Schoolchildren have returned to Mosul’s oldest Christian school. (Photo: YouTube / Volunterwithus)

The reopening of the oldest Christian school in Mosul – a northern Iraqi city once controlled by IS – has been hailed as a “victory over terrorism and extremism”.

The Shimon Safa Elementary School was closed for four years, but has welcomed 400 students – aged between six and 12 – for the new academic year.

The school’s principal, Ahmed Thamer al-Saadi, told Al-Monitor its renovation was due to the efforts of “volunteers and donors from the city”, which he praised as “a lesson in tolerance and in foiling extremism”.

“The school has … been subjected to national and sectarian discrimination; it is now resuming its practical and social mission again,” he said.

It is located in the Al-Saa area of the city – “the old part of the city, where Christians live,” Ahmad al-Mosli, an Arabic-language teacher, explained. “This gives the school exceptional importance because of the displacement, killing and oppression that religious minorities faced at the hands of IS.”

“Students’ enrollment in this school is a victory in itself over terrorism and extremism,” Ibrahim al-Allaf, professor of modern history at the University of Mosul, told Al-Monitor. “The school is part of the city’s historical heritage. The first cohort of educated people in Mosul has memories from this school.

“The school was under the supervision of the Christian monastery but its students were not only Christians; it offered an education to students from all religions.”

Al-Monitor reported that it used to be one of 20 Christian schools in the city until the 1980s, but that most of them were “closed gradually in the three turbulent decades that followed the 1990 Gulf War, particularly in 2014-17 when the city was controlled by the Islamic State”.