifestations of intolerance and Shi'a egocentrism.
The Iranian Textbook Analysis, conducted by Freedom House, represents a major step in improving understanding of the ideological and religious discourse in Iran's education system, in contrast with the universal values of human rights and democracy. This analysis highlights Iran's role of having discriminatory textbooks in blocking equality between men and women, the respect for multiculturalism, and creating peaceful international relations.
The Islamization of Iran's Educational System
Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution brought about a radical rupture to a country that had been ruled by a more or less secular system since the Constitutional Revolution of Iran in 1906. Following the 1979 Revolution, the newly-installed Islamic power quickly pursued its main objective of establishing an Islamist state by reforming major institutions such as the judicial and education systems. The discourse that dominated the first stage of the Revolution included several components: promote Islamic culture, control the influence of western culture, and create a new Muslim individual based on the desired values of an Islamic society through religious integration and socialization. This state-imposed Islamization was perceived as the necessary cultural and political framework to guarantee economic prosperity, development from within, and scientific and technical independence. These new perspectives indicate a change in the principal trends of Iran's modern education system and a reversal of the decline of traditional and religious establishments put in place during the 19th century.
Despite a rich traditional education, Iran's ancient educational institutions – maktab (elementary Koranic schools) and madresseh (higher institutions) – were unable to adapt themselves to the social, pedagogical and technical changes of modern times. In the 19th century, reformists began to speak of a new type of education, madresseh djadid (the new school), to distinguish it from the old school. This new school was at the center of Iran's modern discourse and became an engine of progress throughout the 19th century. Its secular nature must be understood within the context of a traditional Islamic society. To be sure, accepting this secular status did not fully allow a freedom of conscience: a child born into a Muslim family was considered "Muslim" and subjected to a mandatory Islamic education. The same rule applied to Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian minorities who benefited from a religious formation in their own faith. Even though the new Iranian school was independent of religious institutions and distributed secular materials, it maintained a mandatory religious and moral education.
During the second half of the 19th century, the new school became the symbol of Iran's modernization. Historically, everything began with the arrival of European and American missionaries who, beginning in 1834, founded a network of Western schools intended for Christian minorities, but which the children of some Muslim families attendediii. The contact between Iran's intellectuals and reformists with Europe gave birth to an acute understanding of the importance of a modern education and its role in socioeconomic developments and the pursuit of studies for Iranian students in Europe. Following the creation of Dar-Alfonouniv, Iran's first modern school in 1856, local and national initiatives doubled their efforts.
The growth of the new educational system began in earnest with the Pahlavi dynasty (1925-1979) and their politics of modernization. To some, the modernization and secularization of institutions, such as the educational system, was the only path towards suppressing the religious resistance. The new government also viewed the educational system as a political project; the fusion of a linguistic unification and a coherent curriculum within the education system enabled the consolidation of a national unity and a new Iranian identity.
The significant development of Iran's modern education during the first half of the 20th century signaled the demise of its traditional education. The maktabs disappeared in the 1960s and the madressehs settled for recruiting and forming the clergy (Naraghi, 1992; Menashri, 1992). Despite this decline, the Islamic criticism of modern schools was renewed in the 1960s and 1970s. This disapproval of the educational system developed in a broader historical context, which was characterized by an increased criticism of the West and a return to religious roots. A debate on national identity ensued, searching to rehabilitate endogenous cultural resources and community values. Influenced by the Westv, the Iranian school became an easy target of these criticisms. The renewal of Islamic criticism during the 1960s brought about the foundation of a new type of religious school. While these schools (often private) followed the official curriculum, they added special religious and ethics coursesvi. A great majority of the Islamist frameworks of the Revolution were formed in these schools.
The Islamist takeover of powers following the 1979 Revolution represents an important turning point for secular schools in Iran. The new Islamic Republic rapidly began to speak of the Islamization (islami kardan) of the educational system. What is currently referred to as the Islamization of the education system was progressively imposed through diverse reforms during the revolutionary years. Iran's Cultural Revolution (1980 and 1982) bears mentioning as it played a determining role in the acceleration of ideological and religious reforms. With the events of the end of the 19th century, Islam once again gains strength at schools, as if secularism before 1979 had been an interlude.
The first steps toward Islamization were political and ideological. Teachers that opposed the Islamic Revolution were fired, certain restrictions on girls (wearing the veil) became mandatory, and a series of religious practices in schools, such as prayers and events to spread political and religious propaganda were introduced. Another major reform in 1979 was the creation of a new body, "Educational Affairs" (Omour Tarbiyati), which was responsible for instilling Islamic culture in students. By designating a political "officer" in every institution, Islamic authorities were able to control teachers and students.
The creation of an Islamic school system was promoted by the Revolution's most prominent figures, including its charismatic founder Ayatollah Khomeini. Through his prophetic discourse, Khomeini glorified Islamic education and promoted the formation of an Islamic school as a salvation to the new generation. According to him, "Raising ethical standards and purifying the mind are proven to be more important than education, teachers must be moralistic and purifiers." (Khomeini, 1982, vol. 14, p. 112)
In 1987, the Parliament adopted the "Goals and Responsibilities of the Department of Education" law, considered the most important document in instituting the major developments in Iran's education system. In a section pertaining to the details of the education system, this new law emphasized an ideological framework for schools based mainly on religious values. Shi'a Islam is presented as the religion of the state, a representation of the sacred order, and the guarantor of the religion. The most "sacred" mission of the school is to form the new Muslim man, a virtuous believer, conscientious, and engaged in the service of the Islamic society.
Importantly, the "Goals and Responsibilities of the Department of Education" law gives priority to ethical and religious development in educational and school activities. According to Article 4, in Islamic education "purification takes precedence over education." In the chapter addressing details of the education system, the first article of the orientation law emphasizes "the promotion and reinforcement of religious and spiritual foundations through teaching the principles and laws of Shi'a Islam." The second article of the 1987 law outlines 14 main objectives for the educational system, of which nine directly address religious, ideological, ethical, and political issues. The same article specifies the role the education system plays in shaping students politically and ensuring their adherence to the Islamic Revolution. The law stresses the need to build a teaching corps that would be faithful to the values of the Islamic Revolution and defined by moral Islamic virtues.
The "Goals and Responsibilities of the Department of Education" law builds an educational model atypical at the international level and a curriculum centered on religious instructions. This new curriculum represents the most pronounced example of political indoctrination within an existing educational system. The Iranian school can no longer be considered secular, but rather, it is now founded on religious beliefs and on the philosophy of a cultural identity with its eternal truths and dogmas. All ethical and moral perceptions are derived from Islam, which gives them "worth and meaning;" they are presented as timeless and unmistakable truths.
The most significant change in the school's curriculum is the renewed importance of Islamic teachings and the religious perspective given to academic knowledge. For example, the Arabic language (as the language of the Koran), which disappeared from the syllabus in the 1970s, is reintroduced. Teaching the Koran and increasing time spent on religious courses becomes another important change. In a comparative study, N. Moussapour (1999, p. 107) asserts that time spent on religious education increased after 1979: on average, 12.7 percent of school time is spent on religious teachings, compared to 9.4 percent in 1966. The most significant increase is in primary school: 17 percent in 1994, compared to 11 percent in 1966. Before the Revolution, high schools spent 5.5 percent of their time on religious education, but in 1990, that figure rose to 11 percent (Goya, 1999). However, these numbers do not take into account the religious topics present in other subjects (Farsi, History, Social Sciences, Arabic, etc.). Once this fact is taken into account, it can be estimated that 24 percent of primary and 26 percent of secondary school time is devoted to religious education (Paivandi, 2006). For example, the Farsi textbook has numerous religious lessons, including biographies of religious figures, religious topics, and historical events.
Throughout the 1980s, the complete revision of textbooks in various subjects and the meticulous selection of academic knowledge were part of an important, sweeping set of educational reforms. The "Islamization" of textbooks consisted of adapting academic knowledge to the "rules" and "values" of Shi'a Islam. Thus, geography, history, literature, civic education, social sciences, religion, and language textbooks no longer resembled those used before 1979. As Nahid (1993-1994), Shorish (1988), Yavari D'Hellencourt (1988), Mehran (1991), Taleghani (1994), Paivandi (1995, 1998, and 2006), Javanroh (1998), Heydari (2002), Meyer (1984) have stated, all textbooks, from Grade 1 to 11, follow the strict course of reinforcing the religious character in education.
The dominant, decisive role the state played in its administration guaranteed swift control and changes in the education system. Fundamental ideological reforms did not encounter any major resistance from civil society, families or teachers. The Ministry of Education took charge of developing and preparing new programs and textbooks.
Lastly, since the Revolution, a major demographic evolution can be observed alongside the political and ideological changes in Iran's curriculum. The Iranian education system continued its rapid growth begun in the 1960s and the rate of schooling continued to increase: nearly 86 percent of the population between the ages of 6 and 19 attended school in 2006, compared to 36 percent in 1966 and 59 percent in 1976 (Paivandi, 2006). Primary school attendance (6-11 year olds) reached 97 percent in 2006. A key factor in this quantitative growth is the rise of female attendance in schools. The population of girls in school has seen steady growth: 48 percent in 2006 compared to 38 percent in 1978. Likewise, since 1997, more girls obtained high school degrees (58 percent in 1998) and many of them fulfilled the difficult criteria of passing the public university's entry exam. Perhaps most important of all, is the feminization of schools in higher education: from 1998 to 2004, on average, 57 percent of seats offered by public universities were filled by women. As a result, the presence of girls has increased in the student body: in 2006, 53 percent of the student body was comprised of women compared to 28 percent in 1978. (Paivandi, 2006)
The purpose of the Iranian Textbook Analysis is to study various forms of discrimination and intolerance. This research focuses on the compulsory textbooks (2006-2007) used by the majority of Iranian students, during five years of elementary school, three years of middle school, and the first, second, and third years of high schoolvii, and examines three main areas for discrimination:
- Ethnic and Religious Minorities;
- Regional and International Outlook.
High school textbooks of specialized majors (such as those used in technical or vocational programs) and those of local and minority religious groups were not included in this study.
Our methodology used three types of analysis:
1. Statistical analysis of 3,115 pictures from all textbooks to demonstrate gender differences:
- The number of women and men in the pictures;
- The age of women and men in each picture;
- The context of each picture;
- The identity of the person in each picture in various fields;
- The location of the photograph.
2. Quantitative analysis of Farsi textbooks from Grade 1 to 11 given their importance in pedagogy:
- The identity of literary figures cited according to sex and origin;
- The contents of the text, such as the biography of a scientific or religious personality, a moral lesson, a passage on painting, a text on an Islamic holy war, a soldier dying for Islam, a text on nature, etc;
- Themes: society, culture/arts, politics, Islam, other religions, history, and science/nature;
- Fundamental values: modesty, sacrifice, tolerance, and martyrdom. This quantitative analysis includes 412 lessons of Farsi textbooks. In sum, 325 important figures are in these lessons, distinguishable based on gender, domain (social, cultural, artistic, education, economic, political), and time (antiquity, medieval, contemporary).
3. Qualitative analysis of 95 textbooks (some 11,000 pages) from Grade 1 to 11 to select relevant sections for the study of discrimination and intolerance toward "others." Analysts have kept an open and critical approach to guarantee that this analysis is objective and impartial, and have devised a detailed framework based on the objectives of the research to support the 745 selected passages from the textbooks.
Chapter 1: Principal Characteristics of Iranian Textbooks
This chapter defines important characteristics of textbooks used in the Islamic Republic. These principal characteristics will assist in gaining a better understanding of the types of discrimination and intolerance that exist in the textbooks.
The law upon which the educational system after the establishment of the Islamic Republic in Iran is based mandates a curriculum in which students' "religious education" and "purification" are given priority over training. "Religious education" and "purification" must take place within the framework of Shi'a Islamic culture and traditions. Iran's curriculum bears the responsibility for realizing this goal in addition to carrying out its religious and political agendas. Much of the research carried out on Iranian textbooks used after the 1979 Revolution notes this ideologicalviii and religious approach in the curriculum as well as in other educational activities.ix
Discussing the world from a religious perspective and perceiving social and individual experiences from the Shi'a-Islamic viewpoint are perhaps the most important characteristics of Iranian textbooks. Islam appears as a full-fledged universal, social and spiritual plan, which is not time- or place-specific and which has eternal credibility. Among its principal subjects of study, the educational system is searching for a form of dual legitimacy for its political regime. The first dimension of this legitimacy refers to the "divine" and "sacred" essence of this discourse. Its second dimension concerns the credibility and functionality of Islamic discourse in the present age.
Another characteristic that sets Iran's educational system apart is the regular intrusion of religious learning. Topics about religion, Islamic history, ethical principles, religious practices, and topics related to religious and Islamic thought are not presented only in books on religion or the Koran. The social studies, history, Farsi and sciences textbooks discuss religious, Islamic, and political-ideological issues either directly, by insinuation, or by using metaphors.
An important result of this approach is the large-scale blending of religious beliefs with scientific and secular knowledge. The "sacred" is mixed with the "profane" in the curriculum persistently. The coexistence of these two signifies a belief in the connection and unity of different fields of knowledge. One of the developmental characteristics of modern education is the independence of the natural sciences and "non-religious" fields of knowledge from religious subjects. This separation is particularly important because the methodology and epistemology of development are very different.
In Religious Studies and Koran textbooks, numerous scientific debates about geology, medicine, biology, and other natural sciences appear. The students are presented with issues related to religious knowledge and beliefs via scientific means. In an effort to prove that no chasm exists between religious and "non-religious" knowledge. "It would be difficult, perhaps, to find another book in the world in which reasoning, thought, and love of knowledge are emphasized as much as in the Koran ... " (Grade 11 Religion and Life textbook, p. 46) For example, the Grade 10 Religion and Life textbook, after providing a detailed explanation of the human body and the world surrounding us from the perspective of various sciences, quotes a passage from the Koran, "considers the interconnected world order to be God's creation." (p. 25) An organic relationship – such as that between the links of a chain – exists between "what is man-made, human science, the creative order, and eternal divine science."
The Grade 11 Religion and Life textbook contains several references to the connection between religious texts and natural sciences: "As God has said in the Koran, an important benefit of the creation of the honey bee is the production of honey. God has endowed the honey bee with special capabilities in order for it to produce this most beneficial product." (Grade 11 Religion and Life textbook, p.14) In the Grade 7 Koran textbook (p. 37), a lesson dedicated to scientific explanation of space travel concludes, "You may find it interesting to know that the Holy Koran spoke of the problem of shortage of oxygen in high altitudes and the resulting shortness of breath around 1,400 years ago."
The curriculum exists in harmony with natural sciences so long as they do not contradict religious beliefs and sacred texts. For example, textbooks are silent on the Theory of Evolution but occasionally mention the "creation of man."
On occasion, scientific textbooks (Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Mathematics) present religious issues in lessons and exercises. The following appears in the Grade 3 Mathematics textbook (p. 87): "Thirty-five people take part in the group prayer at the mosque in a small village and seven people stand in each row. How many rows do all the participants form?" In a section on homework assignments, a Social Studies textbook tells students, "In order to gain a better understanding of the concept of order, find a hadith [a saying attributed to the Prophet Mohammad] relevant to the subject at hand with the help of your teacher and parents and analyze its meaning in class." (p. 37)
Social Studies textbooks play an active role in discussing religious topics and Islamic viewpoints. The Social Studies textbooks of all grades discuss a number of social topics (e.g., family, social groups, and socialization) and political topics (e.g., various political systems) with an Islamic bent. The Grade 3 Social Studies textbook tells the story of a family's travels to cities in Iran and to religious monuments and shrines, such as, Shah-Cheragh in Shiraz, the shrine of Her Holiness Ma'soumeh in Qom, the shrine of the 8th Imam in Mashhad, and Ayatollah Khomeini's shrine near Tehran. The Grades 4 and 5 Social Studies textbooks discuss the divine prophets, the birth of Islam, the Prophet Mohammad's hejrat (flight from Mecca to Medina in 622 A.D. to escape persecution), battles fought by the Prophet (Badr, Ahad, and Khandagh), enfagh (almsgiving), the mosque, ommat (community of Muslims), the prerequisites for becoming an Islamic leader, the caliphate (exercising the authority of a caliph), be'sat (the mission of the Prophet Mohammad), revelation, vaghf (pious legacy or bequest), the people's responsibility in the Islamic society, and Khavaredj (rebellious sect of Islam's early years). In the Religious Studies textbooks of Grades 6 and 8, religious viewpoints appear strongly in discussions about family, social groups, and the ruling regime.
History textbooks analyze the transformation of human society through the lens of religion and religious movements. A consequence of this viewpoint is that opinions on historic events are formed based on their connection with religion and religious timelines. The lives of prophets such as Noah, Solomon, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad are topics in history textbooks. The curriculum interweaves historic and religious perspectives, and categorizes and appraises historic personalities and events. The transformation of the history of human society is written in the form of the constant struggle between sacred "Truth" (the message of the prophets) and the enemies of the "divine order." Religious historic personalities (prophets, imams) and clergy have a more determinant presence in the historic events covered and, as representatives of absolute and eternal "Truth," spearhead the fight against "falsehood."
Reading history from a religious approach can lead to partial and unilateral views of events. In this type of historicism, all events are simplified and linear and are placed under the heading of either black (False) or white (True). The attitude towards Iranian history reflected in the textbooks is a good example of the contradictions inherent in an ideological worldview. An example is the depiction of the Arab invasion of Iran in the beginning of Islam and the disintegration of Iran's ancient civilization. The textbooks present the historic defeat of the Sassanid Empire by Muslim Arab invaders and the end of one of the important periods of ancient Iranian civilization from a positive angle, remain silent on the subject of the resulting destruction, and consider it a form of victory for Iran. "By accepting Islam, the Iranian people, who had grown tired of injustice and suppression at the hands of the Sassanid kings and who had heard Islam's message of justice and deliverance from suppression, began a new era. Thus, a new era, known as the "Islamic era" started in Iranian history." (Grade 6 History textbook, p. 73)
This type of partial recounting exists in accounts of Iran's history of the last two centuries as well. According to history textbooks, religious personalities have always played important and positive roles in all events. From this reductionist approach, all historic defeats and failures are blamed on laypersons and the "Westernized" elements of society, and, of course, as the vigilant conscience of society, the clergy are depicted as faultless heroes in key events.
For example, one such depiction is the case of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution of 1906 and the opposition of a group of clerics to the Western orientation of the ruling regime and the emergence of modern institutions. Sheikh Fazlollah Nouri – the well-known cleric who was tried and executed because he defended the despotic regime – is depicted as the hero of constitutionalism and the defender of its authenticity in the face of "Western tendencies." "After the victory of the Constitutional Revolution, when he observed that certain Westernized individuals had gained influence in the Majles [Parliament] and within the ranks of the leaders of the revolution, Sheikh Fazlollah expressed his opposition and called for the establishment of constitutionalism based on Sharia (Islamic law). In his view, the Constitutional Revolution had deviated from its original course and the opponents of Islam were striving to replace Islamic values with Western thoughts under the guise of constitutionalism and, therefore, by accepting his proposals, constitutionalism must be Islamicized ... " Later, when he observed the growing influence of the proponents of Western thought in the Majles, he felt that there was a conspiracy to negate Islam and propagate western beliefs and culture. Therefore, he became more intransigent in his opposition and officially declared that the ratification of laws in such a parliament and system is against Sharia." (Grade 11 Contemporary Iranian History textbook, p. 68)
The history textbooks' accounts of historical events are selective. For example, they mention the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States but completely ignore the mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust in Nazi Germany under Hitler. Another example is the elimination of non-religious political forces in Iran in the period after the Constitutional Revolution (1906) and assigning negative roles to them in the course of the events of the last century.
