Monday, March 03, 2008

Young Iraqis are losing their faith in religion - International Herald Tribune

Young Iraqis are losing their faith in religion - International Herald Tribune

Young Iraqis are losing their faith in religion
By Sabrina Tavernise
Published: March 3, 2008


BAGHDAD: After almost five years of war, many young Iraqis, exhausted by constant firsthand exposure to the violence of religious extremism, say they have grown disillusioned with religious leaders and skeptical of the faith that they preach.

In two months of interviews with 40 young people in five Iraqi cities, a pattern of disenchantment emerged, in which young Iraqis, both poor and middle class, blamed clerics for the violence and the restrictions that have narrowed their lives.

"I hate Islam and all the clerics because they limit our freedom every day and their instruction became heavy over us," said Sara Sami, a high school student in Basra. "Most of the girls in my high school hate that Islamic people control the authority because they don't deserve to be rulers."

Atheer, a 19-year-old from a poor, heavily Shiite neighborhood in southern Baghdad, said: "The religion men are liars. Young people don't believe them. Guys my age are not interested in religion anymore."

The shift in Iraq runs counter to trends of rising religiousness among young people across much of the Middle East, where religion has replaced nationalism as a unifying ideology. While religious extremists are admired by a number of young people in other parts of the Arab world, Iraq offers a test case of what could happen when extremist theories are applied.
Multimedia
Blog: Baghdad Bureau
» View
Related Articles
3 bombs in Baghdad kill 17
Today in Africa & Middle East
Young Iraqis are losing their faith in religion
Rice urges more Mideast talks, but won't mention a cease-fire
UN votes to add sanctions against Iran

Fingers caught smoking were broken. Long hair was cut and force-fed to its owner. In that laboratory, disillusionment with Islamic leaders took hold.

It is far from clear whether the shift means a wholesale turn away from religion. A tremendous piety still predominates in the private lives of young Iraqis, and religious leaders, despite the increased skepticism, still wield tremendous power. Measuring religiousness furthermore, is a tricky business in Iraq, where access to cities and towns that are far from Baghdad is limited.

But a shift seems to be registering, at least anecdotally, in the choices some young Iraqis are making. Professors reported difficulty recruiting graduate students for religion classes. Attendance at weekly prayers appears to be down, even in areas where the violence has largely subsided, according to worshipers and imams in Baghdad and Falluja. In two visits to the weekly prayer session in Baghdad of the followers of Moktada al-Sadr last autumn, vastly smaller crowds attended than had in 2004 or 2005.

Such patterns, if lasting, could lead to a weakening of the political power of religious leaders in Iraq. In a nod to those changing tastes, political parties are scrubbing overt references to religion.

"In the beginning, they gave their eyes and minds to the clerics, they trusted them," said Abu Mahmoud, a moderate Sunni cleric in Baghdad, who now works deprogramming religious extremists in American detention. "It's painful to admit, but it's changed. People have lost too much. They say to the clerics and the parties: You cost us this."

"When they behead someone, they say 'Allah Akbar,' they read Koranic verse," said a moderate Shiite sheik from Baghdad. "The young people, they think that is Islam. So Islam is a failure, not only in the students' minds, but also in the community."

No comments: