April 25, 2017 Special Dispatch No. 6894

Elementary School Lesson On How To Wash Dead Bodies For Burial Sparks Outrage In Iraq

April 25, 2017
Syria | Special Dispatch No. 6894

"Are we training our children to be morticians?" "In what direction are you taking education?" "This is a crime,"[1]"This spreads the culture of death"[2] – these are some of the outraged reactions on social media and in the Iraqi press to photos showing an elementary school teacher in Iraq instructing his students in washing the bodies of the dead in preparation for burial, using a child's doll to demonstrate.

Alongside harsh criticism of the teacher himself and his decision to teach a lesson deemed inappropriate for children of that age, and of the Education Ministry for allowing the teacher such freedom of action, some claimed that this incident shows how the Iraqi education system is becoming more religious and extreme, with the encouragement of both Sunni and Shi'ite political Islam parties. Some even argued that this reflects a collapse of the country's education system and its system of moral values.

It should be mentioned that reports on the incident did not mention the teacher's name or the name of the school where he teaches, and that no official response by the Iraqi Education Ministry has been published, but only personal responses by Iraqi teachers and educators.

Iraq body-wash for school children
Elementary school lesson on washing the deceased (, March 30, 2017)

Following are excerpts from the outraged reactions in Iraq following publication of the photos of the lesson:

Teachers and Educators: This Is A Crime Against The Students; It Is No Less Grave Than The Actions Of ISIS

Photos of the teacher giving the lesson in washing the deceased outraged many in Iraq, including teachers and educators. Thus, for example, teacher Nabil Ni'ma called for hospitalizing any teacher who believes that schoolchildren should be taught to wash the deceased. According to him, this incident "is no less grave than [the actions of] ISIS and its ilk." Another teacher, Taghrid Hadi, wondered what use such a lesson was: "Are the destruction, death, and horrifying images on TV and social networks not enough? And this is without even mentioning what our children hear from some preachers."[3]

Sa'don Al-Jabouri, an Education Ministry inspector, said that this lesson was not part of the approved curriculum, and that the teacher had erred and should be questioned about his motives. According to him, "such actions do not represent the Education Ministry. This is a personal initiative by a teacher who acted improperly and taught children how to wash and pray over the deceased... Iraqi children suffer greatly in their daily lives, which are full of news of wars, killing, and fear. Schools should distance them from this harsh atmosphere that is with them every day... The teacher misjudged the appropriateness of the children's age for such a lesson, and additionally, it is not part of the curriculum, harms students, and constitutes a crime against them..."[4]

Tahir Al-Bakaa', former Iraqi minister of higher education and scientific research, dubbed the case "a disaster" on his Facebook page. He wrote: "Instead of teaching children about fine art, and sowing hope and the love of life and labor in their hearts, [this teacher] teaches them how to wash the deceased, pray [over them], and bury them. Do we need [school] graduates to be morticians? Is this a bolstering of faith, or taking things too far? Last month, a video was posted showing another teacher teaching his students how to self-flagellate [as part of the Shi'ite Ashura ritual] during morning assembly. Where is the dignity of education? Where are you leading education?"[5]

school age Iraqi morticians

Articles And Social Media Reactions: "What Is The Point Of Such A Lesson?"; We Must Educate On The Culture Of Life Rather Than The Culture Of Death

The Iraqi press also featured criticism of the incident. Journalist Saleh Al-Hamdani attacked the inculcation of "the culture of death" in schoolchildren in an article titled "The Culture of Death and the Culture of Life," writing: "The only ones who can sow the seeds of devotion to life are a school, a well-trained teacher, and new curricula free of controversial historical chapters and certain principles of Islamic education that children cannot absorb... Inculcating religious texts dealing with death in little children fosters feelings of frustration and failure in 'the leaders of the future.' As a result, many youths in our society ponder how and where they will die, instead of pondering how to take part in building life and enjoying it... Let us teach our children love, personal hygiene, reading and writing, sports, games, and art, instead of teaching them things they should learn at an older age, if at all."[6]

Journalist Narmeen Al-Mufti sarcastically wondered what other lessons this teacher could give. Writing for, she called for prosecuting the teacher if this was found to be his personal initiative, since "such a teacher is a cause of religious and perhaps even sectarian extremism. In another lesson, he might introduce them to the torments of the grave, and create a generation that fears taking risks in order to realize their dreams..."[7]