Another book that plays an active role in discussing religious and political issues is the Farsi textbook. In these textbooks, certain subjects are connected with religious topics and the Islamic Revolution. This research conducted a separate statistical and content analysis of the Farsi textbooks from Grade 1 to 11. The results of the statistical analysis of 412 lessons show that many lessons discuss the lives of important religious figures and historical events related to various religions. As Diagram 1 shows, religion in general (God, the lives of the prophets, and religious and historical personalities) and Islamic topics appear in 38 percent of the lessons. For example, the Farsi textbooks of Grades 2 to 5, "Reading" and "Writing," have numerous passages and poems praising God and religious personalities (the Prophet of Islam, Noah, Jesus, Solomon, and the 3rd, 8th, and 12th Imams), prayer, pilgrimage, religious trips and visits, the birthday of Imam Ali (now celebrated as Father's Day in Iran), Hussein Fahmideh (a young boy "martyred" during the Iran-Iraq War – see picture below), zakat (a form of tax in Islamic Sharia for wealthy Muslims), the month of Ramadan and fasting, fetrieh (the Islamic practice of giving alms at the feast at the end of Ramadan), Eid-e Ghorban (the Islamic feast of sacrifice), Djashn-e Taklifx (Celebration of Duty), etc.
'Reading' literature textbook, Hussein Fahmideh, Grade 3, p. 48
A direct reflection of discussing religious subjects in lessons exists in the case of recognized historical and contemporary personalities. For example, the topics of 50 lessons (out of 412) on poetry, literary subjects, and classical Persian literature are about God. An additional 65 lessons discuss the Prophet of Islam, Shi'a imams and other historical and contemporary Islamic personalities, while nine lessons mention the prophets of other religions.
Diagram 1. Topics Presented in 412 Lessons in Farsi Textbooks (Grades 1 to 11)
*Some lessons contain more than one topic, therefore, the percentage adds to more than 100.
The statistics of the images demonstrate a strong and consistent presence of religious and ideological topics. Of the 3,115 images analyzed, 645 are those of well-known individuals (religious, cultural, political, social, and scientific figures). As Diagram 2 shows, most of these images depict figures from post-1900 Iranian political history and religious figures. In keeping with Islamic tradition, textbooks avoid having images of the Prophet and the imams. However, despite the fact that Shi'a law forbids displaying images of revered religious figures,xi 147 religious figures and 102 saints are depicted.
Diagram 2. The number of well-known figures in images
In providing a religious explanation of the world and perceiving social issues from the Shi'ite perspective, the textbooks do not limit themselves to the public sphere of life. At times, religious and social studies textbooks interfere in the private lives of individuals, render an opinion on them, and seek to justify coercive norms and religious rules. Religious textbooks generally explain official viewpoints on the private relations of men and women in society. This form of interference in the personal and private spheres of life is an effort to extend the application of social control – from the government – to the behavior of individuals. The Grade 8 Social Science textbook defines "norm" this way: "Some of these norms are based on religious rules. For example, all members of society are duty-bound to observe modesty and chastity in public." (p. 17)
"Usually, a boy asks a girl for her hand in marriage and it is up to her to accept his offer. This approved tradition speaks of the girl's honor, self-respect, and modesty, and is a sign that the boy should ask the question and the girl could accept or reject his proposal.... This is appropriate in order to show proper respect for the girl. Naturally and instinctively, a girl chooses as her spouse a man who seeks her out and declares his love for and loyalty to her." (Grade 11 Religion and Life textbook, p. 186)
"The Holy Koran does not accept any path other than that of chastity, humility, and control of one's carnal desires, because God, who gave man his sexual instinct, also endowed him with the capacity to have faith and the will to control himself and not sin. To facilitate the achievement of modesty and controlling one's sexual desires, the following are also recommended:
1. Valuing oneself and having self-respect;
2. Planning each day so that there will be no aimlessness and idleness;
3. Not socializing with persons who are not bound by any standards and who lack self-control;
4. Going to the mosque and participating in group prayer;
5. Controlling one's glances at those who are namahram (any persons of opposite sex, except parents, siblings, children, and spouses);
6. Attending meaningful religious functions;
7. Participating in social and cultural activities that are productive and that assist in developing one's character and abilities;
8. Avoiding provocative films, programs, and books; and
9. Exercising at regular intervals."
(Grade 11 Religion and Life textbook, p. 187)
Generally, methods and strategies used in presenting religious and ideological issues vary greatly, depending upon the students' levels of education. In Grades 1 through 5, there are many lessons on "non-religious" subjects that are about religious issues. Keeping in mind the degree of knowledge of adolescents, religious issues are not discussed in any depth, are designed to engage students only at an emotional level, and are rarely justified "ideologically." The choices of the forms of stories, narratives, and other materials compiled for presenting religious and political issues in the Farsi and Religious Studies textbooks are a reflection of such a pedagogic strategy and approach to learning. In higher grades, especially in high school, there is a decrease in the volume of religious subjects; but, conversely there is an increase in their ideological density. In other words, high school textbooks express the religious and philosophical tenets of religious subjects to the students.
Chapter 2: Women
The important sociological questions in the analysis of gender differences are: What positions do men and women occupy – and what is their prevailing image – in society? Which social roles does the educational system prepare men and women for? Becoming a man or a woman is one of the most important processes of an individual's identity and social formations. School is one of the main institutions that participate in internalizing an individual's gender from the three dimensions of knowledge, society, and the individual.
In addition to pedagogical practice and reciprocal communications, subjects studied in school are an important factor in the gender socialization processes of the young. In the educational system, students experience and internalize the images and representations related to the opposite gender through learning and group living – with a group comprised of individuals in their own age group – and contact with official school norms.
2.1. Men and Women
A form of "gender ideology" exists that is based on religious culture. The principal indicator of this "gender ideology" is the search for the presentation and justification of specific male and female behavioral models in society. These behavioral models span the various spheres of men's and women's lives, from the private to the social spheres. The existence of "gender ideology" has been noted in the research carried out in previous years on the Iranian educational system.xii The main characteristics of "gender ideology" are the following:
- Men and women are not equal. Not only is this inequality clearly reflected in the lessons' content, but it also seeks to justify it within religious frameworks. In certain cases, the textbooks decrease the density of their male-oriented and patriarchal discourse by using examples such as this: "These differences do not mean that one is intrinsically better than the other, but they exist so that men and women perform their complementary roles in family and society, on the basis of their biological and psychological characteristics and appropriate utilization of their different capabilities." (Grade 8 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 174). The legal and social equality of men and women is not mentioned in any lesson.
- Men and women have assigned gender roles in their social and private lives. Men and women are presented as two different social individuals who complement one another and have specific gender roles. Men are clearly the superior sex and women are the second sex. The selection of key personalities whose lives are discussed reflect the inclination to strengthen this gender culture: "The shared lives of Imam Ali and Her Holiness Fatima Zahra provide an interesting example of relationships in a holy, honorable, and exemplary family which serves as a model of family life. The Prophet had divided the household chores among these two; Ali was responsible for matters outside the house and Fatima was responsible for those inside. Fatima was very pleased with this division of chores and said, 'I was very happy that the responsibility of working outside the house did not fall onto me ... '" (Grade 8 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 83)
- Women are not purely traditional and limited to the house and the boundaries of family life. In comparison with the position of modern women – who have rights equal to men in all contexts – the textbooks depict a de-modernized image of women. Women are not completely separated from the traditional culture, but they have not taken on the characteristics of the emancipated women of modern society. Autonomous women are not recognized as full-fledged citizens of modern society. In other words, women are "semi-social" and "semi-modern." They can obtain educational degree, have a limited presence in the labor market, vote, and participate in social activities, but concurrently, they continue to be defined in relation with maternal and family duties. They are "overseen" by men, and an important part of their individual and social behavior is subject to cumbersome traditional norms that do not permit them to have the basic autonomy that is necessary for the manifestation of modern individuality.
2.2. Men and Women in the Images
The statistical analysis of 3,115 images reveals vast differences between the presence of men and women. As illustrated in Diagram 3, women are present only in 37 percent of the images. Almost two out of every three images are male-dominated. Women appear more in group photos and their presence in individual photos is less than half that of men.
Diagram 3: The depiction of men and women in images
The depiction of men and women varies according to each textbook subject (Table 1). Foreign language (English or Arabic) and Religious Studies textbooks contain more images of women. Conversely, the Defense Readiness and social sciences (Social Studies, History, and Geography) textbooks mostly have images of men and are the most male-dominated textbooks. The reason for these extreme differences is the subject covered in a lesson and the male and female roles in them. Among the topics in the foreign language and Religious Studies textbooks, numerous images depict students at home, in school, and in every-day life and, therefore, the differences between the presence of girls and boys are not extreme. Despite the remarkable presence of young girls and women (mainly in the roles of mother or teacher) in these books, gender separation is carried out meticulously.
Table 1. The presence of women in the images based on textbook subject
|0 women||1 woman||2-3 women||3-9 women||10 or more women|
|Foreign Language (English-Arabic)||59%||24%||13%||4%||0%|
The results of the statistical analysis also show that the presence of men and women is related to the age of the persons in the images. Women are depicted in photos with lower age groups and the number of images of women decreases considerably in photos with higher age groups, especially those over 18 years of age. Table 2 reveals that women are absent in a high percentage of the photos, especially those with an adult age group (persons 18 and up). On the other hand, more women appear in images with children or images related to adolescents under the age of 10.
Table 2. The depiction of women based on age
|Under 10 Years||Ages|
|18 & up||Adults & Children|
|10 or more Women||2%||1%||1%||9%|
Women's presence differs among various educational levels. The numbers decrease gradually from Grades 6 to 11 such that in high school textbooks, women are in only ¼ of the images (Table 3). Images of women in groups of 2 to 3 in primary school appear in classrooms and involved in educational activities of young girls inside or outside the school.
Table 3. Images of women from Grades 1 to 11
|Grades 1-5||Grades 6-8||Grades 9-11|
|10 or more women||4%||1%||1%|
The contexts of images have an impact on the level of presence of men and women. As Diagram 4 shows, the presence of women in images of work is 21 percent and of military is 7 percent. If women's absence in military environments is due to the traditional male-dominated composition of the armed forces and the rescue squads, then this is somewhat understandable. The scarcity of images of women in the work environment is a good indication of the male-dominated nature of the textbooks and their view of women's role in the economy, especially since they compensate for this absence by depicting them in family matters, maternal responsibilities and housekeeping. Women mainly appear in images showing family (77 percent) and educational institutions (46 percent). Therefore, approximately half of the 1,147 images that show women are related to family and education, while work environments appear in less than seven percent of the images.
Diagram 4. Presence of men and women in images based on topics of the lessons
Table 4 presents gender differences based on locations. Women are absent from images related to work, military, other social environments, images depicting only one person, and in portraits of historical, cultural, political, and scientific personalities, etc. (see unknown/no place). The presence of women in only 22 percent of the images related to work is a key finding of the data. Conversely, women have a stronger presence in home and neighborhood images. Images of women and girls alone are of the inside of a home and that large groups of women are in photos of religious gatherings and religious places (e.g., Friday prayer, shrines of important religious figures, and the mosque).
Table 4. The presence of women in images based on location
|0 woman||1 woman||2-3 women||3-9 women||10 or more women|
The simultaneous presence of men and women in images is relevant to understanding the extent of gender separation in all environments. As shown in Table 5, men and women are concurrently present in only 18 percent of the images. Sixty-three percent of the images depict only male subjects (men and boys) and only 19 percent of the images depict only female subjects (women and girls).
The simultaneous presence of both genders in the images is related to the age and educational phase of the persons depicted (e.g., primary school, middle school, high school). High school textbooks (in which 75 percent of the images depict only men) are much more male-dominated than primary school textbooks (in which 55 percent of the images depict only men) and the textbooks of Grades 6 through 8 (in which 67 percent of the images depict only men). The other principal statistical trends in this context are very clear: more than 59 percent of the images that depict men and women at the same time show them with children (boys or girls). The images depicting women only are related more to girls under 18 and the images depicting men only are related more to the age group over 18.
Table 5: Gender mixing in images based on the age of the subjects
|Under 10 Years||25%||13%||14%|
|Over 18 Years||20%||55%||19%|
|Adults & Children||17%||12%||59%|
The analysis of images based on the two variables of "subject" and "mixing of the two genders" confirms the statistical trend mentioned above. The concurrent presence of the two genders occurs more in images of family, social, and religious issues. Images depicting only women and girls occur mainly in connection with the subjects of family, education, daily life, and pastimes. Conversely, the separation of the two genders in images is in the official environments outside of the home, such as school and work.
Diagram 5. Gender mixing in images that depict 2 or more persons (1,925 images)
The above-mentioned differences between men and women reach their highest level in images of famous persons. The women depicted are mostly unknown persons in public settings. Well-known women in the cultural, scientific, political, and sports fields rarely appear. Among contemporary women, only Parvin E'tessami (poet), Fariba Maghsoudi (Koranic calligrapher), and Dorothea or Hudai (a German girl who converted to Islam from Christianity) are included. Images of other well-known women belong to ancient historical times [Queen of Sheba, Sumaya (the first female martyr in Islam), and Her Holiness Zeinab (the 3rd Imam's sister)].
Gender inequality is prevalent in the Farsi textbooks. What reveals this important gender inequality is the male or female gender of the writers studied in the Farsi textbooks. Female authors comprise only five percent of these lessons. As shown in Diagram 6, the number of male Iranian or foreign literary figures is 10 times higher than that of female authors. This difference is especially noticeable at the primary and middle school levels. The primary school textbooks include works by Parvin Dowlatabadi, Mehri Mahouti, Nasrin Samsami, Parvin E'tessami, Fariba Kalhor, Maryam Sharif, and Mardjan Keshavarz. Works by Simin Daneshvar, Tahereh Saffarzadeh, Moniro Ravanipour, Pouran Shari'at Razavi, Fatemeh Rake'i, Zahra Kia, and Harriet Beecher Stowe appear in high school textbooks. This low representation of women authors is in direct contradiction with the fact that, in the course of the last 20 years, Iranian women writers, poets, and artists have had an extensive presence in Iranian culture. Furthermore, the best-selling literary works are those of women authors.
Diagram 6. Author distribution in Farsi textbooks based on gender and nationality
In the 412 Farsi lessons comprising all grades, 386 cultural, scientific, political, social, and religious personalities are mentioned, and only seven percent of those are women. This significant gap proves that discriminatory attitudes towards women are a general pattern. There is little mention of women in the biographies of well-known personalities. It is as though history, literature, and society itself, are male domains and with several exceptions, everything is shaped based on a male-dominated order.
Diagram 7. The presence of women among well-known figures included in Farsi textbooks
Despite this, women are discussed in religious and political subjects, especially as religious figures. In the Farsi textbooks, the principal religious figures related to the prophet comprise the main portrayals of women. Among historical figures mentioned are Cleopatra and Tahmineh (a female figure in Persian mythology). The only contemporary, non-Iranian, cultural female figures present are Helen Keller and Marie Curie. Unknown female personalities are women who perform their roles as mother, sister, or spouse, or who are symbols of female weakness who cannot do anything other than pray to God and beseech men (e.g., the lesson entitled "Grandmother's Eyes" in the Grade 6 Farsi textbook and the lesson entitled "Athlete, not Hero" in the Grade 7 Farsi textbook).
The presence of women in textbooks is important from both the educational and sociological standpoints. The personalities presented can influence male and female students in their socialization process. In practice, the lack of contemporary female personalities who can represent the position of women in the Iranian and world society reinforces the students' education from a male cultural perspective and reproducing traditional behavioral models. In the view of those who planned these topics, this may have been the reason for this deliberate gender omission. If so, the textbooks could present interesting role models from among Iranian women personalities or Persian mythology. However, the curriculum prefers to view the world from the male perspective and impart the impression that politics, science, culture, and the arts are all the productive and creative domains of men and that women must remain, for the most part, the consumers of this male-dominated culture.
Diagram 8. The presence of well-known figures based on gender and topic
The statistical analysis of the images of women reflects a prevailing view and culture in the Iranian educational system in relation to gender issues.
In the next section, the content analysis of textbooks provides more details of this culture and view, and especially the justification provided for these gender differences. In relation to gender differences, the content analysis studied five fundamental topics: work; family; education and culture; body; and individuality.
2.3. Gender Differences in the Work Place
Textbooks do not have a fundamental opposition to women's economic activity outside the home, but they consider such activities secondary compared to their family and maternal duties. "Women, like men, have economic independence and can earn a living and accumulate property through halaal (licit activity) means and use the income or proceeds in any legitimate way." (Grade 8 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 192) However, economic activities belong more to the male world, and women can find their way to these activities only marginally and, especially, based on need. The primacy of female roles is explained thus: "Women, with their maternal love, raise the children, and men, through their work, are the family breadwinners. Unfortunately, due to incorrect cultural and social beliefs, sometimes certain unsuitable 3and inappropriate behaviors were ascribed to women that are not approved by Islam. Today, if some people do not have the necessary respect for motherhood and the role of mothers and emphasize economically rewarding work more than maternal duties, it is due to this fundamentally mistaken belief which holds that the human beings' virtue, worth, and standing in society depend upon their economic power." (Grade 8 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 175). In a lesson on the life of Marie Curie, the Polish-French physicist, the textbook reminds the students that, "Fame and the honors she received never controlled her and, in spite of her high scientific position, at home she was a good housekeeper and a kind mother." (Grade 7 Farsi textbook, p. 171)
As observed earlier, the images in the textbooks reflect this trend towards gender discrimination. Of the 1,147 images in which women are present, only in 79 cases (seven percent) are the images related to the subjects of work and profession. Furthermore, of those 79 images, only 72 depict women directly in relation with professional activities (as opposed to 360 images depicting men at work). Of course, this important difference is not treated silently. The subjects of the textbooks even explain the gender separation of roles in the work place from the social and religious standpoints.
"Usually, the father works outside the home. He has the duty to provide food, clothing, and other necessities for his wife and children. In some families the mother works outside the home, as well." (Grade 4 Social Studies textbook, pp. 112-113)
"In a tribal family, the father who is the head of the household takes care of chores such as tending the sheep, selling what the family has produced and purchasing what it needs. In such a family, the mother does many things as well. Milking the sheep; making yogurt, dough [a yogurt-based drink], and cheese from the milk; taking care of and raising the children; and cooking some of the food comprise a part of her responsibilities." (Grade 6 Social Studies textbook, p. 22)
"A mother whose husband earns sufficient income cannot say, 'My job demands that I leave my child at the day care center every day,' and, in this way deprive her child from her constant love and attention." (Grade 10 Religion and Life textbook, p. 177)
The textbooks assign four main fields of economic activity for women: education, healthcare and medicine, agriculture, and handicrafts. Work performed by women in these fields receives more attention. The girls' schools in Iran must use women teachers and Iran's healthcare and medical centers need women doctors and nurses, thus forming a gender-based ideology. In addition to these public sector fields, women have traditionally played active roles in agriculture and handicraft production. It is not accidental that the images of women working outside of these four "preferred" fields of work are never shown to students. "In the villages, women assist their husbands in agriculture, milking, and carpet weaving. In the cities too, some women work in schools, hospitals, factories or offices." (Grade 4 Social Studies textbook, p. 112)
The textbooks reflect the official policies of the Iranian work place, which has had an extremely male-dominated structure in recent decades. The results of the last three censuses conducted in Iran (1986, 1996, and 2006) show that the employment of women in various sectors of the labor market is a growing trend and that, despite the laws and the official cultural obstacles, women are gradually finding their way into the many male sectors of the labor market.xiii One important factor for the growing presence of women in the labor market is the growth in the number of young women who attain higher education.xiv In spite of this positive development, the textbooks ignore this trend, limits itself to the boundaries of an ideological and official viewpoint, and stands in opposition to the ongoing transformation in Iran.
2.4. Gender Differences in the Family
The family unit is the most important pillar of any Islamic society. Therefore, gender roles within the family unit are the subject of numerous discussions. In fact, the complete belief in the important differences between male and female roles is reflected mainly within the framework of discussions on family.
"... A husband and a wife complement one another and each must perform his or her role.... A man is his wife's husband and the father of his children and the woman is her husband's wife and the mother of her children. On this basis, man and woman have joint and specific roles." (Grade 11 Religion and Life textbook, p. 192)
"The woman's role in the household is pivotal and, if she performs this role well, the basis of the family will be strengthened and family relations cannot be broken. Now we will see what roles within the family belong to women ... within the framework of this relationship filled with love, the sexual desires of the woman and the man are satisfied and the needs of married life are met. By satisfying these desires and need, no attention will be directed towards outside the home and social corruption is decreased.... A woman imparts calmness and repose to the life of a man. With her warm nature, a woman brings happiness and joy to the home environment, makes her husband's concerns and fatigue go away, and stands by him during difficult times ... " (Grade 11 Religion and Life textbook, p. 195)
The differences between the roles of men and women are reflected in simple language. This poem in the Grade 2 Farsi textbook communicates these roles in a symbolic way (p. 53):
"The family is like a hand, of which each finger is a family member
In this hand, father is the thumb, the first finger of the hand.
Another finger – the index finger – is our mother, the lady of the house!
Another finger is our brother, who is sitting here, next to Mother
Then who is this? Another finger. Yes, that is right. She is our sister
I am the last one, the little finger."
Farsi textbook, Grade 2, p. 53
As mentioned in connection with the labor market, man is the "breadwinner" and, therefore, the "head" of the household. "Male" power has its roots – among other things – in his economic role within the household. Women, who do not have the role of "breadwinner," must have "responsibility" for matters inside the home, which are more suited to their "mentality" and "biological characteristics." A family's happiness and the "successful" upbringing of children are because of the woman's presence at home and her lack of economic activity. A woman can become the head of the household when, for any reason, a man is not present. "In most families, the father is the head of the household. He is a concerned and kind head of household and helps the family achieve its goals. The father, in consultation with the other family members, makes the decisions necessary in the course of life. In many cases, he leaves the decision-making within the household to the mother of the family and respects her views.... In some families such as the honorable families of martyrs [veterans who died in the Iran-Iraq War] and other families who are deprived of the presence of their father, the mother is the head of the household.... In such families the mother strives to carry out her maternal duties along with the paternal duties and raise children who are responsible and successful." (Grade 6 Social Science textbook, p. 47)
Students are reminded throughout all subjects of man's superior role and position as the person who possesses the main "power" in the household and who must take responsibility for guiding the other family members. The textbooks carefully observe the separation of men and women and their differences everywhere in their portrayal of the division of household chores in everyday life and in family relationships. For example, in an image in which the family is praying, the father and the son stand in front of the mother and the daughter. In other images in which family members appear side by side, gender and age hierarchies can clearly be observed. In the content of the textbooks, the fatherly (male) and the motherly (female) roles are emphasized with unprecedented scrupulousness. The father is responsible for more important tasks, activities that require higher technical abilities, and in relation with professional activities outside the home and the son plays the role of principal assistant to the father. The roles of the mother and the daughter are defined within the boundaries of day-to-day household activities.
"Imagine that your house needs to be painted.... Every member of the family takes responsibility in painting the house. Let us imagine that your father has the main responsibility for painting the building. He mixes the paint and then paints the walls with the brush. Your mother helps in moving household items and removing any stains. Your sister is responsible for spreading newspaper in appropriate locations and bringing the needed items, vessels or utensils. You will probably help clean the paint brushes for your father and help him with painting ... " (Grade 6 Social Science textbook, p. 25)
"Imam Mohammad Bagher says, 'Any wife who hands a glass of water to her husband will have gained more virtue than if she had fasted for a year.'" (Grade 11 Religion and Life textbook, p. 195)
"Perhaps you have happened to leave your town or village for a leisurely trip with your family. Sometimes you have observed that, in the course of the trip, while choosing a spot at which to stop and rest, your father asks the views of the other family members." (Grade 6 Social Science textbook, p. 34)
In several cases, men are participating in activities, which, according to the framework of the textbooks, are considered "feminine." The context is such that the reader will consider his participation an act of kindness or self-sacrifice rather than a division of family chores unrelated to gender. For example, in the Grade 6 Social Science textbook, after referring to a family in which the father and the children do not help the mother with household chores, the students are asked, "Don't you think that such a mother will soon be weak and will succumb to illness and disability? Can the members of this family claim that they are sincere and kind towards one another?" (p. 27)
2.5. Men and Women in Education and Culture
The gender differences between men and women are not as extreme in education and in culture as they are in other arenas. In fact, nowhere do the textbooks show a clear opposition to women's education or set limits on it. In the Science and Technical and Practical Training [herfeh va fan] textbooks, several photos show young girls and women partaking in scientific activities. Women's depictions in laboratory and scientific experiments in the science textbooks reduce the degree of inequality observed in other contexts.
Social Science, Grade 7, p. 47
Nevertheless, female scientific and cultural figures have a small presence in textbooks. Marie Curie, Helen Keller, and Harriet Beecher Stowe are among the few female figures discussed.
In the cultural arena, women authors and their works are briefly mentioned. In primary school textbooks some writings and poems by Parvin E'tessami, Parvin Dowlatabadi, and Fariba Kalhor appear. In the high school Farsi textbooks, works by writers Simin Daneshvar and Moniro Ravanipour are included, even though they are considered alternative intellectuals and among the cultural opposition to the regime. However, overall, women's cultural presence in subjects of study is minimal. An important part of the female culture in various fields, such as literature, filmmaking, painting, and other visual arts of Iran and the world is neglected. The widespread elimination of women's intellectual and cultural products cannot be due to lack of recognition.
The textbooks avoid the official recognition of women's creativity on a global scale purposefully and knowingly and this clear censorship cannot have a reason other than ideological and cultural purification.
2.6. The Body: The Forbidden Arena of Islamic Discourse
One of the most important parts of academic subjects related to gender differences is the way they perceive and treat the human body and the sensitive subject of "covering the body." The human body, physical beauty, and sexual desire and pleasure all fall into the forbidden area of group life and are connected with traditional modesty, public morality, and religious norms. If taking and deriving pleasure from the body are taken from out of the closed and private sphere of home into society, this can lead to the commitment of sin and impure acts and, as a result, to the spreading of what the textbooks call "moral corruption." In order to strengthen the official culture, students are encouraged to control their "carnal desires," which can threaten religious norms. "For the purpose of the survival of family and for the good of society, Islam recommends that men, women, boys, and girls not look at those who are namahram (any persons of opposite sex, except parents, siblings, children and spouses) in an inappropriate manner, because such looks can excite lust and desire and may lead to mischief, disturbance, and corruption. Islam warns girls and women that hungry and perfidious eyes may be targeting them and their family's chastity and godliness. Therefore, they should guard themselves and not show their face to namahram because adorning oneself and showing off before lustful and dirty looks will lead to the transgression of the boundaries of chastity and modesty." (Grade 8 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 82)
Sexual pleasure is not altogether negated. Much is said about respect for official norms and the observance of religious norms in a context related more to people's private lives. What the textbooks emphasize with great care is the importance of the approved behavioral model of covering women's bodies. The educational system's main message in writings and photos is quite clear: women must observe the hejab and hide themselves from the eyes of the namahram. The textbooks transfer this behavioral model – which is one of the most important norms in Islam – to the students persistently. In many of the subjects, the observance of hejab is equal in importance to Islam and being Muslim: "... When [Reza Khan, the first Pahlavi king] seized the throne, he considered religion an obstacle to the realization of his projects. One of his actions in this context was forcing women to abandon the hejab, an act which was met with resistance by the people and which led to confrontations between the people and Reza Khan's agents." (Grade 8 History class, p. 62)
Discussions about hejab and proper Islamic clothing exist at all grade levels. They become subjects of various discussions on religious philosophy. In primary school textbooks, the issue of hejab is set forth in conjunction with the "rouz-e taklif" or "Day of Duty."xv In the lesson entitled "Beautiful Day of Life," in the Grade 3 Farsi textbook (p. 95), Nikoo is a nine-year old child who – because she has reached the age of "taklif," – participates in a ceremony by the same name and is in the chador for the first time. "It was as though the stars were praying behind the moon. Nikoo said to herself, 'Do stars pray too?' She remembered the beautiful morning ceremony. She and her classmates, who were wearing white chadors and had adorned their hair with pretty flowers, looked like angels. Each of them held a lit candle in her hand. They all sang the song of the celebration of taklif together."
In upper classes, students become familiar with the religious and philosophical basis of the need to cover one's body, especially for women. By referring to other important religions, such as Judaism and Christianity, the textbooks show that in the tradition of monotheistic religions, the concept of hejab for women has enjoyed a form of historical continuity in civilizations. In the Grade 10 Religion and Life textbook (p. 145), after referring to the historical traditions of the Abrahamic faiths in regard to hejab, the students are asked, "What conclusion can be drawn from the attention given by all religions to clothing and coverage?" and "Although covering one's body or even one's hair is looked upon favorably in Christianity, certain Christian societies do not pay any attention to this subject. In your opinion, what is the cause of this?"
The Religious Studies textbooks discuss the religious and social topics on hejab for students in a direct manner: "Based on the orders of Islam, 'women must cover their body and hair from the eyes of the namahram persons and they must also avoid wearing clothes which attract the attention of namahram men.' If women are properly clothed in society, not only will this strengthen the foundations of the institution of family, but it will also preserve the value of women and prevent them from dissolution and corruption." (Grade 8 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook. p. 82)
The textbooks explain the main framework of the behavioral norms of men and women in relation with the body in this way: "A. In the beginning and before anything else, men are duty-bound to control themselves and avoid looking at namahram women and avoid committing a sin. When men carry out this duty, a significant part of the society's well-being is secured. However, if a man is not virtuous and pious and watches the namahram, this provides a prelude to larger sins. B. Like men, women are duty-bound to avoid looking at namahram, remain chaste, and avoid committing a sin. C. [Women's] use of adornments and jewelry must not be such that it attracts the attention of namahram. D. Women must observe hejab in such a way that, in addition to their hair, their collar and neck are covered as well (...) Women also have the duty to observe the following two conditions: 1. They must cover their entire body – except for their face and hands up to the wrist – from the namahram. 2. Their clothing should not be tight and provocative. If this god-given duty, like any other act, is carried out completely and precisely, it is more valuable in the eyes of God and its individual and social effects and benefits are increased and it will help that person attain a higher level of spiritual growth and knowledge. Therefore, the use of chador, which includes the last two conditions and which preserves a woman's honor and standing in society and reduces the attention of namahram to a minimum, is of utmost importance." (Grade 10 Religion and Life textbook, pp. 146 and 148)
The images in the textbooks observe this identity norm with great care. All women and even young girls are covered and no woman is without the hejab. The insistence on propagating the hejab is such that, in one of the lessons in the Grade 3 Farsi 'Reading' textbook, birds are used as an example to discuss the importance of not losing hejab (see photo).
' Reading' literature textbook, Grade 3, p. 67
Censoring the women's body and the physical separation of men and women continues even inside the family environment, to the extent that no photos exist of men and women together within the privacy of their home. These "symbolic walls" exist even in the relationships between husband and wife, father and daughter, and mother and son. There are no photos of a father or mother hugging their children, or of a man and woman holding hands. Physical contact between the opposite sexes is considered a forbidden act. For example, in the Grade 7 English textbook there is a photo of a father alone in a single bed with the following caption: "My father wakes up at 6:00 am." (p. 50)
English, Grade 7, p. 50
One of the main reasons for the lack of images of women among well-known scientific, cultural, and political figures is this taboo dimension of women's bodies. The only photo of a cultural figure is one of Parvin E'tessami (Iranian poet) whose head is covered with a scarf.
The issue of women's clothing and hiding their bodies is not just in the photos. In the texts too, a woman's body and her beauty are forbidden subjects. The lesson on the life of the Polish-French physicist, Marie Curie, "the most celebrated woman in the world of science," serves as an interesting example. Although there is no mention of Marie Curie's physical characteristics in this lesson, the following passage appears about her husband: "Pierre Curie was a tall man with an attractive face and his eyes shone with the light of purity and spoke of an inner calmness." (Grade 7 Farsi textbook, p. 170)
The textbooks discuss in detail the negative social consequences of lack of hejab from religious and moral perspectives. "He [the human being] considers himself too honorable to allow himself to be known for his body and considers his duty too important to just adorn and show off his body. In all spiritual insights, and among them, in Islam, the human being does not wear clothes just so he could show off his body but to cover his body. For him, clothes are a protective covering, like the fortress wall that keeps the body safe from theft and preserves his honor.... A human being's clothes are the flag of the country of his existence and, by wearing them, he announces which culture he follows." (Grade 9 Farsi textbook, p. 112) Not observing the hejab is a form of deviant and abnormal behavior, which threatens social unity and public morality and is the opposite of modesty. Concurrently, the freedom of clothing for women in other countries is considered a sign and an agent of social corruption. By exaggerating the religious and moral dimensions of hejab, the textbooks make what they call "not respecting hejab" appear as a Western cultural phenomenon. In the Grade 9 Farsi textbook, written by G. Haddad Adelxvi, Western civilization is accused of having made human beings "naked ... and the product of all this fashion and fabric, and so on and so forth, is the nakedness of human beings." (ibid., p. 114)
The discussion of hejab and separating the male and female environments in connection with discussion of the body as the main repository of corruption, lust, and sin is important. Overestimating the religious and moral dimensions and constant repetition of the term "sin" are significant from the educational and psychological perspectives. The textbooks propagate a culture in which a human being's body must remain the prisoner of social and religious norms. This is a prison whose guard is named "a feeling of permanent sin and shame," and, where leaving this imaginary prison can mean suffering from the "fire of hell" on the day of reckoning. The goal of the educational discourse is to have the feelings of sin and fear so internalized by girls that it melds with their spirits and characters.
With respect to the human body, the textbooks create two forms of shame within the individual. The first sin is due to lack of observance of proper clothing and showing off one's body. The second sin is related to the role that a woman's body can play in the commitment of sin by another person (a man). Religious education based on a feeling of shame and an internal fear about the body can be the most effective method of applying prohibitive social control to the most private spheres of citizens' lives and individuality in modern society. This application of prohibitive social control occurs when: the human body becomes a "taboo" and "forbidding it" has no meaning other than taking away a woman's ownership of her body, a woman who must abandon her autonomy as an individual and obey social norms.
2.7. Women's Individuality
As mentioned earlier, the textbooks avoid officially recognizing women's autonomy in society and in spite of numerous references to a woman's honor, overall, her personality is overshadowed by that of men. The Religious Studies and Social Studies textbooks address the issue of equality and the differences between men and women directly. Faced with the reality of women in the world today – which has been formed based on official recognition of the complete equality of men and women – the educational system seeks to defend its "gender ideology." For example, "Islam emphasizes respect for girls" and "Both men and women can participate in activities related to worship as well as social activities." (Grade 7 Koran textbook, p. 87) The textbooks' standard for "considering Islamic laws in the modern world as 'progressive' is to compare them with the conditions of women in the beginning of Islam: 'In the Holy Koran, paying attention to the position of women is important because Islam spoke of such realities about women at a time when they were completely different from – and at odds with – the prevailing thinking at that time.'" (ibid., p. 86)
The lack of official recognition of women's independence as individuals has legal dimension and consequences. The textbooks speak of the inequality of men and women in religious matters quite clearly. For example, "a mojtahed [highest degree of clergy's hierarchy] or judge must be a man." (Grade 6 Religious Studies textbook, p. 94) In the Islamic legal system, a woman cannot be used as a witness.
A critical fact is the absence of portrayals of a woman as a complete and independent social individual. Before having an independent personality of her own, a woman is the mother, sister, daughter or wife of a man. Her individuality is defined only in terms of her relationship with the men in her life. Most of the female personalities are presented in light of their familial relationship with men.
Important female roles lack distinction and recognition. There is no talk of well-known women in politics or history. When mentioned at all, mythological female personalities in Iranian literature are secondary to male figures. For example, when female relatives are mentioned in the midst of biographies of famous men, they remain unknown. This pattern holds true even in the case of women who, at times, have had important roles in the lives of celebrated men. However, unlike men, these women are nameless, unknown, and invisible persons with generic titles such as "mother," "sister," "daughter," and "wife."
According to the biography of Ayatollah Khomeini, "He was five months old when his father, Hadj Mustafa, was martyred at the hands of one of the tyrannical khans of Khomein and, thereafter, his kind mother and honorable aunt took responsibility for his upbringing and supervision ... " (Grade 8 Farsi textbook, p. 6) Another example is in the story of Mohammad-Ali Rajaei's life, Iran's former president: "I was only four years old when I lost my father and my mother and thirteen-year old brother became responsible for managing our lives.... My mother supported us with the small income she earned from processing cotton." (Grade 7 Farsi textbook, p. 17)
Although hundreds of male personalities are highlighted, in a few cases, references are also made to several female personalities, in the fields of science and culture (Marie Curie, Helen Keller, and Parvin E'tessami). The traditional woman steps into the modern world cautiously. She is not treated as she was in medieval times, kept in the shadows and hidden from view. Nevertheless, her personality is still not completely formed and at this juncture, it is not possible for her individuality as a modern woman to fully manifest itself.
The textbooks have a more or less coherent discourse about men and women and the social role and position of each of them in society. This discourse is based on the differences between men and women in social and family spaces. Male and female environments are meticulously separated and specific social definitions are provided for each one. The relationship between men and women is based on the "natural" and "legitimate" superiority of men, and women's presumed "inferiority." This discourse has a clearly ideological character and is connected to a political and governmental agenda. From this standpoint, the roles and positions of men and women do not receive attention as a social phenomenon in the process of transformation, but they do receive attention within the framework of religious norms and codes. The female personalities sometimes belong to the distant past and do not have much connection with the realities of the lives of today's young girls and women. Therefore, personalities who can be presented as behavioral and personal models for young girls are rarely found.
Chapter 3: Ethnic and Religious Minorities
Iran is a nation with multiple ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and religious minorities. In evaluating how the textbooks define a minority's identity and status, the textbooks analysis reveals the existence of three identities: 1) Islamic identity; 2) national identity; and 3) local identities. These three identities are in coexistence with one another. However, they do not have similar importance and place in society, and they further complicate a minority person's identity.
