Historical episodes of peace and coexistence in Iraq will be re-read in an effort to tackle extremism in the country.
In the city of Najaf, one of the most important cities for Shia Muslims around the world, a conference was organised by the al-Alamain Institute for Higher Studies and the Abbasid Tabernacle to discuss ways of using history to tackle extremism. The conference was attended by a number of Islamic scholars, activists, academics and policymakers.
One of the organisers explained succinctly the importance of organising this conference saying that “it is an invitation to researchers, writers and historians to find what unites this nation in this period”.
Jihadists extremists have long distorted the history of Islam and the teachings of the prophet as well as the sacred scriptures of the religion to promote their hateful ideology, espouse extremism, and justify their crimes and atrocities. ISIS propagandists produced hundreds of leaflets and connected with thousands of young people by twisting historical facts and the teachings of Islam to fit their apocalyptic narrative of hate and destruction.
This initiative is an attempt to encourage a reading of history that promotes unity, tolerance and respect for those with different belief systems. The organisers of the conference and the scholars present explained how doing so would prevent others with nefarious agendas to rewrite and distort history.
Sayyed Mohammed Ali Bahrululoom, one of the high-ranking scholars present at the conference, emphasised that history must be used as a lesson for people and not used to encourage violence and extremism. For Bahrululoom, “The reading of history is neither to bring back wars, re-establish hatred, nor to stir up strives. We can take advantage of our history and consider it as a lesson for our future.”
Other local organisations such as the Rabat al-Mohammadi council of scholars have undertaken similar work to tackle extremism through the promotion and the teaching of a moderate interpretation of history and Islam. The group, based in Baghdad and the city of Fallujah in Anbar Province, aims to train young scholars to tackle and challenge extremist narratives through religious discourse.