Back to School in Mosul: The ISIS Curriculum

The so-called Islamic State continues to pretend it has the trappings of a real government. In addition to bogus ‘gold’ coins, it now offers a ridiculous syllabus.

10.29.15 5:14 PM ET

MOSUL, Iraq — For some parents in Mosul, this northern Iraqi city controlled by the extremist group known as the Islamic State, the worst has come true. After destroying many of the textbooks their children used to use in Mosul's schools, the Islamic State, or ISIS or Daesh, as it’s widely known, has developed a whole new curriculum for school-aged children living inside the areas it controls.

A father of three in Mosul, whom we’ll call Abu Omran, was hoping until very recently that his children might be able to go back to school. They had not been to class since ISIS took control of the city in mid-June last year. But now he is increasingly pessimistic about his children's future. They already have lost two terms of schooling and now it looks likely they will lose a third.

“I will not let them attend school just so they can learn about murder and extremism,” Abu Omar told us in a conversation conducted over a social messaging service. “Nobody is going to accept any of their qualifications anyway. My children were excellent students. I just wish I could take them out of this city so they could continue their schooling.”

There are between 300,000 and 400,000 students of all ages in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and most have the same kinds of problems. Iraq’s Ministry of Education has already said that it wouldn’t accept any certificates or qualifications that pupils passed in areas under ISIS control.

And it is easy to see why. We managed to obtain some digital samples of the new primary school curriculum, to be taught to children aged between 6 and 12 years old. Even just reading the introductions to the textbooks it is clear the level of indoctrination that is at work in them.

For example, in a book about physical fitness for 6-year-olds, two words are written on the cover: “continue”, or exist, and “expand.” The two words are used continuously inside the book with regard to sports and physical exercise. However these two words are more significant than that—they are part of the well known ISIS motto, which says the Islamic State will “continue (or persist and remain) and expand.”

Illustrations in other books, such as one on religious education and religious missions, or jihad, show children wearing the same outfit as the grown ISIS fighters wear—a loose “Afghan-style” tunic and baggy pants—and carrying weapons like pistols and machine guns.

A mathematics textbook asks arithmetic questions like this: If the Islamic State has 275,220 heroes in a battle and the unbelievers have 356,230, who has more soldiers?

(To read the textbooks in Arabic, you can follow these links to the PDFs:  history. religious education. physical education.  mathematics.)

“This is insane,” says a retired school manager who lives in Sulaymaniyah, in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, very close to Mosul; she was looking at the new ISIS schoolbooks on her computer. “Parents shouldn't even allow their children to go to school and read these,” she said. “They will graduate as militants, rather than as doctors or engineers!”

The teacher isn’t surprised this has happened, though. She notes that the head of the so-called department of education of ISIS is a man called Khaled al-Afari, a 30-year-old Turkmen from the town of Tal Afar, who has a degree in Islamic science.

The new school curriculum first appeared in Mosul two weeks ago, a headmaster at a school in Mosul told us. But the information was only available on CDs. The CDs were distributed to primary and secondary schools throughout the city and the students were asked to print out the pages themselves, and foot the cost for doing so. Alternatively they could buy a printed copy from one of the local print shops that had started producing the textbooks.

The Baghdad government’s new governor of Ninawa, Haji Sido, says he is concerned about the influence these kinds of textbooks would have on the children of Mosul. But at the same time, he said, he is optimistic, because he doesn’t think ISIS is capable of properly administering the city’s schools. The best indication of that is that Mosul’s schools haven’t actually started lessons again, he says.

In fact, there also are other reasons why classes have yet to begin again. Around six months ago the Iraqi government stopped transferring salaries to its employees in Mosul. The reason given was that the money was simply ending up in ISIS coffers—the group heavily taxes all those living in areas it controls in order to fund its own activities. Government employees in Mosul include around 53,000 teachers and other educational staff.

In order to pay the teachers and other staff, the ISIS department of education requires all students to pay fees. One employee of the Ninawa education department still in Mosul, whom we’ll call Abu Safaa, told us that every student at primary school must pay $12, secondary school pupils must pay $18 and university students, $50.

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“If there was anyone who was willing to send their children to school to be indoctrinated by the new ISIS curriculum, those high fees will surely dissuade them,” he says.

The school year started two weeks ago. However, most of Mosul’s classrooms and lecture halls remain empty of students or teachers. Many locals are hoping that the group’s new educational curriculum has no more currency than the group's own coinage, the bogus “golden dinar.” But they also worry that the extremists will use force to get things going again. It wouldn’t be the first time.

This story is adapted from the original appearing in, a publication of the German nonprofit organization MICT—Media in Cooperation and Transition, committed to the development of media projects in the Middle East and North Africa.