The Islamic identity harks back to a time when Iranians were part of a larger supranational human community. Islamism, like other ideologies, does not limit itself to the geographic boundaries of one country. Its beliefs in its supranational reach and credibility is reflected in concepts like the Islamic Community or "ommat,"xvii which goes beyond the borders of Iran and includes all the Muslims of the world. The belief is in an Islamic internationalism, the basis of which is the existence of the Islamic Community. Among other reasons, the curriculum justifies the importance of learning the Arabic language by emphasizing that it is the "lingua franca" or the "common language of the Islamic ommat." (Grade 9 Arabic textbook, p. 106)
"In addition to being a part of the Iranian nation, the Muslim people of Iran are part of the Islamic Community and must strengthen their ties with the Muslims of other countries." (Grade 4 Social Studies textbook, p. 132)
"The Hadj [annual pilgrimage to Mecca] ... provide an enormous opportunity for worshipping God and practicing one's faith. These rituals demonstrate the faith, power, glory, and unity of the greater Islamic Community." (Grade 7 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, page 101)
"Islam and the Holy Koran ... consider all the Muslim people of the world – wherever they may be and whichever language they may speak – as one community. Geographic and racial boundaries cannot separate the Muslims of the world from each other.... The invasion of one Islamic land is tantamount to the invasion of Islam itself and of the entire Islamic Community. It is incumbent upon all Muslims to liberate the invaded country from the invading enemy with all their power." (Grade 7 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, pp. 63 and 67)
"The people in the Islamic Community must take on the responsibility of putting into practice Islam's social laws – under the coherent organization of the Islamic government. They must carry out these laws with certainty and power and, in this way, provide for the security of the Islamic Community ... " (Grade 7 Social Science textbook, p. 70)
Another point that receives attention in reference to Islamic internationalism and is discussed in connection with the Islamist discourse is the vision of the establishment of a supranational and global Islamic government. This vision is raised as part of the Islamist agenda. There are many references to the universal or united government of Muslims but very little is said about the details of this political agenda. References to universal government are based partly on belief in the re-emergence of the 12th Imam, who – as believed by the Twelver Shi'ites – has been absent since 874 AD.
"During his absence, he [the 12th Imam] is the hope of the Shi'ites and the oppressed. In the hope of his re-emergence, they endeavor to lay the ground for the establishment of the universal Islamic government. Imam Zaman [the 12th Imam] is the repository of the hopes of the Muslims and the oppressed of the world." (Grade 7 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 77)
Universal Islamic identity is also set forth in the form of repetition of certain terms, which concern the community of the world's Muslims. Expressions such as "we Muslims," "Muslims of the world," "Islamic territories," "Islamic scholar," etc. are often used, but their political meaning is never explained.
After Islamic identity, national identity is emphasized as the most important identity. The textbooks establish a form of permanent connection between national identity and Islamic identity and, in many of the examples, these two identities are discussed side-by-side.
"The Iranian people share a common background. They have lived side by side and defended their religion and country for centuries." (Grade 4 Social Studies textbook, p. 129)
"The Islamic Revolution of Iran is a sign of the unity of the Iranian nation in becoming free from the suffering of the past and in reaching common goals. At this time, members of the Iranian nation have joined hands so that, through work and effort they can meet the needs of the Islamic country of Iran." (Grade 4 Social Studies textbook, p. 130)
"By accepting independence and self-respect as two important values, a person who considers himself Iranian, considers himself duty-bound to defend the country, is prepared to sacrifice his life when an enemy invades the country and is the enemy of those who ignore the country's independence ... " (Grade 9 Social Studies textbook, p. 10)
Although the regional identity is mentioned along with the Islamic and national identities, comparatively, it receives minimal attention. Officially recognized religious minorities receive specialized religious education. In addition, books on local geography exist for use in Iran's various provinces. The textbooks tell the students, "In many developed countries, such as Great Britain and France, none of the religious minorities are represented in the parliament, but in large and free Iran, all religious minorities (Armenians, Assyrians, Jews, and Zoroastrians) have one or more representatives in the Majles for the purpose of defending their people's rights." (Grade 8 Social Science textbook, p. 55)
The relationship among these three identities is ambiguous and at times contradictory. The Islamic identity is presented inconsistently and students rarely encounter objective examples of why this identity is of importance. Discussing concepts such as "Islamic Community" and the "universal government of Muslims" resembles more a form of political-religious utopia rather than a political agenda with a perspective. In contrast, national identity has a consistent and strong presence and, through many concrete examples, it becomes more tangible for the students. The identity perpetuated is a composite of "Iranian" and "Muslim" and the ambiguity concerns more the primacy of one of these two identities over the other. Concurrently, this endeavor can be considered an answer to the nationalistic ideology of the Pahlavi era, during which the Islamic identity became less important than national identity – a trend which is constantly criticized in the lessons.
3.1. Religious Minorities
Under the rule of a government that officially defines itself within the framework of a religion, the division of people based on religious beliefs becomes inescapable. The attitude toward religious identity is a precise reflection of the structural reality of Iran's official institutions and government policies. With the exception of a few groups, the textbooks officially recognize the historical existence of religious minorities in Iran.
The recognition of some of these minorities is manifested in two specific forms: 1) in certain non-religious subjects, such as History, Farsi, and Social Studies, the existence of these minorities in Iran is mentioned – and the materials are presented – in a dispersed manner. Among the images in the non-religious textbooks, several examples of minorities are seen (e.g., the photo of a church); 2) officially recognized religious minorities receive separate religious instruction and their textbooks and do not follow the schools' general program.
Regarding the followers of non-Shi'a religions, three categories of religious minorities in Iran are identified:
The first group is the large Sunnixviii minority, which, is significantly larger in population than the next group. The Sunnis' historical-religious characteristics separate them from the rest. On the one hand, the Sunni minority is concentrated in specific geographic areas (the northwestern and southeastern provinces). On the other hand, compared to the Shi'a majority, the Sunni minority has different ethnic origins (Kurdish, Baluchi, etc.).
As an officially-recognized minority, Sunnis receive religious instruction especially designed for them. However, the historical connection between Shi'as and Sunnis places Sunnis in a different category from other minorities. The Shi'a sect came about because of a process of historical tension and competition with Sunnis, who comprise the majority of the Muslim population in the Middle East. The textbooks mention the necessity of unity among Shi'ites and Sunnis and that the differences among them are not substantial. However, all historical, social, and religious issues are interpreted from the stance of Shi'ite beliefs and traditions.
"Although Shi'ites and Sunnis have differences of opinion on the issue of the succession to the prophet and certain jurisprudential issues, they are both Muslim, have the same religion and prophet, and they both pray towards Mecca. Their religious and divine book is the Koran. They are brothers, united, and they cooperate with each other for the sake of progress and greater glory of the country of Islam and the victory of Islam over blasphemy." (Grade 8 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 98)
"Muslims (Shi'ites and Sunnis) should know that the enemies of Islam attempt to sow discord and enmity among them through meaningless excuses. Therefore, they should avoid differences and fights – however small and transient – and together endeavor to defend the Koran and safeguard the progress and glory of Islam." (Grade 8 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 101)
"Do you remember Imam Khomeini's words about the necessity for Muslims to unite and for the unity of Shi'ites and Sunnis in the fight against evil blasphemy and cruelty?" (Grade 8 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 101)
Alongside a discourse whose main goal is to make the differences and the historical tensions between these two groups appear less significant and invite Shi'ites and Sunnis to maintain and develop their existing connection, a set of historical events and religious issues are raised which are directly related to the points of contention between these two sects. An important contradiction, which the textbooks are not able to resolve, is that Shi'ism's entire reason for being has been its opposition to the Sunnism. The history of these two sects – beginning with the period following the death of the Prophet of Islam – demonstrates their vastly different paths. Today, seeing the world from the Shi'ite philosophical and theological standpoint and reviewing historical experiences without encountering Sunnis is extremely difficult. This is especially the case when, in setting forth these historical realities, the referee himself is one of the parties to the fight. What makes the conditions in Iran complicated is that political power is in the hand of the Shi'ites and, in practice, their approach – which seeks to preserve and further promote Shi'ite superiority – creates an unequal relationship between the two.
The extensive presence of religious topics with a Shi'ite bent in non-religious textbooks (e.g., Farsi, History, and Social Studies) adds to the complexity of the relationship between the Shi'ites and the Sunnis and makes the relationships with other religious minorities difficult as well. While it is true that, for the most part, the textbooks try not to use the terms "Shi'ite" and "Sunni" and prefer using "Muslim" or "Muslims," history and world issues are interpreted on the basis of Shi'ite views and philosophy. As a result, although the Sunni students are familiarized with the fundamentals of their own religion that have been designed especially for them, in other textbooks they encounter information that are based on Shi'ite beliefs and traditions. At times, the constant reinforcement of this dichotomy causes the topics subsumed under these two sets of instruction to appear different from – or even in complete contrast to – each other. For example, in Sunni Religious Studies textbooks, the four caliphs are mentioned as the only successors to the Prophet, while the other books tell a different account of this history, which, at times, is the opposite of Sunni teachings. One of these differences is the belief in the re-emergence of the 12th Imam and the establishment of a world government by Shi'ites. In other words, the unity between Sunnis and Shi'ites must come from the government and take place based on the superiority of Shi'ism and its beliefs and traditions. Important historical Shi'ite figures and their lives are mentioned many times, but the textbooks avoid mentioning similar cases or topics for Sunnis. In non-religious textbooks, principal religious Sunni figures from the beginning of Islam are presented in a neutral or, at times, even negative manner.
"The enrichment of those around Osman [the third Sunni caliphate] and the improper actions of the government agents had caused the discontent of many people. In 35 AH [656 AD], a group of people from Iraq and Egypt came to Medina in order to lodge complaints against Osman's agents.... Osman became fearful and asked Imam Ali for his help." (Grade 7 History textbook, p. 4)
Iran's officially recognized minorities, including Zoroastriansxix, Christiansxx (Armenians and Assyrians) and Jewsxxi comprise the second group. The members of these minorities receive religious curriculum designed especially for them. In addition, there are references to the issues relating to these "official" religions and their history among the topics of non-religious (e.g., History, Social Studies, and Farsi) textbooks. In the Grade 6 Religious Studies textbook, the attitude towards the followers of other officially recognized religions is explained thus: "We Muslims believe in and respect all of the divine prophets. We believe that they have come from God.... Based on Islamic laws, we have the duty to treat the followers of Moses and Jesus – who are known as Jews and Christians – well and respect their rights." (Grade 6 Religious Studies textbook, p. 32) References to officially recognized religions are, for the most part, positive or neutral and no effort is made to criticize or negate them.
"... The Zoroastrian mo'bedan [high priests] protested the growth in the numbers of followers of Christianity, Buddhism, and Manichaeism [a major dualistic religion founded during the rule of the Sassanid Empire in Persia by Mani (210-276 AD)]. As a result, after the death of Shapour I, Mani was arrested and killed. Then, Zoroastrianism became the country's only official religion and propagation of other religions was forbidden. From this time on, the Zoroastrian high priests became very powerful and the fire temples, the Zoroastrians' place of worship, experienced a much higher level of attendance, resulting in more wealth for the fire temples." (Grade 6 History textbook, p. 66)
"This building is known as the mausoleum of the Prophet Daniel, one of the four great prophets of the Israelites who has been mentioned in the Torah." (Grade 7 Farsi textbook, p. 88)
"Finally, the Pharaoh, who had been witness to the increase in the number of followers of Moses, decided to eliminate him and his followers. To that end, with his army, he pursued them as they were leaving Egypt but, due to God's will, Pharaoh and his soldiers drowned in the sea. At the same time, Moses and his followers, by a divine miracle, crossed the sea." (Grade 6 History textbook, p. 25)
"With his pleasant words and good disposition, Jesus invited people to worship the one and only God and to avoid cruelty. He supported the deprived and victims of cruelty. God had given him the power to heal the sick. Jesus' teachings angered the Romans, who worshipped multiple gods and had become used to treating their people and slaves in a cruel and oppressive manner. In spite of all this, Jesus continued to travel to various cities and villages and to invite the people to practice monotheism and do good deeds." (Grade 6 History textbook, p. 56)
In Religious Studies textbooks (which are not used for students belonging to official religious minorities), other religions are discussed in a more critical tone, though without hostility. For example, in answer to the question a lesson asks on the existence of various religions, the Grade 8 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbooks reads, "... The source of differences in, and the existence of, various religions were propagators of various new religions who, upon the arrival of the new prophet, opposed him and did not accept him as the prophet. For example, when Jesus appeared among the Jews and asked people to practice the true teachings of Moses, most of the Jewish authorities and elders did not accept his mission as a prophet and rose in opposition to him. If these learned Jews had not opposed the mission of Jesus as a prophet and had followed him, this dichotomy and difference would not have come about. At the time of his appearance, the honorable Prophet of Islam, too, introduced himself as following in the path of all the prophets and complementing their work and asked Jews and Christians to put their faith in him. However, this time as well, in spite of the fact that the coming of the Prophet of Islam had been promised in the Torah and the Bible, the Christian and Jewish authorities and elders denied his mission as a prophet and rose in opposition to him. If at that time, the Jewish and Christian authorities and elders had accepted the mission of Mohammad as prophet, this difference would not have come about." (Grade 8 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, pp. 26 and 27)
From the perspective of Islamic theology, the Prophet of Islam is called the "Seal of the Prophets" or the last prophet sent by God and, consequently, refers to Islam as the last great monotheistic religion. By presenting the theory of continuity of divine religions, the Grade 11 Religion and Life textbook draws the following conclusion about Islam: "Thus, divine religion was revealed to Mohammad at the highest levels, with the most complete contents, and by considering the future needs of human beings in the form of the Holy Koran, and was put at the disposal of humanity." (Grade 11 Religion and Life textbook, p. 31) In practice, this historical approach is tantamount to belief in Islam's superiority over other religions and its historical "truth."
"Certain scholars connected to the regime in power and a group of scholars of the religions of the book (Jews and Christians), such as Ka'b al-Ahbar – who, apparently, had become Muslim – used the opportunity of the deposing of the Infallible Imam and started to interpret and explain passages from the Koran and Islamic teachings in accordance with their own thoughts and in agreement with the interests of those in power. Some of them sat in the mosques and told superstitious stories about the prophets for the people ... " (Grade 11 Religion and Life textbook, p. 108)
"The Pope too issued a decree saying that since Jesus had lived there, Jerusalem had to be taken back from Muslims. Thus, the invasion of the Islamic World started. Christian soldiers ... started towards Jerusalem. On their path, they murdered people and pillaged and plundered their property and, after occupying Jerusalem, too, they killed a large number of Muslims.... Some time later, under the leadership of Salahuddin Ayubi, Muslims took Jerusalem back. Finally, the Crusades ended with the defeat of the Europeans.... By observing the advanced civilization and the cultural progress of Muslims, they became aware of their own backwardness and strove to use the scientific and intellectual achievements of Muslims." (Grade 7 History textbook, p. 62)
In spite of the official recognition of non-Muslim religious minorities, Iranian society is comprised of "Muslim people," Islamic-Iranian or Iranian-Islamic identity. This is but one example of the many contradictions that occur because the textbooks view the subject of religion from the perspective of identity.
"In certain parts of the country, some families may face difficulties due to floods or earthquakes. In such cases, our country's Muslim people rush to assist those afflicted." (Grade 6 Social Science textbook, p. 50)
"In Islamic society, all people are united and trust one another. They consult with each other in decision-making and utilize the power of each other's thoughts." (Grade 5 Social Studies textbook, p. 150)
3.2. "Hidden" Minorities
The third category of minorities is comprised of groups not formally recognized by government institutions and with whom even hostile encounters have taken place, namely, the followers of the Baha'i religion.xxii The Baha'i religion is mentioned as a "false sect" and the Baha'is are accused of being tools in the hands of foreign superpowers. In a lesson entitled "Sect-Building by Colonialism," the Grade 8 History textbook (p. 37) has this to say about the Baha'is and the history of the founding of their religion: "The British and Russian governments were extremely afraid of the unity of Muslims in Iran. Thus, they strove to sow discord among the people and destroy their unity. One of their goals in sowing discord was supporting new false religions. Among these false religions were Baabism and Baha'ism. At first, Seyed Ali Mohammad, the founder of the Baabi Sect claimed to be the Baab (according to Baabism, Baab was a person who was the medium for communication with the 12th Imam). Shortly thereafter, he called himself the 'Promised Mahdi' and, finally, claimed to be a prophet. Seyed Ali Mohammad Baab's claim caused an enormous disturbance known as the 'Baab Conspiracy' and established the Baabieh Sect, which was supported by Britain and Russia. Following this incident, Seyed Ali Mohammad Baab was shot by order of Amir Kabir [a reformist prime minister under Qajar Dynasty in the mid-1800] and, after him, Mirza Hussien-Ali Nouri became the leader of the followers of Baab. After a short time, Nouri, who had given himself the title of 'Baha,' claimed to be a new prophet and established the Baha'i Sect. This too was supported by Britain."
Baha'i students are in a difficult situation. Faced with the negative discourse of the textbooks and the hostile treatment they receive in the course of educational activities, they are either compelled to remain silent – and somewhat in hiding – or give up continuing their education. This treatment continues through the time of entrance into university. During their education, it is not possible for Baha'i students to voice their opinions or criticize the attitudes towards them. Insofar as their religion is concerned, if they do not remain silent, they will be expelled from school. If the Baha'is do not hide their religion, they are forbidden to participate in the university entrance examination.xxiii
Besides the Baha'is, other unrecognized religious minorities exist whose religions are for the most part related to specific branches of Islam (Shi'ite or Sunni), such as Sufism. These groups are completely ignored.
The terms "monafeghin" (hypocrites – or people who pretend to be religious) and "moshrekin" (people who doubt the official religion) are used to refer to religious groups that are opposed to the Islamic Republic. These terms do not have any basis or credibility from the secular or legal standpoint. Rather, they have more to do with the inclination towards the nature or condition of the matters at hand and their meanings can change in the light of, and in accordance with, changing times and political and religious events. For example, the term "monafeghin" is a very adaptable concept, which is used in the Shi'ite tradition in relation to the political or religious interpretation of individuals' beliefs or behavior. In other words, at any given time, based on religious differences, the term "monafegh" can be applied to any individual. This individual can then be called "deviant" and "corrupt," and he could be considered deserving of reprimand and punishment. "Monafeghin are people who do not believe in God, the Prophet, and eternity, but still think of themselves as true Muslims. They bring corruption to Muslim society." (Grade 7 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 78)
Finally, people who do not have a specific religion or sect, or who only have a superficial connection with religious rituals must be mentioned. Not believing in a specific religion is considered either impossible or a form of "abnormality." Connection with one of the officially recognized religions is the norm. Those who do not fit into these official religious classifications are thought to be suffering from a form of "deviance." The term "kafar" (heathen) is used to refer to a person who is the enemy of religion or "a person who denies the existence of God or creates rivals or partners for God or does not accept the mission of the prophets." (Grade 7 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 83) In this passage a heathen is called "nadjes" (impure) and, along with human excrement or feces, corpses of animals, dogs, pigs, and alcoholic beverages, is considered one of the ten examples of "nedjasat" (things considered intrinsically impure): "If a [person's] body, clothing, or any other item comes into contact with one of these 'impure' items, in case one of them is wet, the other one will become impure and, therefore, it must be avoided (ibid., p. 82).
