Education in Al-Raqqah under ISIS

Education in Al-Raqqah under ISIS

The direct consequences of closing the schools on the future of students

Achieved by: Ali Al-AA’Ed

Research supervisor: Dr. Youssef SALAMA, the academic director at the Democratic Republic Studies Center.

Consultant: Mr. Anwar AL-BUNNI, director of the Syrian Center for Legal Researches and Studies.


Since 15-March-2015, fear has prevailed among Syrians! Fear for their lives as well as the lives and education of their children. Al-Raqqah has shared this fear with other regions especially the ones where armed conflict has burst between the troops of Bashar Al-Assad regime and different armed formations, as of the end of 2012.

What happened in Al-Raqqah after the domination of ISIS defies any description in every aspect. Following the so-called “liberation” of Al-Raqqah, ISIS gained control over people’s fates as well as every aspect and detail of their lives! Needless to say, this control has affected education.

Today, over 150 thousand people live in the city of Al-Raqqa under ISIS (the city population exceeded 600 thousand before the revolution). The estimated number of people who remained in the province is 500 thousand. This means that 50% of the province population and 70% of the city population are displaced of have immigrated to Turkey.

However, these population numbers are estimations only. For the civil records show only cases of birth, death, marriage, and divorce without any reference to the number of emigrants. On the other hand, charity organizations build their estimations on the number of the beneficiaries before and after displacement and/or immigration. Therefore, neither of the aforementioned has reliable records of the number of displaced or emigrants. Besides, the province of Al-Raqqah is an appealing destination for residency. So, a good percentage of the displaced are only residents of the province but they are registered in the civil records of the provinces they originate from such as Aleppo, Der ez-Zur …

The activity of ISIS reveals its ambitions of control and establishing a state. However, ISIS has not provided any plan or vision for this state. In fact, ISIS lacks every foundation of building a state except that of power. Such power is not derived from law as much as from the terror generated by sentences of decapitation, stoning, and whipping!

In the educational domain, ISIS has adopted destructive policy. That meant a separation between the educational material previously taught, and the material ISIS is planning to enforce later.

Despite the passing of over two years of its domination over Al-Raqqah, ISIS has not produced any curriculum or even any theoretical concept of what will be enforced later. Being busy with battles on tens of fronts is hardly sufficient excuse for not announcing any educational plan whatsoever. Actually, we cannot even have any written document about ISIS statements and actions related to this domain. Consequently, we are unable to provide any analysis of the pros and cons of its educational plan.

ISIS first action was closing the schools, and then declaring that old curricula reflect the mentality of Nusairi regime. Further to that, ISIS also declared that any individual who was part of the educational process is simply an infidel who should be forced to repent and renounce their former belief. This included every teacher even those who have never joined The Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party! Subsequent to performing this renunciation process, many teachers joined ISIS for certain privileges, because of economic conditions, or due to their belief in this organization. After no more than two weeks training, ISIS starting dispatching the new recruited teacher-soldiers to battles. Especially that it is surrounded with enemies and that it was under the pressure of shortage in soldiers on many fronts.

As a preface to the information we are planning to elaborate on, we might mention that the “minister of education” (head of the educational council according to ISIS terminology) is an Upper-Egyptian known as “Zulkarnain”. Despite the fact that he holds PHD in education, the name itself suits best a warrior trying to terrify his opponent rather that someone who works in the educational field. However, this name show the contradictory relation between the terror that ISIS created and its endeavor to establish an educational system assumes to be righteous and good for all the Muslims who were quite helpless against ISIS tyranny.

The name fantasy, with its mythical indications, is hardly an evidence that ISIS has produced (or is going to produce) the worst educational process in history! In fact, ISIS has not produced anything remotely close to such process. Instead, it destructed the existing educational system. It was planning, if given enough time, to provide fundamentalist curricula. These curricula will not be restricted to theology: ISIS will include fundamentalist expressions and terms not to mention the use of spoken expressions that appeal to simple minded Muslim people everywhere and anytime. An example of that is “hydrogen and oxygen combine and produce water molecules, if it is God’s will”.

Theoretically, ISIS considers education a necessity. Its emerging state needs not only competent staff to run the various councils (ministries), but also doctors, engineers, pharmacists, teachers…etc. However, this theoretically correct/right perception collides with Sharia rules dictated by the fundamentalist interpretation of the religious texts of Qur’an and Sunna. ISIS prefers that women would limit themselves to middle school education rather than pursuing college education. Yet, it forbids them from having medical checkup by male gynecologist! ISIS will have to resolve this conflict and encourage having female doctors/gynecologists in its new state. This applies also to education as female student can be taught only by female teachers, and male students by male teachers.

Since the newly established state is religious, sharia-logy remains on top of all study domains and ISIS favorite. All kinds of knowledge are derived from Sharia. Not only that but the rules for learning, teaching, and practicing of any other study, must be sanctioned by a Sharia magistrate whose instructions/laws cannot be violated under any circumstances.

Research objectives

This study aims to present facts about the educational conditions in the city of Al-Raqqah following the dominion of ISIS. Since 4-March-2013, this city has fallen under the domination of several Islamic formations including ISIS. By the end of August-2013, ISIS gained sole control over the city and over the entire province by the end of 2014.

