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Al-Azhar rethinks primary school teaching to encourage moderation

After having reviewed and updated its religious curricula, Al-Azhar is now modernizing the katateeb, its well-known Quranic schools, but many question the institution’s ability to succeed in the endeavor.
A man reads the Koran minutes before sunset as he waits to break his fast and have his Iftar meal near Al-Azhar mosque, in the old Islamic area of Cairo, Egypt, July 9, 2015. Picture taken July 9, 2015. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh - RTX1JWC3
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CAIRO — As a step toward restructuring its preaching and academic functions, Al-Azhar has decided to revamp and refocus on supporting the mosque's katateeb (Quranic schools). The move follows on the heels of the institution updating its religious curriculum, which is still a work in progress. Al-Azhar's "re-endorsement" of the schools appears to be part of the same plan to modernize the way Islam is taught. Many observers are skeptical, however, given the institution's outdated approaches to teaching religion and past fondness of Quranic books primarily for purposes of indoctrination. In this context, they wonder whether the institution's educational materials are up to date and question their potential to guide students toward moderation, rather than radical and extremist ideologies, and to develop their comprehension skills.

The katateeb served traditionally as educational platforms to help students memorize the Quran in addition to teaching them reading and writing. Mohammed Ali Pasha, the founder of modern Egypt, used the katateeb to revive Al-Azhar's role in education. Over the past few decades, however, interest in the katateeb has declined in cities as well as villages, mainly due to the financial situation of the Ministry of Awqaf leading to cuts in funding for the schools and the growth of public and private elementary schools.

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