On numerous occasions, the textbooks speak of some of their religious or political opponents – be it in the historical dimension or in the interpretation of contemporary issues – with surprising hostility. Such a discourse can help the formation of a culture that promotes hatred towards, and/or elimination of, the other.
"Domestic jihad is a form of defensive jihad. If, within the country, a group conspires and creates unrest, destroys the order and peace in society, weakens the Islamic government or seeks to overthrow the Islamic government through destruction and acts of terrorism, then this group has not obeyed the Leader, has refused to accept the laws of Islamic society, and has trespassed against the Ruling Jurisprudent, the ruler of the Muslims. In [Islamic] idiom such people are called "baghi," [a person who plans or participates in a revolt] "boghat," [plural of Baghi] and "Khavaredj" [rebellious sect of Islam's early years]. In such cases, if dispensing advice to these groups or people does not have any effect, then, in order to defend the glory of the government of Islam, the Ruling Jurisprudent will proclaim a defensive jihad, so that they will be suppressed with all the government's might. In such cases, it is incumbent upon Muslims to obey and strive to destroy and eliminate such groups." (Grade 8 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 71)
3.3. Attitudes towards Ethnic and Local Minorities
Although the topic of ethnic minoritiesxxiv is discussed only marginally, local identities are present in one form or another. There exists a clear preliminary effort to recognize Iran's ethnic realities. In lessons in history, geography, social studies, and Farsi textbooks, there are references to the existence of regions where ethnic minorities reside (e.g., Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Baluchistan) and the languages related to these ethnic groups. In the Farsi textbooks of Grades 6 through 8, numerous lessons are dedicated to introducing the various regions of Iran. In a lesson on Kurdistan, there is a reference to the Kurdish-speaking poets of this region.
"The language of our Kurdish compatriots is the legacy of the ancient Iranian languages ... and Kurdish literary texts are written in this language as well. The Kurdish people have a rich folk culture.... Kurds are a hardworking, heroic, warm, and hospitable people. They are well-known for their honesty and for keeping their promises. Most of them are Sunni but a Shi'ite minority and a group of Christian and Jewish compatriots live in the Province of Kurdistan as well." (Grade 7 Farsi textbook, pp. 97 and 98)
"This is the land of Azerbaijan, one of the most sensitive border regions of Iran which, in the course of the past centuries as well as the present era, has resisted the invasion of foreigners, prevented the enemy from setting foot on the country's soil, and, in spite of repeated conspiracies, has remained an inseparable part of the Islamic country of Iran. This heroic courage and sacrifice is borne of the religious and national beliefs and sentiments of the honorable people of Azerbaijan." (Grade 6 Farsi textbook, p. 83)
However, the overall attitude towards Iran's ethnic diversity remains extremely cautious. The curriculum does not hide its fear of ethnic identities and, in certain instances, refers to the existence of the danger of growth of separatist tendencies among certain minorities or to the interference of foreign governments. Iran's important ethnic minorities live mostly in the border regions. The populations of these minorities are spread over the territories of several countries, creating a sensitive geopolitical issue.
"The honorable people near the border regions in the west and the east, the hardworking people of the desert. The courageous tribes, all together and in unity, strive to keep this land – which has emerged from all the difficult tests of history triumphant and with its head held high – productive and free as ever, and, with the bonds they share due to being Muslim and Iranian, to take their homeland towards a brilliant future." (Grade 8 Farsi textbook, p. 91)
By setting forth other local identities, the textbooks present cultural and linguistic diversity as part of Iran's "natural" realities, which, in the course of this country's long history, have not damaged its national unity. For example, in their coverage of the post-World War II nationalistic movements in Azerbaijan and Kurdistan, these actions are the result of interference by the Soviet Union. After referring to the presence of the Red Army forces that were in Iran in connection with World War II, the Grade 11 History textbook says: "At this time, by issuing a proclamation, the Azerbaijan Democratic Party, which had gained much power during the presence of Russian forces in Iran, demanded administrative and cultural independence from the central government.... Through using the continuous presence of the Soviets in Iran, the Democratic Party armed its forces.... Sometime later, the Democrats officially proclaimed the independence of Azerbaijan and the formation of a government under the leadership of Ja'far Pishehvari ... " (p. 102) On the same page, the textbook explains that after signing the agreement with the Iranian government, the Soviet Union abandoned "its friends" and "the central government suppressed the rebels in Azerbaijan and Kurdistan." In another section, in relation to the events after the 1979 Revolution, the issue of nationalistic tendencies in the regions in which the minorities are concentrated: "... In certain regions, such as Kurdistan and Turkaman Sahra, separatist efforts were in progress but, with Imam Khomeini's and the people's vigilance, none of these conspiracies succeeded ... " (ibid., p. 158)
One of the most important debates about the ethnic minorities centers on the issue of the official language of instruction and the possibility of using ethnic languages in schools.xxv The attitude towards this issue is clear and is reflected in a passage by the well-known writer, Nasser Iran: "Given the fact that the great powers have always been envious of and have cast greedy glances towards our country and have made much use of the separatist tendencies and ethnic diversity, and the fact that they have used every means at their disposal to sow discord among the various Iranian ethnic groups so that they can achieve their objectives more easily, is it not wise to preserve and protect the Persian language, the beloved common language of all the Iranian ethnic groups, and its power and vitality?" (Grade 8 Farsi textbook, p. 160)
In conclusion, the attitude towards the various minorities is twofold. First, in the case of some minorities, the textbooks set aside cultural monism in a marginal and inconsistent way and turn to cultural diversity. In the second case, this inconsistent approach is not tantamount to officially recognizing the culture of the various minorities. Overall, not much space is dedicated to coverage of the cultures, languages, traditions, and minority issues. Given the history and sensitive political circumstances of these regions, what particularly causes this inclination to remain inconsistent is Shi'ite-egocentrism, ideological view of the world, and fear of growth of ethnic movements. In addition, the national and Islamic identities are all-encompassing and there is little room for other forms of identity. The direct consequence of discriminating against minorities is the emergence of a form of multilateral discrimination towards ethnic minorities who subscribe to other religions. The Sunni Kurds and the Sunni Baluchis are concurrently victimized by two forms of discrimination, ethnic and religious. The classification of individuals based on religious identity leads to the elimination of those who do not have a place in this classification or who, from an ideological standpoint, are the "other" or the "enemy." In many instances, when speaking of those who, due to religious reasons, do not fit into classifications that are acceptable, the textbooks use pejorative terms or threatening language.
Chapter 4: Regional and International Outlook
Iran's relationship with the rest of the world is based on understanding the textbooks' vision on world order and their analyses of the conditions of international relations at the regional level.
The textbooks have two categorizations in relation to world order. The first categorization divides the world into: (1) wealthy and powerful countries; and (2) countries that claim to be treated unjustly on the international scene and consider themselves oppressed. The first category includes the governments of developed countries, which are seeking world domination or hegemony and have been or are "colonialist" and who are the main source of oppression on the international scene.
The second category includes mainly the developing and the underdeveloped countries. The countries in the first category have colonialist goals and profit-seeking motives and are opposed to the development and independence of the countries in the second category. Thus, the alignments and trends, as well as the contemporary history of the world, are largely determined through the struggles of these two antagonistic poles. From this perspective, the textbooks are defined from the standpoint of a country, which, as an "oppressed" country, has always been exposed to and threatened by the oppressive policies of the powerful countries.
Another approach exists for defining the world order, which has been formed based on the religious differences of countries and their belonging to or connection with several of the world's principal civilizations. Within this framework, the world is divided mainly into the two camps of "Islamic countries" and "non-Islamic countries." In the historical and geopolitical context, this second categorization is repeated throughout and becomes the subject of political analysis. On this basis, the textbooks see the Islamic Republic as a part of the family of Islamic countries, which are culturally and geopolitically different from Western civilization and other countries of the world.
4.1. Iran and the West
Iran's relation with the West during the last two centuries of Iranian history, in the political and economic dimensions as well as in terms of civilizations, occupies an important place in the textbooks. The widespread presence of this subject signifies – among other things – the historic, geopolitical, and cultural importance of relations with the West, particularly given Iran's conditions today. The West (Europe, North America, and Russia) is regularly criticized from four angles:
The first criticism of the West concerns the history of interference of European countries and the United States in Iran. In the course of its relations with Iran from two centuries ago until 1979, the West has continuously played a negative and destructive role. The textbooks highlight the West's numerous political interferences in Iran since the end of the 18th century in a detailed and critical tone. The West is introduced, from the nationalistic perspective, as the "enemy" of the political independence of Iran, and, from the religious perspective, as an agent to weaken Islamist movements. The two opposing poles of independence (from the West) and dependence (on the West) have a determinant and structural presence. The era of the Pahlavi Dynasty (1925-1979) was the time of direct influence of the West in Iran as well as the era of Iran's political, economic, and cultural dependence on the West. From an historical perspective, the criticism of the West includes various periods. In the first period of growth of Iran's relations with the West in the beginning of the 18th century, criticisms are leveled against Britain, France, and Russia due to their "colonial policies." However, since the coup d'état of 1953, the United States becomes the principal "interfering" power. Reflecting the sentiments in society, the textbooks adopt an anti-American tone.
"After the Majles [Parliament] was closed, Russia in the north and Britain in the south committed many aggressions and cruel acts. For example, the Russians hung a group of people in Khorasan and Azerbaijan. They also riddled the Shrine of Imam Reza with bullets." (Grade 8 History textbook, p. 42)
"Britain's colonialist government had been able to establish a new royal dynasty by the name of "Pahlavi Dynasty" and put an illiterate and forceful individual on the throne." (Grade 8 Farsi textbook, p. 6)
"The start of the Pahlavi Dynasty is, in reality, a new era in the history of Iran. This new era marked also a new chapter, known as "New Colonialism," in the pillaging and plundering of our country by foreigners." (Grade 11 Farsi textbook, p. 86)
"During the rule of Mohammad Reza Shah [the second and last king of the Pahlavi Dynasty] America's interference and influence in Iran increased. People were deprived of freedom and their religious beliefs were not respected." (Grade 5 Social Studies textbook, p. 127)
"The Shah returned and, once again, American presence in Iran was so prevalent and strong that for 25 years, Iran was considered their most reliable political and military base in the world. The oil revenues, which had been cut off for some time, again started to pour into the pockets of American, British and other Western petroleum companies." (Grade 11 History textbook, p. 109)
The second dimension of the critical stance towards the West is about the policies of the U.S. and European countries after the victory of the Revolution in 1979 and the establishment of the Islamic Republic. In many instances, the West is accused of conspiring against the Islamic regime. Many of Iran's post-1979 political crises have resulted from Western – especially American – provocations and interferences. The West (especially the U.S.) is perceived as the enemy of the Islamic Revolution and Islamist movements. One of the most important goals of the Islamic Revolution is fighting the West's hegemony. "The Islamic Revolution of Iran put a stop to the superpowers' control and influence in Iran and, by making other Muslims aware of the power of Islam, endangered the West's interests in many parts of the world, especially in the Islamic countries. This is why the conspiracies of oppressive and forceful governments against the Islamic Revolution continued after the victory of the Islamic Revolution." (Grade 8 History textbook, p. 93)
The textbooks perceive the ideology of the Iranian Revolution in clear opposition to the interests and culture of the Western countries. The Islamic Republic of Iran is a country compelled to confront the West's "conspiracies" constantly. Accordingly, the 1979 Revolution is part of an extensive anti-Western stance where the West's confrontation with Iran is "unavoidable."
"This revolution was an independent movement which triumphed with the slogan of 'Neither East, Nor West,' without dependence on the U.S. or the Soviet Union, and against their will. With the effect it had on the people of the oppressed countries – especially the world's Muslims, this revolution had shaken the very foundations of the oppressors' power, and, for this reason, from the beginning, it became the target of the enmity and conspiracies of the superpowers." (Grade 11 History textbook, p. 155)
"After the victory of the Islamic Revolution, our enemies, especially the United States, continued to conspire against Iran." (Grade 5 Social Studies textbook, p. 132)
"The most important achievement of the Revolution was, 'Independence, Freedom, The Islamic Republic,' which the people had called for since the beginning of the movement in their demonstrations and slogans. The foreigners' influence, which had paralyzed Iran for nearly 100 years, was gone." (Grade 8 History textbook, p. 81)
"The documents that fell into the hands of the university students revealed that the United States, with the help of its own agents at that time, had played a role in many of the conspiracies that took place in Tehran and other parts of Iran. The same documents also revealed the names of some of the individuals who had secret contact with America's secret agents in order to strike a blow against the Revolution. The news of the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and of the taking of dozens of its employees as hostages spread all over the world and took the U.S. completely by surprise." (Grade 11 History textbook, p. 157)
The third dimension of the critical view of the West has to do with the colonial history of European countries and the unjust relations of the Western countries with the rest of the world, especially the Islamic Middle Eastern countries. The textbooks consider the existing world order "unjust" and see the interests of the region's Islamic countries and the developing countries in opposition to Western countries' interests. The discourse is based on a set of polarized oppositions between poverty and wealth, developed and underdeveloped, Islamic countries and foreigners, the oppressed and global oppression, the plunderers and the plundered, Islamic and non-Islamic, the West and the Third World. Opposition to Western countries is reflected in the literature textbooks, both through the literary criticism of developing countries (e.g., Latin American literature, through the works of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda) and critical Western writers (e.g., Harriet Beecher Stowe, the American writer who shed light on the plight of African-Americans in her book Uncle Tom's Cabin).
"Also, given the complicated situation of today's world in which groups in certain countries, by using all their capabilities and every mean at their disposal, are seeking to suppress the Mahdaviyat thinkingxxvi and are suppressing those who demand justice in the various parts of the world, especially in Palestine and its environs, intensively and with all their might in order to shape the future of the world to their own liking and to stop the predictions believed by the heavenly religions from coming true. The existence of Islamic government can bring about the possibility of confronting these conspiracies and aggressions and prepare extensive plans for the resistance and survival of Muslims against the oppressors." (Grade 11 Religion and Life textbook, p. 153)
"In 1976 Democrats won the U.S. presidential election and Carter became president. Democrats were aware of the hatred of most of the people of the world towards the U.S. and the regimes put in place by and dependent on it. Therefore, in order to lower the intensity of this hatred and not allow the Soviets to use it to further their own influence, the Democrats decided to reduce the intensity of the suppression and dictatorialism of the governments dependent upon them in the Third World and by speaking of democracy and an open political atmosphere, decrease the pressure on and suppression of the people of these countries, which were on the verge of explosion. This is how the Carter administration chose the "defense of human rights" as its slogan and asked dictatorial governments to reduce their violence somewhat." (Grade 11 History textbook, p. 136)
The fourth dimension of the tension with the West has to do with culture and civilization. The West is the birthplace of modernity and modern society and, from this angle, Islamist discourse, which is inclined to view the world through the lens of religion and religious traditions, naturally considers itself opposed to Western culture and values. In a way, the belief is in a clash of civilizations between the West and the Islamic world and in the important cultural contrasts between these two civilizations. In encounters with the West, certain contrasts to democracy, cultural matters, and women's issues are apparent. The Grade 8 Koran textbook contains a quote from a German girl named Dorothea (or her adopted Islamic name, Hudai) who lives in Italy and who has converted to Islam. "On the third day of the month of Ramadan, I converted to Islam. I became a Muslim and, since that day, as God is my witness, I have not regretted this decision even for one moment. Of course, I must add that, until then, I had no idea how distant the non-Muslim Westerners are from Islam." (p. 77)
"At that time, they used all the means of propaganda at their disposal, such as Seda va Sima, [the official Iranian National Radio and Television Station] and the media in order to portray people as old-fashioned and pretend that Europeanization is a sign of growth and progress." (Grade 8 History textbook, p. 81)
"The appearance of audiovisual and written means of communication, such as fixed and mobile telephones, radio, television, satellite, and the Internet, on the one hand, and of new means of transportation, such as automobiles, trains, planes, on the other, has expanded communication among people in various parts of the globe to such an extent that it is as though people everywhere know one another like the people in a village. This is how the concept of the 'global village' came about.
What has happened is a social reality and now we live in such a world. With the revelation of this reality, the dominant superpowers have drawn up plans to make their preferred culture, thinking, and way of life global and then impose it on the rest of the people of the world. This agenda is called 'globalization.'
In order to reach this goal, they receive support from very complex, open, as well as secret, capabilities and sources. Large radio and television networks, satellites, the Internet, movies, books and publications, as well as extensive information and intelligence organizations are the tools for spreading the culture of the great powers, particularly the U.S. support for these tools is furnished by the military, political, and economic power of the U.S., which is preparing the ground for the spreading of American culture, morality, and traditions by creating fear, dependence, submission or greed. For example, after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, it launched dozens of television networks in order to impose its own culture and morality on these two countries' Muslim people.
What is important and calls for clear-sightedness is that we know that, given the extensive and complex power of communications, modern propaganda methods are the most important and effective tools for cultural assimilation. On the one hand, very indirectly and through the words of the nations, they enlarge the divide between the generations to such an extent that the new generation will feel it can no longer communicate with its own culture. On the other hand, they present the elements of their own culture, such as clothes, architectural style, cuisine, social activities, and even their lifestyles, and, generally their own way of life, in the most attractive propagandistic packaging possible so that, in addition to attracting the attention of these nations, they can make them follow their way of thinking ... " (Grade 11 Religion and Life textbook, p. 133)
From the political standpoint and the perspective of Middle Eastern and Iranian history, the discourse of the textbooks can be considered "anti-Western." The "foreigners" referred to in the textbooks are none other than the Western countries and the U.S., which are continuously conspiring against the interests, national resources, wealth, and cultural values of the Muslim countries and which are considered potential and actual enemies. The history, social studies, and religious studies textbooks have the highest number of criticisms of the West whereas geography, science, and literature textbooks rarely resort to political or ideological invective against the West.
However, "anti-Western" prejudices do not appear regularly in the textbooks. For example, the History and Geography textbooks have a more truthful approach. Alongside the "colonialist and oppressive" West, another image exists that highlights its cultural products, and scientific and technological advances. Overall, Western science and technology and certain components of Western culture (such as classical literature) are ever-present in the textbooks. Many European and American scholars, literary and cultural figures appear in a positive way, especially in science textbooks.xxvii In spite of this neutral viewpoint, students are asked to be careful in using Western science and communicating with the Western scientific world. "In issues and matters about and involving Iran, Islam, and Islamic countries, having command of a foreign language is not enough because foreign sources written by people who have little or no knowledge of Iranian and Islamic culture cannot be trusted." (Grade 7 Farsi textbook, p. 47)
The last point is that the West does not have equal value with Christianity or Christian culture. At times, the textbooks connect criticism of the West from the standpoint of culture and value system, especially regarding women and women's issues, with the weakening of Christian culture.
The stance towards the West is the same contradiction with which Islamist movements and traditional culture have been struggling for the last two centuries. What sort of relationship should Iran have with the West and what should Iran take away from it? In what contexts should Iran accept changes and what part of the Iranian culture should be preserved? How should Iran confront the trend of the growing influence of Western culture and lifestyle? These questions have been asked repeatedly for the last two centuries and the view reflects the reproduction of identity crisis, which have come about with the entry of non-Western civilizations into the modern world.