Since then, ISIS declared the city of Al-Raqqah, the largest city it controls for relatively long period, as its capital. It also established “councils” (departments-ministries) of (inspection and censorship), (health), (education), (judiciary), (wealth)… and many others.

The uniqueness of the educational condition in Al-Raqqah turns this issue into a phenomenon. The educational process has been terminated in the city and the province of Al-Raqqah for over two years now.

As ISIS considers civil activists spies associated with “Nusairi regime”, the research team took serious risk gathering information. The fate of any individual caught gathering any sort of data, for any kind of research could be imprisonment and whipping at the very least. Renunciation will definitely follow as this kind of activity is classified under (atheism/infidelity/polytheism).

This research includes tables of the numbers of students prior to ISIS domination, at the disposal of other researchers. It also provides testimonies of some parents regarding the conditions of their children in the last two years following ISIS termination/closing of schools in Al-Raqqah. There are also some improvised solutions families tried to offer to their children in order for them to pursue a minimum level of education hoping their suffering will end somehow!

Needless to say that there is no analysis of numbers before and after! Simply because after ISIS dominion over the city and the subsequent closing of schools, the number of students dropped down to zero. In such illogical situation, analysis is actually irrelevant and the percentile will be either 100% or 0%! As a matter of fact, it is absolutely pointless that around 500 students attend classes in some 10 schools, throughout the entire province, when there is neither a curriculum nor a daily attendance record.

Research questions

This research aims to answer the following questions:

  1. What steps did ISIS take in order to change the education process?
  2. What is the impact of closing schools on parents, students, teachers, and the entire educational process?
  3. What actions did ISIS take against teachers? And what are the consequences of those actions?
  4. Is there discrimination among teachers on the basis of their supporting or opposing ISIS?
  5. Is there any educational activity, including religion classes, provided by ISIS?

Through direct observation, the research team concluded shocking facts that directly answer the aforementioned questions with variant elaborations. However, since some of these elaborations could endanger/jeopardize the team we preferred not to take any risk.

The answers focus on what the education in Al-Raqqah has ended up to with the termination of schools. At the end of 2013, ISIS gained sole domination over the city of Al-Raqqah after fighting battles with the brigade of Ahrar ash-Sham and other Islamic formations. Schools were opened for a short period of three months (the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014) only to be closed for security reasons as the regime repeatedly started targeting them with bombs! This termination continued until the end of the academic year of 2014-2015 when rumors spread about ISIS preparing their own curricula. Those rumors mentioned also preparations to open schools from kindergarten till the middle school in the academic year of 2015-2016.

General conclusion

The returning of Al-Raqqah residents into the city is not about to happen in the near future. Even if the regime, along with ISIS, has collapsed tomorrow, restoring security and re-opening the schools remain issues about which predictions/expectations are quite conflicting. Most likely, fear of returning would prevail among those who had no opportunity to seek refuge in a European country.


  1. Many of Al-Raqqah citizens would take their chance returning to their home city. Especially those who currently live in Turkey or Lebanon, or those who cannot afford to wait – for economic reasons – the relieving news of restoring security on a large scale in the city.
  2. Citizens need many years to repair or rebuild their residencies. However, none can expect how many years Syria would need to restore the educational conditions to its pre-revolution status at the very least.
  3. Revolutionists believe that post-revolution era would be better than pre-revolution era in every aspect for the entire country. Therefore, their hopes might come true! Mainly that reopening schools and rejoining of children and youths of both genders, to the educational process would be an easier task than reestablishing the economic infra-structure.

These hopes are subject to two factors: security and justice. Without providing such factors the country cannot redeem its pre-revolution status.

Only with security and justice can education and health care be recovered, which would help society take large strides into regaining its momentum. The current shortage of organizational and material/financial abilities can be balanced with justice and security. Needless to mention the associated hardships on the individual and public levels for, we believe a short period.

This scenario would be impossible as long as ISIS “Zulkarnain” is in charge of educational policy. It would be equally impossible if the revolution reproduced educational “chief” similar to either “Zulkarnain” or any copy of ALBAATH ministers of education!

Anyway, we put this incomplete research at the disposal of specialists and interested researchers seeking their opinions/feedback. We also hope that our valuable endeavors (for we endured great difficulties gathering its data) have produced a raw material for better qualified researchers who would raise future-related questions more profound than ours in this research.

Table of contents


Research objective

Research complexity

Research method

Research questions

Chapter One: Education in Al-Raqqah under ISIS


Inferences and indications of ISIS failure in the educational domain

Attrition of education in Al-Raqqah; significant numbers

Chapter Two: The psychological, economic, and social consequences of ISIS terminating the educational process.

Difficulties and impediments of education in Al-Raqqah

Parents’ testimonies

Teachers’ testimonies

Summary of teachers’ testimonies

Chapter Three: Teachers’ renunciation of the principles/ideologies of The Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party

A teacher tells her Renunciation story

General conclusion



Available in Arabic

[gview file=””]


Researcher and writer Syrian resident in Turkey