Some saw the teacher's decision to teach such a lesson as a sign of lax Education Ministry oversight. The Facebook page of the Iraqi Center for Media and International Public Relations stated: "Is it conceivable that Iraqi society has reached such a low point[?] Is it conceivable that an educator teaches his students how to wash the deceased?! What is the educational point of such a lesson, which the student does not need to know and is not part of the curriculum?! The enlightened and learned Iraqi people, which was the first in the Middle East in terms of studies and higher education, has deteriorated to this low point in education. Where is the Education Ministry? How can it let such a crazy teacher give these lessons?"[8]

Iraqi media pr center

Articles: The Incident Reflects Education System's Turn Towards Religion, Extremism

Alongside criticism of the teacher and educational system, some also claimed that this case reflects how the education system is becoming more religious with the encouragement of the country's Sunni and Shi'ite religious parties.

An article about the incident on the news website stated: "Religious culture has managed to take over education in Iraq in a clear manner since 2003... One result of this religious influence over Iraqi education is that since 2003, some schools have adopted gender segregation... Religious education is spreading in the current time, with the establishment of [separate] religious schools for Sunnis and Shi'ites..."[9]

'Adnan Hussein, acting editor-in-chief of the daily Al-Mada, blamed the political Islam parties, both Sunni and Shi'ite, for the religious radicalization in the education system. He wrote: "This is not an isolated incident... but rather an expression of the collapse of the education system and of moral values in our country in this day and age, when the country is led by Shi'ite and Sunni political Islam parties which have appointed themselves the spokespeople of Allah and the overseers of the religion, its dictates, and instructions – and which control everything in the country.

"Had he not been certain that this system, of which he is a part, has fallen into a deep abyss, this teacher would not have deviated from the curriculum and taken his students out into the open air... to teach them how to wash dead bodies and wrap them in shrouds – rather than asking them to draw nature, exercise, or conduct simple scientific experiments about gravity, for instance...

"This is another in the list of 'achievements' made by political Islam, its leaders, and its activists. I do not expect such an event to rouse their emotions and conscience and lead them to reexamine themselves and the injustice that they and their parties have caused people..."[10]

Journalist Afrah Shawqi also pointed to a process of radicalization in the education system and the Education Ministry's lack of oversight of curricula, and wondered whether it was possible to combat ISIS and its views when the public education system has also adopted extremist positions. She wrote: "... The problem lies not only in the image of a teacher who cannot find any topic in Islam to teach children aside for washing the deceased, but rather in the lack of educational control and supervision of elementary schools in Iraq. There is no serious supervision; on the contrary – there is something much worse, since some school principals have befriended the supervisors who are supposed to audit their performance, and formed relationships based on mutual interests, the principle of "us against them," and on looking through a sectarian prism when dealing with negative phenomena that are exposed from time to time.

"Last time I visited a mixed [gender] elementary school, in Al-Mansour in the heart of Baghdad, where I wanted to register my children, I saw a large poster at the entrance to the school warning girls who do not wear a hijab of the punishments of Hellfire, and showing young girls [without the hijab] engulfed in flames, while smiling girls with the hijab stood next to them! Is this acceptable?... How can we possibly fight ISIS – its evil ideas, ignorance in interpreting the Koran, and its calls to terrorize – by spreading posters like this in elementary schools that are most important phase in the life of the student and in the shaping of his personality, role, social status, and connection to Allah?..."[11]

Facebook Post: I Don't Understand What The Fuss Is About; This Is Practical Instruction

In contrast, some praised the teacher for his "practical" teaching methods. One Facebook user, Sufian 'Othman, posted photos of the same teacher giving a lesson on traffic rules using similar methods and wrote: "I don't understand why it is a problem for a teacher to deviate from the curriculum and teach his students something different. On the contrary – this is the meaning of education, even if the topic is praying over the deceased. Where is the problem?!..."[12]


[1], March 30, 2017.

[2] Awajelpress.comm, April 2, 2017.

[3] Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), March 30, 2017.

[4] Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), March 30, 2017.

[5], March 30, 2017.

[6], April 2, 2017.

[7], March 30, 2017.

[8], March 30, 2017.

[9], April 1, 2017.

[10] Al-Mada (Iraq), March 31, 2017.

[11] Al-Sabah (Iraq), April 2, 2017.

[12], April 1, 2017.

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