4.2. The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
When it comes to attitudes towards and perceptions of the West, Israel occupies an important place. In the discourse of the curriculum, which is largely a reflection of the regional policies of the Islamic Republic, the government of Israel is called "The Regime Occupying Jerusalem" and the land of Israel is referred to as "Occupied Palestine." Any mention of the name and geographic boundaries of Israel is avoided even in the maps in the history or geography books.
Geography, Grade 6, p. 11. NOTE: In this map, Israel is referred to as the Occupied Palestine.
Israel is considered the "enemy" of Islamic countries and Muslims, and the "agent" of the U.S. and Western countries. Israel is "absolute evil" and many of Iran's political issues and crises are in connection with this country. The history of the Islamist movements' hostile encounter with Israel goes back many years. The textbooks contain numerous quotes against Israel from Iranian political leaders since the 1960s. Among these historical references is the stance taken by Ayatollah Khomeini during the 1960s crisis and the heightening of his differences with the rule of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. "Israel does not want this country to have any scholars. Israel does not want this country to have the Koran. Israel does not want this country to have religious scholars. Israel does not want this country to have Islamic rules. At the hands of its evil agents, Israel attacked the [Feyzieh] Seminary. They attack us. They attack you, the nation. [Israel] wants to take over your country. [It] wants to destroy your agriculture and commerce. [It] wants there to be no wealth in this country. [It] wants to take all our wealth at the hands of its agent. Such things are meant to be barriers or obstacles on [their] way. [Israel] breaks these barriers. The Koran is a barrier in the way: It must be broken. The clergy is a barrier in the way: It must be broken. The Feyzieh Seminaryxxviii is a barrier in the way; It must be destroyed. Religious scholars may become barriers later: They must fall from the rooftops and their heads and hands must be broken so that Israel's interests are served. [In] obeying Israel, our government [the Shah's government], insults us ... " (Grade 11 History textbook, p. 113) In History, Social Studies, Religious Studies, and Farsi textbooks the subject of Israel and sharp criticisms of it are presented in various forms.
"With the coming of the month of Muharram,xxix in his guidance to the religious speakers, Imam Khomeini emphasized that, at times such as these, remaining silent is tantamount to confirmation of the tyrannical regime and helping the enemies of Islam: 'Warn the people about the danger associated with Israel and its agents ... '" (Grade 11 History textbook, p. 116)
"With the revelation of the secret relations between the Shah and Israel by Ayatollah Khomeini in the course of the uprising of June 5  and thereafter, a new chapter began in the Iranian people's struggle with domestic authoritarianism and foreign colonialism. In addition to bringing into the fray large cross-sections of the Muslims of Iran – who were sensitive to the usurpation of the holy land of Palestine – on the international level it caused an outpouring of sympathy towards, as well as expanding links, with the Iranian people's Islamic movement. (Grade 11 History textbook, p. 115)
"After it brought its confrontation with the nation to a head by murdering a number of people on June 5, 1963, the Shah's regime quickly expanded the violent activities of its police as well as its information, intelligence, and security forces for the purpose of fighting the revolutionary movement. SAVAK [the Shah's secret police] – that is, the Organization for Security and Intelligence – was strengthened very quickly, was equipped with various implements for torture and spying and information- and intelligence-gathering methods, and was given modern buildings and bases in all the cities. The intelligence agencies of the U.S. (CIA) and Israel (MOSSAD) provided assistance in strengthening and expanding this organization as well." (Grade 11 History textbook, p. 126)
The textbooks discuss Israel's conflicts with Palestine and Arabs in various forms. This is how the issue of Palestine is set forth in a lesson on family in the Grade 6 Social Science textbook: "Many of your brothers and sisters in the Occupied Palestine have lost their mothers, fathers, and other members of their family due to the violence of the tyrannical and cruel soldiers of the Regime Occupying the Holy Land. They strive to avenge themselves and their families against the occupiers." (p. 13) The Grade 6 Social Science textbook discusses Palestine in a homework section thus: "What suggestions did Imam Khomeini have on sympathizing with and standing by the Muslim people of Palestine in their fight against the Regime Occupying the Holy Land? You can also consult with your parents and use your school library about this subject." (ibid., p.77) Another example from the Grade 10 Farsi textbook includes a section on foreign literature and literature of "resistance" with two poems from contemporary Palestinian poets Mahmoud Darweesh and Ibrahim Gabra. (p. 74) In the Grade 8 Farsi textbook, a story appears titled "Palestinian Teacher," on the daily struggles and confrontations of adolescent Palestinians with Israeli soldiers in the occupied lands. The lesson is an account told by Khaled, a six-year old Palestinian child arrested by Israeli soldiers during a street fight with them (see below picture). "In the blink of an eye, Khaled jumped out of the circle of soldiers who where surrounding him and took his brother in his arms. Later he told his brother, 'The next time you should come too and throw stones at them. Don't be afraid! O.K.?' Mohammad shook his head and said, 'I will come too so we can hit them with stones.' At this very moment, the Israeli soldier hit Mohammad's head with the stock of his gun and the child's warm blood was sprinkled on Khaled's hands." (Grade 3, 'Reading' literature textbook, p. 112)
'Reading' literature textbook, Grade 3, p 112
The textbooks present the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the single most important issue of Islamic countries and the region. Palestine is considered the grounds for unity and linkage among Muslims.
"The land of Palestine carries memories of the divine prophets and, in the course of history, has always been a holy land for Muslims. In addition, based on Islamic teachings, Muslims must support the oppressed nation of Palestine. Therefore, supporting the freedom of Jerusalem and Palestine counts as one of the Islamic Republic's basic principles and the Iranian people together, united, and of one mind, demand justice for Palestinians." (Grade 11 Farsi textbook, p. 160)
"God willing, the day will come when the Muslims will all be united and free Palestine and rescue the Holy Land from the clutches of the enemies of Islam." (Grade 3 Social Studies textbook, p. 57)
4.3. Iran and the Region
Overall, the textbooks exhibit an amicable and peaceful attitude towards the region's Muslim countries. The political and religious differences of the past and the present, especially regarding Sunni countries, are not mentioned. Instead, there is mostly talk of the union and alliance of the Islamic ommat (community of Muslims) in confronting "enemies" and foreigners.
The view of the region is based on two fundamental facts. The first is the frequent reference to the Islamic identity of the region's countries and the fact that they belong to the Islamic civilization. In the discourse of the textbooks, there exists a hypothetical form of "natural" alliance and an overall linkage among the region's Muslims, which can be transformed into their source of power. In actuality, however, the textbooks attribute the Muslims' problems as a result of their lack of unity because they are geographically spread over a large area. The Muslims' lack of unity helps in furthering the expansion of the West's influence.
"Is it possible for geographic boundaries to limit the brotherhood and the shared responsibilities of Muslims? Can a country rich in resources and with high income ignore the poor, the hungry, and the unemployed in the other Islamic countries? Can a free and developed Islamic country remain inattentive to Islamic countries that are colonized and are in chains? Muslims must live with each other with utmost sincerity and in brotherhood and stand unified in the face of blasphemy and global oppression, which is the common enemy of all Muslims. In such a case, the enemy of Islam and Muslims would be humiliated and could never invade a part of the great land of Islam, plunder the wealth of Muslims, and crush their honor, self-respect, and authentic culture." (Grade 7 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 64)
"In his historic speech in which he issued the order for the formation of the basij [paramilitary group] for the Oppressed, he [Imam Khomeini] also said: 'Muslims of the world arise and rescue yourselves from the clutches of murderous oppressors. Learned Muslims, wake up from the slumber of negligence and free Islam and Islamic countries from the hands of colonists and their dependents.'" (Grade 7 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 65)
The ambiguity in the textbooks' discourse has to do with the intended audience of this political agenda. The textbooks sometimes speak of Muslim countries or Islamic governments. They also sometimes speak of Muslims and the Islamic ommat (community of Muslims). The reason for this ambiguity is the nature of relations with Muslim countries and the sometimes implicit criticism of the regional countries that act as Western allies and are in conflict with the Islamic Republic's "anti-Western" stance. The use of the terms "committed leaders of the Islamic countries" and "committed Islamic countries" may be a reference to governments with Islamic tendencies whose relations with the West are not amicable and close. In a geopolitical analysis of the region, academic subjects regularly refer to the interference of "foreign countries," especially the U.S., and speak of them as the enemies of Islam or agents of discord, backwardness, and dependence. In this approach, the region's most important problem is a confrontation between Muslims or Islamic countries and the Western countries as Israel's allies.
"The Islamic world must be united, be of one mind, and coherent and not allow foreigners to interfere in the affairs of Islamic countries.... Given their vast Islamic vision, the world's Muslims and the committed leaders of Islamic countries have the duty to consider the world of Islam as one, and to strengthen the bonds of brotherhood and cooperation amongst themselves, and set aside petty differences for the greater good of the Islamic world. They must fight the agents of discord, resolve their issues and petty differences with optimism and goodwill, and strive with all their might not to allow any discord or problems ensue within the world of Islam and among Muslims.... If one of the Islamic countries, due to pride and selfishness or the provocation of foreigners, invades another Islamic country and war ensues, all Muslims, and especially their leaders, have the duty to resolve their differences immediately, restore peace and harmony, and liberate the world of Islam from the worst danger, that is, infighting, discord, and separation ... " (Grade 7 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 66)
"In every land, a group of Muslims have set certain boundaries for themselves and, unfortunately, they only notice their own people and pay no attention to other Muslims outside of their borders and may even call them foreigners. Islam and the Holy Koran do not accept this incorrect perception and consider the world's Muslims – wherever they may be and whichever language they may speak – as one Islamic ommat. Geographic and racial boundaries cannot separate the world's Muslims. Even if they are ruled by different regimes, the Islamic lands are not foreigners to one another and all Muslims have a common responsibility towards Islam, and the great society and the united and great community of Islam. Committed leaders of Islamic countries cannot – and must not – consider other Islamic countries as foreigners and be inattentive to them ... " (Grade 7 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 63)
4.4. Attitudes towards Neighboring Countries
Iran and its neighbors agree on many issues. The revolutionary discourse of the 1980s regarding the necessity to export the Islamic Revolution is less intense. Historically, Iran has had tense relationships with its neighboring countries. The number of wars and political crises in past centuries bears witness to this important geopolitical reality. Iran's present borders comprise only a part of the civilization that, in the distant and recent past, spanned larger lands to the north, east, and west. The textbooks, (especially the history books) refer to past crises, wars, and struggles between Iran, Turkey, and the northern neighbors of the Caspian Sea and Central Asia, and to the gradual "reduction" of Iran's territory. However, when focusing on the present, this tension-filled past is forgotten. Attitudes towards these countries are friendly and peaceful and show no hostility. The geography textbooks discuss neighboring countries and have photos of them, while the Farsi textbooks have works by the Persian-speaking poets of Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
There are two exceptions, though. The first concerns Russia and its crisis-laden relations with Iran in both the distant and recent past, and its repeated interferences in Iranian affairs. The textbooks do not only refer to the distant past, but also to the events of the post-World War II years, the Soviet Union's support of the independence movements in Azerbaijan and Kurdistan, and the U.S.S.R.'s role with the Toudeh (Communist) Party of Iran. "In order to obstruct the work of the Mossadegh government, the two countries of Great Britain and the U.S.S.R. used their internal agents within Iran as well. The most important of these agents were the members of the Toudeh Party, who considered service to the Soviet Union their only duty." (Grade 8 History textbook, p. 56)
The second exception, Iraq, is a special case because of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran in 1980 and the eight-year war that ensued. For various reasons, especially in connection with the victims of this bloody war, Saddam Hussein's Iraq is the subject of intense criticism. As in other cases, the West is the main, but behind-the-scene, instigator of events and Saddam Hussein's government is dependent upon the West. "With the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, not only had the superpowers lost their influence and interests in Iran, but they were also extremely anxious about the expansion of the Islamic Revolution into the other Islamic countries and, for this reason, they did not avoid using any conspiracy in order to strike a blow against the Revolution. After it became clear that internal strife and the destructive actions of small factions could not block the Revolution's path, the superpowers encouraged and provoked Iraq – Iran's neighbor – to start a widespread war with Iran." (Grade 11 History textbook, p. 154)
The subject of the U.S. armed forces and the allies' occupation of Iraq appears in a neutral manner. "The U.S. government attacked Iraq in 2003. After the military occupation of this country, the Ba'ath party and Saddam Hussein's dictatorial regime fell." (Grade 7 Social Science textbook, p. 49)
The attitude towards the region has three strategies: The first strategy is the unity of Muslims among all Muslims and the creation of a global Islamic union. At a minimum, this imaginary union will be supplied through the ties, links, and the good relations among Islamic countries. At a maximum, it will include the union of Muslims for creating a supranational Islamic movement. The second strategy is the Islamic Republic as the center of the Islamic countries. The textbooks frequently speak of post-1979 Iran as the governmental model for other Islamic countries based on the Islamic agenda. The Islamic Republic is considered the center of the struggle with the "common enemy" and the protector of the region's Islamic movements, especially for defending the rights of Palestinians. The third strategy is the struggle to prevent the expansion of the West's "influence" in the political, cultural, and economic arenas. Since it is not possible for the discourse on identity to spread without the existence of a "common enemy," discussing Iran's opposition to the U.S., the West, and Israel, especially in its political dimension, plays an important role in justifying this agenda. These three strategies possess a certain organic logic and show the direction of the Islamic Republic's political agenda.
Chapter 5: Intolerance and Shi'ite Egocentrism
The textbooks are defined within the framework of a political-religious agenda. Therefore, a part of the curriculum justifies Islamic government and makes it appear legitimate from the Shi'ite perspective. From a historical standpoint, the concept of Islamic government started from the time of the prophet of Islam and considers the direction taken by Islamic societies in their transformation as a sign that they are realizing this "holy" imperative on a global scale.
The Islamic Republic is a divine regime (Grade 8 Social Science textbook, p. 26) that during the absence of the 12th Imamxxx has the duty to carry out Islamic laws and orders. The Islamic Republic is a "sacred" regime that has come into existence in relation to God's will and in reliance upon the traditions of the Prophet of Islam and the Shi'ite imams. "In a divine government, a person or group representing the people governs them in accordance with God's laws and orders." (ibid., p. 24) The theory of "Velayat-e Faghih" [Rule of the Jurisprudent], claims the continuity of the rule of the prophets and imams, under the leadership of a person (the Ruling Jurisprudent), who – during the last imam's absence – acts as his representative on earth.
"After the prophet, leading the Islamic society is the responsibility of religious leaders. In our time, the leader of the Islamic society is charged with this responsibility. A government, in which Islamic laws are carried out and the reins of leadership are in the hands of a person who is extremely well versed in Islam, is called the Islamic republic regime." (Grade 5 Social Studies textbook, p. 135)
"Muslims must accept only the rule of God. They must accept, pledge, and give their allegiance to his appointed guardian under any circumstances. Now, the following questions must be asked: What are the duties of the Islamic government and its leaders in our time? Hasn't God provided a plan for government in this period? The answer is: During the absence of Imam Zaman, the responsibility of supervising the Islamic society falls to the Jurisprudent, a person who has full knowledge of Islam and its tenets, and is just, virtuous, pious, aware of the complexities of the era, courageous, as well as efficient, prudent, and a good manager." (Grade 8 Social Science textbook, p. 48)
Such a holy interpretation of the system of government has important consequences in the relationship of individuals with the political institution. The most important result of this theory of Islamic government is that the system's legitimacy is not explained through earthly laws and experiences, but through religious traditions and sacred texts. Students are told that the Islamic Republic is the representative of divine order on earth. Islamic government is a governmental model brought back to life after the 1979 Revolution. It is a prelude to the human society to come in the future, particularly at the coming of the 12th Imam. The Shi'ite tradition has universal credibility and in the future, the entire world will walk in this path towards salvation.
"Imam Zaman is the hope of all Muslims and the oppressed in the world. In the hope of his coming, Muslims strive to prepare the ground for the establishment of the universal rule of Islam." (Grade 7 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 77)
"Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran, under Ayatollah Khamenei's leadership, continues in the clear and glorious path of Imam Khomeini, and, the Iranian people, with their belief in God, continue to fight against the enemies of Islam as well. The Islamic Republic of Iran makes strides in developing and building the country each day and strengthens the hopes of the world's Muslims for deliverance from oppression and cruelty at the hands of oppressors. The fondest wish of all of us is that the Islamic Revolution joins the universal revolution of the 12th Imam and saves all the oppressed from the dominance and cruelty of the great powers." (Grade 5 'Heavenly Gifts' religion studies textbook, p. 134)
The first outcome of this approach is that any form of opposition to the Islamic government is in opposition to divine "will." In other words, acceptance of the Islamic government becomes a form of religious and sacred duty. The term "sacred" is often used to describe the Islamic Republic, Islamic government, and regime. Thus, not observing the laws is interpreted as inattentive to religious norms and principles.
The second outcome of attributing "divine" and "sacred" qualities to the Islamic government is that criticism – man's most valuable achievement in the age of modernity – is not tolerated. The Islamic government's philosophical, political, and legal foundations cannot be questioned and, as a result, are not capable of change because they possess a divine and eternal essence and are not time- or location-specific. "The Prophet introduced Islam as the eternal religion and presented its orders and laws as eternal." (Grade 7 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 71)
The third outcome is belief in the authenticity and supremacy of Islamic laws as opposed to secular laws. Secular laws will be credible when they do not contradict religious or divine laws. All textbooks demonstrate that Islam can offer effective and efficient solutions. Presenting concepts such as Islamic judicial power, Islamic economics, Islamic schools, and Islamic banking, in relation to this way of thinking is understandable. Islam is not just about worship, spirituality, and moral issues; in other words, it does not just limit itself to the boundaries of going to the mosque and practicing a pure form of religion. Therefore, Islam is a religion for all spheres of life and its laws and orders do not contradict the realities of the contemporary world.
"The collection of learning and orders that exist in the Koran, the Prophet's life, and the traditions of the leaders of the religion, is designed by God in such a way that, by referring to them, one can find the answers to the questions and needs of societies in all eras, provided that one uses the scientific methods and proper research compiled by religious scholars and specialists, and acts with sufficient knowledge and insight.... Now we will take up certain characteristics of the religion of Islam that allow for its adaptability to the changing needs of the time. First: attention to fixed needs side by side with the changing needs.... Second: the priority of spirituality and meaning over physicality and appearances.... Third: the existence of laws and regulations.... Fourth: the powers of the Islamic system and the Islamic leader ... " (Grade 10 Religion and Life textbook, pp. 33-34)
"The constitution of our country has been written on the basis of the orders in the Koran. Laws ratified by the Islamic Parliament, too, must not contradict divine laws and God's orders." (Grade 8 Social Science textbook, p. 26)
"A judge must ... have complete knowledge of juridical and Islamic laws, and render his judgments on the basis of truth and justice." (Grade 8 Social Science textbook, p. 43)
"If the leader of Islamic society is not a jurisprudent, Islamic laws will not be carried out in society. As a result, society will deviate from the path to evolution and prosperity and become corrupt. Can you provide examples of corruption in other societies? In your opinion, why have these societies become susceptible to such calamities?" (Grade 8 Social Science textbook, p. 49)
The manner in which Islam is presented in relation to government bears a strong resemblance to political Islamic discourse, which has spread extensively in the last three to four decades, especially in the Middle East. Political Islam, in the guise of an alternative ideology, wishes to appear as a full-fledged, universal social theory and claims to have an efficient and executable plan for Islamic societies. Textbooks discuss the framework and characteristics of this "Islamic government" in various subjects.
Perceiving the world and interpreting it from the standpoint of a religious-political ideology is synonymous with a form of egocentrism and unilateralism in encountering the history, citizens, and society of one's own country, as well as those of other countries. In this regard, certain persons, in Iran and abroad, are "false" and, confronting them is another group that possesses the "Absolute Truth." In a country that is ethnically and religiously diverse, seeing the world, society, and human beings from such a standpoint is tantamount to rejection of the basic principle of equality of human beings within the framework of geographic borders, and the rejection of "other" and the propagation of a culture in which tolerating others clearly has no place. This perspective will lead to a form of identity differentiation of the Islamic countries and Muslims from others.
When Shi'ism becomes a full-fledged, universal ideological mechanism and political discourse, it will lead to a categorization of persons, groups, social phenomena, and other countries. According to this discourse, owing to the religion, behavior, and philosophy of life that has been adopted, certain people become "self." Faced with those who are not in harmony with these norms and beliefs, such persons become – explicitly – "other."
The two concepts of "self" and "other" have a structural presence in the religious-political agenda and are used extensively in clarifying and interpreting the world. Subjects studied judge the world, people, and events from the vantage point of a frozen and closed value system. Subjects in which only the "self" is discussed and the "other" is belittled and the differences ignored, take on an institutional character. Differences that in multicultural societies are an obvious reality, are turned into standards used for placing people in separate groups and categories. Various stereotypes that have come about because of the separation of the world into "self" and "other" are reproduced and repeated. The presentation and prevalence of a form of dichotomy – i.e., Islam vs. the enemies of Islam, Iran vs. the enemies of Iran, the Muslim community vs. non-Muslims, Islam vs. other religions, the godly vs. the infidel, the truly pious vs. the monafegh (the hypocrite), the oppressed vs. the oppressors, the poor vs. the rich – in parts of textbooks is the result of this antagonistic stance on differences.
The Value System
Evaluating the value system helps in understanding the textbooks' cultural and ideological framework. The themes discussed here are directly related to the context of discrimination and intolerance.
Protection of the Oppressed and Social Justice: Islam is the religion of social justice and the defender of the poor and oppressed (mahroum) both in Iran and abroad. The Islamic Revolution has not only religious and spiritual dimensions, but its political agenda includes the improvement of the conditions of needy groups. The fact that the protection of the oppressed is emphasized shows a continuation of the post-1979 revolutionary discourse, in which Islamic government has a complete social agenda. This perspective reveals itself especially within the criticism of the capitalist system.
"... The new economic system which is based on money has turned money into a fundamental value in societies, to the point where those who want the good of societies speak of the prevalence of the weakening and death of spirituality and conscience and of forgetting people's identities as human beings ... " (Grade 9 Social Studies textbook, p. 58)
"Unfortunately, the majority of regimes known as democratic regimes today consist of the rule of a minority comprised of the wealthy over the majority of the people. For example, the Republican and Democratic Parties in the United States are in the hands of two groups of the wealthiest people in America who control the most extensive media apparatus for propaganda. By relying on their enormous wealth and potent propaganda, they attract people's attention to their specific goals and gain their votes (usually with a low percentage of the total vote). For further information about this subject see Noam Chomsky's 'World Orders, Old and New,' Ettela'at Publishers. (Grade 11 Religion and Life textbook, p. 149)
Although the poor and oppressed (mahroum) discussed in textbooks can be mistaken in partaking in Marxist theory, they do not, in fact, share the same belief as Marxist social stratification. The oppressed are not presented as "positive" characters only from the economic standpoint but they comprise all those who suffer under the tyranny of the oppressors. "By carrying out justice, the judicial branch rescues the oppressed from the tyranny of the oppressors." (Grade 8 Social Science textbook, p. 43) Despite the constant repetition of terms such as "oppressed" or "poor," no precise definition for this term exists. (Grade 9 Social Studies textbook, p. 122) The same is true of the term "social justice," which takes on a populist and ambiguous character. Lessons clearly discussing how to bring about social justice are seldom found.
A type of culture exists that "praises poverty" – that is, a culture which holds poverty in high esteem and gives it great importance – given that poverty is considered a type of social virtue or a way to lay the ground for "religious morality."
Alongside its repeated references to the poor and to impoverished life, a few cases wealthy people who are "virtuous" appear, because they are able to help others with their generosity. However, the assumption is that, as a rule, the powerful are mainly anti-religion oppressors who have become enemies of the divine order. "Imam Hassan (the 2nd of the 12 imams of Shi'ites) was very kind. In the course of his life, several times he gave away all his wealth among the needy. Like his father, he fought tyrants and oppressors. Ultimately, he was martyred for this very reason." (Grade 2 'Heavenly Gifts' religion studies textbook, p. 41)
The same framework of "praising poverty" applies to the ceaseless and repetitive praise of a simple lifestyle, especially in the biographies of important religious, political, scientific, cultural personalities of Iran and the world. For example, in a lesson on the life of Ayatollah Khomeini, which includes photographs of his birthplace and his last residence, the Grade 8 Farsi textbook states, "He lived simply his entire life." (p.7) The same holds true for Mohammad-Ali Rajaei (former Iranian president killed in a 1981 bombing in Tehran): "My mother managed to support us through the small sum she earned from processing cotton. Most of the time the skin on her finger tips was cracked because she worked so much ... " (Grade 7 Farsi textbook, p. 17)
"Einstein led a simple life and did not pay much attention to the clothes he wore ... " (Grade 6 Farsi textbook, p. 171)
"The screenplay of 'Children of Paradise,' written by Majid Majidi, who also directed the movie, tells the story of Zahra and Ali, two siblings who bear the weight of their poverty honorably." (Grade 10 Farsi textbook, p. 16)
"The meaning and idea of Parvin E'tessami's poetry is very rich and dignified.... Humane instincts and the desire to protect poor people, orphans, the aged, and the oppressed pour forth from the core of her being and brims with sincerity and honesty ... " (Grade 6 Farsi textbook, p. 118)
"The young girl's name was Marie and she was Polish. Marie was born in a poor but happy family in Warsaw, the capital of Poland, where she finished her studies. Then, living in poverty, she continued her education at the University of Paris. (Grade 8 Farsi textbook, p. 169)
Groups vs. Individual: the three institutions of politics, religion, and family have complete and permanent control of an individuals' behavior and the limits of freedom of their actions and thoughts. The fact that the citizen portrayed is part of a larger group that comprises the religious society, family, the village or city, the nation, and the Islamic community, is more important than his/her own personal individuality or autonomy.
The necessity of group unity and interests is of utmost importance. Individuality – that leads to discord, separation, division, and plurality – is contrary to the accepted value system. A person's individuality is selfish; the individual receives less attention as a "social actor" or "subject." This individual is a reflection of the culture and mentality of a mass society prone to excitability, and in which pluralism is placed in the shadows and a citizen's individuality is not officially recognized. Therefore, the emphasis is on the necessity for a leader in a society and the importance of "obedience" and respect for the leader for reaching goals. The repetition of the terms "obedience," "following," and "imitation" signifies the existence of a patriarchal culture, particularly since, as the principal value, gender- and age-based family hierarchy is interjected throughout, even in images.
In explaining the concept of the Velayat-e Faghih in Islamic government, the Grade 8 Social Science textbook says, "Ruling or guardianship means supervision of the people. Persons who follow a particular intellectual or political school of thought, have, in fact, accepted the guardianship and supervision of that school of thought or person." (p. 19) The following passage appears in the same lesson: "In this form of government, a person or group who rules the people does not act on the basis of his or its own discernment but lays the foundations for governing methods on the basis of divine orders, the teachings of the prophets, and the guardians appointed by God." The lesson continues: "In an Islamic society people think freely, express their opinions, encounter views contrary to their own calmly and patiently, obey the instructions of those above them, and every one obeys the Ruling Jurisprudent and follows his orders." (ibid., p. 67)
While emphasizing that obeying "divine laws" and the "leader" is everyone's inescapable duties, by presenting historical narratives and stories that have a moral message, the culture of the "leader," the "group," and "union" turn into reality. In the Grade 6 Social Science textbook, in a lesson on group unity, the concepts of "consulting with members," "a sense of responsibility in group projects," "cooperation," "observing order," and "following the instructions of the group's leader" are mentioned as necessary for successful group activity. The notion of leader is used in this way in relation to the role of the family and carrying out the imperative that its members "must follow the sayings and behavior of the leader of the family" as their duty. (Grade 6 Social Science textbook, p. 11) Following this, there is a lesson with the title, "Why does a family need a leader?" (p. 44), in which, by providing an example about the necessity for the existence of a group leader in reaching the summit, the position of the leader of the family is discussed and the students are asked, "Which family member could be the leader and supervisor of the family?" (ibid., p. 40)
The same mentality is at work in the mode of interpretation of the political issues of the day. Accordingly, society is a unified whole with a common political goal, relying on a unified ideology and leadership. A passage in the Grade 4 Social Studies textbook reads: "If the world's Muslims are unified, their enemies cannot defeat them." (p. 132)
"We live in an Islamic society. Islamic society has certain characteristics. Unity, consulting with one another, cooperation, putting others before oneself, and sacrifice are all among the characteristics of Islamic society. In this lesson, we will learn about the concept of unity, which is one of the most important characteristics of Islamic society." (Grade 5 Social Studies textbook, pp. 147-153)
Jihad: The subject of jihad (holy war) and its various forms is analyzed in different ways. Although the main points of reference are the experiences Islam's beginnings and the jihad-like wars of the Prophet of Islam, for the most part, the students are introduced to jihad in terms of legitimacy.
"The Al-e Omran verse (chapter from the Koran) contains the story of the Battle of Ahad and many topics on jihad, mobaheleh (cursing each other), inviting Jews to convert to Islam, the duty to be patient and steadfast, describing the virtues of God, and several beautiful prayers. This chapter was revealed at a time when the message of invitation to Islam had echoed in the world of that day and the enemies of Islam were sensitive and vigilant." (Grade 8 Koran textbook, p. 11)
"His Holiness Imam Ali was one of the most courageous heroes of that time. He loved jihad and martyrdom and did not fear any power. In the battlefield, he took the first step and fought hard. He preferred being martyred with a thousand thrusts of the sword in the path of God rather than dying as an invalid." (Grade 6 Religious Studies textbook, p. 89)
Textbooks believe that the "duty" of jihad is not a sign of violence in Islamic culture and thought, but rather, that it is more a reaction against violence. "You know that Islam is the religion of belief and faith, thought, reasoning, and logic, and that it has spread widely through these means. Islam never imposes its own just beliefs through armed conflict and military threats.... Perhaps you will ask, then why does jihad exist? What purpose do battles and armed warfare serve? The answer is, Islam is the religion of peace and calm and, until armed action becomes necessary, it will not issue an order for jihad. However, when it is called for, not only does Islam brook no fear of war and jihad, but it also issues orders for it to be waged and considers it a religious duty and among the best ways to worship God." (Grade 8 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 67)
Social Science, Grade 6, p. 66
An important point in explaining the issue of jihad is the grounds for the necessity of this religious "principle" in relation to those who are called the "enemies of Islam" both within the country's borders and abroad. It is by referring to these very "enemies," that the necessity and credibility of jihad is emphasized in the contemporary era.
"The Friday Prayer Imam delivers his sermons while he is standing and leaning on his weapon. Do you know why? So that he can announce that Islamic society keeps itself prepared and ready for combat under any circumstances. He holds his weapon in his hand and leans on it so that he can announce that, in the path towards realization of 'divine values,' the Islamic society is always prepared to wage jihad against the deviant, the infidels, and the monafeghan (hypocrites) who do not accept the just word and rise up and oppress others." (Grade 7 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 93)
"Defensive jihad is incumbent upon every one. The young and the old, men and women, everyone, absolutely everyone, must take part in this sacred battle, fight to the best of his or her abilities or assist our fighters.... If colonialists outside the borders of the country interfere in the affairs of Islamic countries through their agents inside the country, the religion of Islam does not permit Muslims to remain silent and watch the foreigners pillage and plunder but orders them to rise up and strive with all their might to defeat the enemy and liberate their country. This too is a defensive jihad and is incumbent upon everyone." (Grade 8 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 70)
"By taking note of the guidance and instructions provided by Islam, every Muslim youth must strike fear in the hearts of the enemies of God and their people through combat-readiness and skillful target shooting. He must always be ready to defend his country, honor, and faith and use all his capabilities and power in this endeavor. After the victory of the Revolution, His Holiness Imam Khomeini, the deceased leader of the Islamic Revolution, issued an order for the establishment of the basij (paramilitary group) for the Oppressed." (Grade 7 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 60)
Sacrifice and Self-Sacrifice: The realization of the requirement of jihad depends on the existence of human beings willing to put the interests of others before their own and sacrifice themselves for the sake of their group beliefs and ideals. A special place is reserved for the concept of sacrifice, especially in its higher form, that is, martyrdom for one's homeland or one's religious beliefs. Martyrdom holds an important place: everyone universally praises martyrs dating from the beginning of Islam until the present day and their sacrifice is commemorated as a sacred and religious act.
"Heaven has eight doors through which those who are destined for heaven enter. One gate is dedicated to the prophets and those who are honest; another is for martyrs and pious people, and the remaining gates are for other groups." (Grade 2 'Heavenly Gifts' religion studies textbook, p. 44)
"Imam Hussein (the third of the Shi'ites' 12 imams) was kind to children. He helped the poor and needy but was always fighting tyrants. Ultimately, he was martyred at the hands of tyrants." (Grade 2 'Heavenly Gifts' religion studies textbook, p. 44)
"There are many forms of tremendous generosity: The example used above was an example of enormous generosity with one's own property. An individual who loses his life in the path of God and for the good of society has also committed an act of abundant generosity by putting the interests of others before his own and paying with his life. Giving one's own life or martyrdom is the highest degree of generosity. (Grade 5 Social Studies textbook, p. 156)
In the Farsi textbooks of Grades 1 through 11, 31 lessons discuss martyrdom and death for the sake of religious or political beliefs. These lessons are mostly biographies or autobiographies of important religious figures of the past, including soldiers and officers of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution and the basij (paramilitary group). These include the 1st, the 2nd, the 3rd, and the 8th Imams, Sumayah (Islam's first female martyr), Ayatollah Modarres, Mustafa Khomeini, Mohammad-Ali Rajaei, Mohammad-Javad Tondgouyan (Iran's Petroleum Minister during the Iran-Iraq War, 1980-88) and others.
"The infidels asked Sumaya, who had witnessed her husband's martyrdom, to call Mohammad names but Sumaya said, 'We have found our way and put our faith in the Prophet Mohammad. We have accepted his leadership and will never give up our faith and goal.' These were Sumaya's last words. Abu-Djahl, who had become desperate at the words of this courageous woman and was beside himself with anger, struck such a fierce blow to her body with his spear that she fell to the ground and died. She was saying 'God is great' and 'There is no god but Allah' with her last breaths and became a martyr. Sumaya was the first courageous woman who achieved the virtuous rank of martyrdom in the path of Islam." (Grade 7 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 42)
"Ammar's parents were martyred and Ammar, too, suffered and was tortured in the path of Islam. After tolerating years of torture and suffering, he immigrated to Medina and fought within the ranks of soldiers of Islam against the enemies. After the death of the Prophet, Ammar became one of Imam Ali's most loyal associates and fought at his side in wars until he achieved his fondest wish by being martyred." (ibid., p. 42)
The textbooks defend acts of terrorism carried out against governmental personalities during the Pahlavi monarchy by the religious opposition and explain them as unavoidable and revolutionary, given the conditions of Iran at the time. This worshipful attitude is also displayed towards the Hey'athaye Mo'talefehye Eslami and the Fadayian-e Eslam (radical Islamist parties), and especially towards a person by the name Navab Safavi, who took part in certain post-1945 acts of terrorism. (Grade 11 History textbook, p. 105)
Consecration and love of martyrdom have directly promoted the culture of victimization of Islamic and Shi'ite personalities in such a way that, as representatives of "pure Truth," they have always been portrayed as the faultless victims of oppressors who have taken up arms against them because of their religious beliefs. The symbolic personification of this culture and psychology is the 3rd Imam, (Imam Hassan, the third of the Shi'ites' 12 imams), who occupies an important position in the historical and collective memories of the Shi'ites and is often praised. Examples of this psychology of "victimization" are in all the textbooks, especially when well-known personalities are introduced. "At the time of Imam Reza (the 8th of the Shi'ites' 12 imams), an unjust tyrant named Ma'moun had taken over the governance of Muslims by force. Since Imam Reza was opposed to his oppression and abuse, he was poisoned by Ma'moun and was martyred." (Grade 3 'Heavenly Gifts' religion studies textbook, p. 57)
Family and the Institution of Marriage: Family is the most basic and fundamental institution in society. In the ideal cultural model, family plays the main role in the socialization process, especially from the religious standpoint. Family plays an integral role in the formation of an individual's identity. It is an important institution, owing to its role in the preservation of society and the prevention of moral decline.
"In Islam, family is the most favored social foundation; so long as the establishment of no other base is more valuable than the establishment of a family, whoever starts a family and saves himself from becoming contaminated by sin, will have safeguarded half of his religion from theft by evil elements." (Grade 8 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 81)
"To God, family is the most valuable social foundation, which comes into existence with the marriage of men and women and which becomes complete with the birth of children. After the birth of their children, men and women accept the responsibilities of parenthood and raise their children in their own bosom. (Grade 8 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 175)
"The purpose of the higher need that encourages men and women to live with each other is the sense of calm it brings about. This calmness can be reached only through being at the side of one's spouse: there is no other way to reach it. Even if an individual is awash in sexual pleasure but lives alone as a single person, he will still suffer from a form of internal restlessness and will feel the lack of a spouse at his side." (Grade 8 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 172)
The social studies and religious studies textbooks devote many pages to the topic of family, its place in the Islamic tradition and in the current Islamic government. A part of the "moral decadence" in Western countries is due to the weakening of the family in Western culture. The positions of men and women and their social roles are defined within the family and not marrying and not starting a family are considered abnormal.
Devotion, Abstinence, and Piety: The ideal human being is a firm believer in Islam, carries out his religious duties with total discipline, is pious, devout and virtuous, observes the principles of religious morality conscientiously, and meets the challenges presented by the complexities of today's world – which could pose obstacles in his path to practice his religion – with eagerness. "The prophets believe that the largest source of people's misfortune is forgetting the kind God and sinning by committing blasphemy, lacking faith, and materialism. They consider faith and attention to God to be the only source of human beings' happiness. Truly, with what hope does a person who does not believe in God live?" (Grade 7 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 27) The personalities constructed and introduced are perfect and faultless human beings who are true repositories of positive qualities.
"In his entire life, the deceased Hadj Akhound (a religious title) did not argue or fight with anyone, did not call anyone names, did not shout at anyone, never talked behind anyone's back, always kept his promise, did not trample on or violate the rights of anyone, and did not hurt anyone." (Grade 8 Farsi textbook, p. 104)
"The deceased Hadj Seyed Ahmad Khomeini, Imam Khomeini's son, has said, 'Everyone agrees that, since his youth – even when he was in school – the Imam refused to be present at any gathering at which there was talking behind others' backs, lying, accusation, and sin." (Grade 8 Islamic Culture and Religious Studies textbook, p. 1)
Through portraying positive role models, the textbooks present personality and behavior models that fit their own cultural standards. Many of these role models belong to the past, and, sometimes, the very distant past. A set of moral principles – some of which even do not necessarily have religious origin – are praised as virtues. A list of the virtues of the idealized human being includes: generosity, forgiveness, helpfulness to others, cooperation with others, modesty, being respectful of the poor, leading a simple life, honesty, frugality, tolerance for hardship, being respectful of elders, not talking behind people's backs, working hard, and courage.
Besides this value system, new topics have found their way into the textbooks. Despite their marginality, these new topics provide an interesting contrast with the other topics. One of these new values is environmental protection. The textbooks note the efforts that are taking place on the international level, especially by non-governmental organizations. Certain topics raised from a moral and traditional viewpoint are in harmony with this new approach to the environment, such as conservation of exhaustible natural resources and energy.
The data gathered for this analysis demonstrates that Iranian textbooks view the world with a religious and ideological approach. Perceiving the world, history, and human beings from the perspective of religious doctrine will lead to reductionism, bias, and exclusion. This discourse accepts certain people as insiders, "tolerates" other groups, and rejects others. Thus, in its essence, this reductionist outlook produces a behavioral and interpretive mechanism based on discrimination. In the discourse of the Iranian curriculum's religious ideology, the "self" and the "other" have a structural presence: they overshadow all subjects.
The quantitative and qualitative analyses of the attitude of the curriculum towards men and women and religious and ethnic minorities show that, the appearance of discriminatory attitudes is not accidental or sporadic but continuous, consistent, and systematic. In the discourse of the textbooks, being born a woman means having a different status than men and being subservient. A form of gender ideology strives to make the differences between men and women in all the principal arenas of social and individual life appear "legitimate" and "natural." Women do not have a way of entering the world order that is built on male authority. The same holds true for religious and ethnic minorities, who – compared to the Shi'ite majority – do not have a real or symbolic image and presence. However, the Shi'ites' systematic quest for superiority does not allow for the possibility of the followers of various religions to have equal rights, especially since those who are placed outside of the official norms, in practice, either become second-class citizens or are ignored.
This trend of the Shi'ites' quest for superiority is a main feature of the Iranian curriculum. This structural approach causes even the discourse on the equality of followers of all religions and ethnic groups to remain only a claim and to be negated in practice. When referring to ethnic minorities, textbooks officially recognize the existence of some religious minorities, such as Sunnis, Jews, Zoroastrians, and Christians. Instead of studying the regular religious studies textbook, Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian students study from textbooks specifically prepared for them. However, this does not mean an open approach to various religious, cultural, ethnic identities and social groups. The main problem with this perception of the world is that many of the differences become forms of identities with which individuals are born. It is as though, being a man, woman, Kurd, Sunni, Shi'ite, Baha'i, or Jew labels them from birth.
The second characteristic of the curriculum is that its discriminating viewpoint is recognized religiously and politically. The textbooks legitimize and justify this discriminatory viewpoint of gender, identity, and religion, thus forcing the reader to experience a form of institutionalized discrimination.
In the textbooks, an ideal individual is a devout and pious Shi'ite who believes in Islamic government and obeys Islamic laws. This "ideal" individual is ubiquitous and appears in the form of idealized personalities (such as religious or political personalities, martyrs, clerics, etc.). Although the "ideal" woman is not traditional or confined to her home, as her ancestors were, she accepts her differences and inferiority to men and eagerly submits to it. Individuals who fall outside of these stereotypical topics are "other," exactly in the same way that Jean-Paul Sartre said – on the lack of tolerance for outsiders – "Hell is others."
Thus, individuals are not equal and, in the hierarchy of values, are defined and judged based on gender, ethnic background, religion, and piety. The discourse of the textbooks has not been written with the concept of equality of all human beings, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the textbooks' reasoning, human beings cannot be equal with one another on this earth, in the same way that, on the day of reckoning, they will be subject to divine judgment for their identity and actions. The trend, based on the clear and official negation of the equality of human beings, created different positions for the various people in society. Some individuals are born first-class citizens, due to their identity, gender, and way of thinking, while others become second- and third-class citizens. Those who are excluded from the inside are victims of this discriminatory system.
A discourse of discrimination also brings about a discriminatory culture. This culture has its own signs, codes, language, and values, and, by repeating them, the textbooks make discrimination and differentiation among people appear "natural" and legitimate. Thus, terms such as nadjes (impure), kafar (heathen), Baha'i, Western, monafegh (hypocrite), deviant, deceived, or enemy draw the boundaries of identity, and victims of such a discriminatory system, who are on the other side of the barbed wires of the prison of ideology, become second-class citizens.
An important question that arises from this study is the hierarchy among the various forms of discrimination. For example, is gender discrimination the most prevalent form of discrimination in the Iranian curriculum? Answering this question is problematic because the forms, meaning, and degrees of discrimination are not the same. Gender discrimination is undoubtedly the most important based on quantity. However, the discrimination that exists about kafaran (heathens) or Baha'is is more intense. As a result, the classification of forms of discrimination cannot express all the multilateral realities of this topic, especially from the qualitative angle and from the angle of its effect on people. Nevertheless, the important point to focus on is the concurrent presence of these forms of discrimination towards various social groups. When certain individuals suffer two or three forms of discrimination at once, they will face a multi-faceted discrimination. A Sunni Kurd experiences two forms of discrimination at once, as a religious and ethnic minority. A Sunni Kurdish woman or a Baha'i Kurdish woman must tolerate three forms of discrimination all at once – gender, ethnic and religious.
The textbooks' discourse is a rhetoric based on violence. Explicit violence occurs when speaking of martyrdom with reverence or when destroying and eliminating opponents in domestic jihad. The hatred towards Israel, the U.S., and the West breeds intolerance and discrimination. The content analysis of the textbooks reveals the existence of other forms of violence in the religious and ideological discourse. For the most part, these forms of violence are due to a discriminatory viewpoint and culture. Institutionalized violence occurs when someone is deprived of having rights equal to those of others because she is a woman, a Baha'i, a kafar (heathen), or Sunni, and as such, is criticized, judged, and admonished directly. Symbolic violence takes place when certain individuals are denigrated or ignored and are victimized by what is left unsaid by the textbooks.
The "original sin" of the textbooks – in the production and reproduction of a discriminatory viewpoint and the explicit negation of equality of human beings – is related to the ideological-political discourse. This viewpoint becomes the prisoner of this closed, frozen, and unilateral outlook of the world. Thus, the philosophical structure of the textbooks is in clear contradiction to critical thinking and criticizing the world, which is the most important achievement of modernity. This identity-based attitude towards the subject of religion leads to classifications and reduces the possibility of peaceful and humane coexistence. The fundamental problem is that their point of departure is pure religious "Truth" and interpreting the world based on eternal beliefs that do not change with time or space. The position and the rights of men and women in society change in accordance with time and space and cannot remain in permanent forms. It is in this way that perceiving women from the perspective of religious texts and pure Islamic values unavoidably leads to a discriminatory culture and a demodernized viewpoint. At the same time, viewing the world from the value system of a specific religion is discriminatory in and of itself. The growth of this discriminatory culture takes place based on the differences in individual identity. A mechanism for the reproduction of discrimination exists within the core of this ideologized religious discourse.
It is in this way that a discourse that considers itself moral, spiritual, and at the service of all humanity, is turned, paradoxically, into a discriminatory rhetoric that separates and divides human beings from one another. The problem of the Iranian educational system is the same as that of all religious schools that view the world egocentrically: the system imposes the textbooks on students and they do not have the freedom or right to criticize.
In spite of the religious essence of the textbooks, in comparison with those of the pre-1979 era, the Iranian curriculum is not a return to ancient religious schools. The mixing of religious and secular knowledge and the contradictions created by this unusual combination give the Iranian educational system its special characteristic. In the curriculum, there is coexistence combined with constant tension and struggle between tradition and modernity. The textbooks do not negate modernization in the technological sense. Compared to the History, Farsi, and Social Studies textbooks, there are few signs of religion in the scientific textbooks (e.g., mathematics, sciences, and Technical and Practical Training). The spirit of modernity and modern thought are either completely overshadowed or negated. The most fundamental characteristic of modernity is the freedom to criticize and analyze historical paradigms and religious view of the world and officially recognizing the inherent autonomy, rights, and equality of human beings. In many contexts, if they are not confronting modern culture and thinking, the textbooks have a serious distance from them.
Overall, concerning their attitudes towards discrimination, the science, mathematics, and foreign language textbooks are significantly different from other textbooks. The science textbooks have images of women participating in scientific activities like men. At the other extreme are the Religious Studies, Koran, and Social Studies textbooks, which actively participate in the explanation, interpretation, and legitimization of discrimination. The History and Farsi textbooks lie somewhere in between these two poles.
Nevertheless, there have been positive changes in the textbooks in recent years. A comparison of the results of this study with the research from previous years – especially in the revolutionary years of the 1980s – demonstrates that the intensity of ideological and religious discourse has been reduced and that the textbooks exhibit a more open view of Iran and the world. Of course, these changes are not fundamental, and, as this study shows, the former principal trends and tendencies continue to comprise the dominant viewpoint, and they have not been able to change the discriminatory culture in a tangible and crucial way.
The questions that arise after reading this report or similar analyses are: How do students learn? What understanding do they have from these subjects? What are their attitudes towards these subjects? And, is the Iranian educational system succeeding in its efforts to impose specific behavioral models and specific forms of religious worldview? Does the discriminatory culture that exists in the textbooks transform behavioral models for students? What connection do Iranian students have with other cultural and learning opportunities and to what degree are they able to have access to independent sources or the Internet? Responding to these important sociological questions is beyond the scope of this study.
Sociological research proves that in the learning process, students are not passive subjects. Research conducted on Iranian students confirms this theory. The resistance of students, teachers, and the families faced with a curriculum based on a political-religious doctrine brings a permanent tension between the official educational system and society. Learning in schools cannot simply be a process of the passive transference of knowledge to the students. The students' experiences, mentality, representations, and their other learning environments all work side-by-side with the communication in the educational and social environments in understanding and learning from the academic subjects. From this angle, the processes of learning, as a part of socialization of an active subject, are multi-dimensional, and ideological endeavors for a machine-like education of human beings based on the behavioral models and pre-fabricated stereotypes, especially in the era of globalization, usually are not very successful. The students are the subjects in the processes of learning in school and they learn the academic subjects in the light of their other knowledge and experiences. However, in spite of the many studies, the effects of this form of education on the youth and their attitudes can assist in gaining a better understanding of the Iranian society today and its fundamental contradictions.
Annex 1 – List of Iranian Textbooks
Heavenly Gifts (religious studies)
Heavenly Gifts (religious studies homework book)
Heavenly Gifts (religious studies)
Heavenly Gifts (religious studies homework book)
Heavenly Gifts (religious studies)
Heavenly Gifts (religious studies homework book)
Heavenly Gifts (religious studies)
Heavenly Gifts (religious studies homework book)
Grade 6 (First year of Middle School)
Technical Professional Training
Grade 7 (Second year of Middle School)
Islamic Culture and Religious Studies
Technical Professional Training
Grade 8 (Third year of Middle School)
Islamic Culture and Religious Studies
Technical Professional Training
Grade 9 (First year of High School)
Religion and Life
Physics and Laboratory
Chemistry and Laboratory
Mathematics of Basic Skills
Biology and Health
Grade 10 (Second year of High School)
Religion and Life
Grade 11 (Third year of High School)
Religion and Life
Contemporary Iranian History
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1 IRNA (Islamic Republic News Agency), September 5, 200
2 Mehr News, February 2, 2008.
3 The first modern school (American Boy's School) was founded in 1834 in Ouroumieh (Azerbaijan, northwestern province) by Justin Perkins, an American Presbyterian missionary. The first girl's school opened in 1838, under the direction of Mrs. Grant.
4 Founded by Amir Kabir as a poly-technical school.
5 Jalal Al Ahmad's essay called "Occidentosis: A Plague from the West" (Gharbzadegi), written in 1962, addresses the Islamists of that time period and their concern that the West is responsible for all that is evil in their country and the Third World. One chapter of this book is devoted to education and universities, perceived by the author as Westernized institutions, with the ultimate goal of "creating Westernized men." (Al Ahmad, p. 131). Several Islamist intellectuals of this time, including Shariati, take Al Ahmad's argument one step further by openly advocating the return of Islamic spirituality and traditional schools.
6 Private networks of Islamic schools have recently emerged in several secular countries in the region, including Turkey and Egypt.
7 In the English translation of the Iranian grading system, Grades 1 to 11 are used: Grades 1 to 5 are elementary school years; Grades 6 to 8 are middle school years; and Grades 9 to 11 are high school years.
8 The term "ideological" is used here within the context of alignments prevalent in the worldview, philosophy, and politics of Iran's educational system. In social and political sciences, the term "ideology" is applied to a system of consistent beliefs and judgments used to explain, interpret, and justify a particular group's existence and position. Ideology perceives and judges the world based on a set of unified principles and has a value system that explains the group's historical alignments and important trends.
9 For sources available other than Farsi see: Nahid (1993-1994); Bartsch (2005); Yavari-d'Hellencourt (1988); Groiss, A. & Toobian (2007); Heydari (2002); Meyer (1984); Mohammadi (2004); Mohsenpour (1988); Monadi (1997); Paivandi (2006, 2005a, 2005b, 2003a, 2003b); Shorish (1988); Talegani, (1994).
10 Djashn-e Taklif is a ceremony of worship held in primary school for girls who have reached the age of nine and who, therefore, are required to observe religious orders, e.g., hejab.
11 In images and paintings of religious personalities of the highest rank (prophets, imams, and their families), the subject's face is covered by a halo. In certain depictions of sacred personalities, the subject is shown from his back or side.
12 For sources other than Farsi see: Heydari (2002); Mehran (1998), Meyer (1984); Nahid (1993-1994); Paivandi (2006, 2005a, 2005b, 2003a), and Taleghani, (1994).
13 Based on the latest data from the Statistical Center of Iran (publication on Statistics News, 2007), the annual growth rate of women's participation in the labor market can be estimated at approximately 6 percent. This rate is twice that of the rate for men. In spite of this rapid growth, which is due to demand for female workers, and in spite of the unprecedented growth in the number of women with higher education, the rate of employment of Iranian women is low in comparison with that of similar countries in the region, such as Turkey. The Statistical Center of Iran has estimated the employment rate of Iranian women in 2006 at about 15 percent of the total population of active working age.
14 According to the statistics from the Iranian Ministry of Higher Education, between 1992 and 2005, the number of graduates from Iranian universities grew seven-fold, from 26,000 graduates per year to 180,000 graduates per year. (Statistical Center of Iran, Statistics Yearbook 2005).
15 This ceremony is held officially in Iranian schools for girls who have reached the age of 9, when they are required to observe religious orders. The main objective of this ceremony – which is mentioned in the textbooks – is to familiarize and assimilate adolescent girls with the concept of "takallof" or reaching the age when they are required to observe religious norms. The observance of hejab and the necessity of covering oneself from the eyes of the "namahram" are two angles presented in connection with the body for nine-year-old students.
16 G. Haddad Adel, currently the speaker of the Majles, headed the Office for Planning and Writing the Textbooks at the Ministry of Education.
17 The term ommat is a Koranic concept, which is applied to the Community of Muslims and which has been in use since the time of the Prophet Mohammad. The circumstances of formation of the Islamic empire in the Seventh Century AD, in the vast lands spanning the area from the borders of India to Spain, brought this term into use. Unlike the concept of nation, the term ommat is not concerned with geographic boundaries but is applied to the community of people whose religion is Islam. The Pan-Islamic and Islamist discourses of the 20th century discuss Islamic internationalism in reliance upon this concept.
18 Although people are asked about their religion in official Iranian censuses, there is no separation between Shi'a and Sunnis in terms of the statistics. According to the latest national census conducted in Iran (2006), the populations of the regions where Sunnis reside, is above 3.8 million. This number should not be considered as the Sunni part of religious statistics in Iran because it reflects only the demographic importance of the Sunnis provinces. Some residents of the said areas are Shi'ite and many Sunnis live in other Iranian provinces as well.
19 According to the latest national census conducted in Iran (2006), the number of Zoroastrians is estimated at approximately 19,800. This number is 29 percent less than the number of Zoroastrians according to the previous census (Iran Statistical Center, 2007).
20 According to the latest national census conducted in Iran (2006), the number of Christians in Iran is 109,500. In comparison with the results of the previous census, conducted in 1996, the number of Christians in Iran grew by 39 percent (Iran Statistical Center, 2007).
21 According to the latest national census conducted in Iran (2006), the number of Jews in Iran is approximately 9,250, which, in comparison with the results of the 1996 Census, shows a decline of 29 percent (Iran Statistical Center, 2007).
22 No official statistics exist on the exact number of the followers of the Baha'i religion in Iran. In 1998, the United Nations Human Rights Commission mentioned Baha'is as the largest religious minority in Iran and said that they number approximately 300,000 (the United Nations Economic, Social, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Human Rights Commission, Resolution E/CN.4/1998/NGO/13, dated February 23, 1998).
23 In the registration questionnaire for the entrance examination for the universities, there is a specific question about the religion of the candidates.
24 According to the 2006 national census, approximately 18 million of Iran's population of 70 million lives in regions where ethnic and linguistic minorities constitute a large majority of the population. This number, which comprises 26 percent of Iran's population, does not reflect all the ethnic realities in Iran. Widespread internal immigration in the last 25 years has led to the growth of ethnic mixing in Iran.
25 Please refer to I. Mohammadi's (2004) work regarding the language and identity of Kurdish minorities.
26 According to the Twelver Shi'ite tradition, the 12th Imam – who "disappeared" and will reappear at an appropriate juncture to establish a world government and rescue humankind from evil – is the "hope" of the world's Shi'ites. The concept of "Mahdaviya," is used to refer to this important belief in the Shi'ite sect of Islam.
27 In the Farsi textbooks, there are references to the works of Western authors, André Malraux, André Gide, William Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Paul Elouard, Alexei Tolstoy, Leo Tolstoy, Bertolt Brecht, Somerset Maugham, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Jules Verne, and Alexandre Dumas.
28 The well-known seminary in Qom whose scholars played a prominent role in Iranian politics between 1963 to the 1979 Revolution.
2929 Muharram is the first month of the Islamic Calendar. Ashura, the tenth day of Muharram, is celebrated by the Shi'ite for the anniversary of Imam Hussein's martyrdom. It is one of the most important Shi'ite celebrations.
3030 According to the Twelver Shi'ite tradition, in 874 A.D., at the age of six, the 12th Imam [also known as Imam Zaman or His Holiness Mehdi] disappeared from view and will reappear at a more appropriate juncture to establish a world government. What is called – in Shi'ite thought and history – the "philosophy of waiting" is, in fact, a reference to this important belief in the Shi'ite sect of Islam.
About the Author
Saeed Paivandi is a professor of sociology at the Paris-8 University. He has an extensive background in education and specific expertise in Iran's post-revolutionary education system. Dr. Paivandi has written more than 34 articles, numerous research papers and comparative studies on topics related to education, including a book entitled, Religion and Education in Iran: the Failure of Islamicizing Schools, published in 2006 (L'Harmattan – Paris).