Failing the test

Saudi Arabia | Jihadist textbooks live on in Saudi-supported Islamic schools

Issue: "Bird flu," June 10, 2006

In Saudi Arabia, a first-grader learns in Monotheism and Jurisprudence class that Jews and Christians are destined for hellfire. Hating them becomes the foundation years later for 12th-grade textbooks that exhort him to wage militant jihad against infidels.

Ali Al-Ahmed, director of the Washington-based Gulf Institute, sums up the results of such indoctrination: "Five million students in 25,000 schools. Imagine if only 1 percent of them took to heart the content of these schools. That's 50,000 terrorists."

Mr. Al-Ahmed's group researched and provided passages from 12 textbooks for a May 24 Freedom House report on the progress of Saudi education reform. The report shows that, contrary to Saudi claims, little has changed in Saudi-funded textbooks and curriculum-which predominate at Islamic schools around the world-since 9/11, when it became evident that the kingdom's virulent brand of Islam, called Wahhabism, was fueling global terrorism.

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The kingdom runs 19 schools worldwide in cities such as London, Rome, Paris, and Washington, D.C. One, a well-heeled private school called the Islamic Saudi Academy in Alexandria, Va., teaches a Saudi and American curriculum. Underscoring the results of the report is Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, a student at the academy who was valedictorian of his class. In March a Virginia court sentenced Mr. Abu Ali, now 25, to 30 years in prison after a jury convicted him on nine counts that included conspiring to assassinate President George Bush and providing material support to al-Qaeda.

The textbooks cited in the report, some of which are used by the Alexandria school, vilify Jews, Christians, and other "unbelievers," as well as non-Wahhabi Muslims. Some examples:

• A sixth-grade textbook on Monotheism, Hadith, Jurisprudence and Quranic Recitaton forbids a funeral mourner to "be angry upon bereavement, cry out loudly, tear one's clothes or beat one's cheeks . . . it is forbidden to pray at graves with the exception of the funeral prayer." The injunctions thus prohibit funeral customs of Shiites and other Muslims.

• An eighth-grade textbook on Monotheism describes non-Muslims thus: "The apes are Jews, the keepers of the Sabbath; while the swine are the Christian infidels of the communion of Jesus."

• A ninth-grade textbook on the Hadith, or sayings of the prophet Muhammad, emphasizes hostility toward Jews: "The hour [of judgment] will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them."

After the report's release, Saudi ambassador to the United States Turki Al-Faisal quickly began damage control. "Overhauling an educational system is a massive undertaking," he said in a statement. "There are hundreds of books that are being revised to comply with the new requirements, and the process remains ongoing."

But for the past year, he and other Saudi officials have claimed that intolerant content has been revised. Instead, inflammatory teachings remain in the textbooks, in some cases moved or added.

"It doesn't take anyone five years to remove the obvious material," Mr. Al-Ahmed, himself a Saudi who came through his country's schools, told WORLD. "At least they could stop using these textbooks outside [of Saudi Arabia]." The Ministry of Education, he said, is dominated by Wahhabi activists. He believes, overall, that the kingdom has little genuine interest in reform.

"Our public diplomacy is simply not going to work in the face of this indoctrination," said Nina Shea, who directs Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom and co-authored the report. She said U.S. policy should begin focusing more on Saudi textbooks, since the kingdom distributes them and other religious materials to mosques, Islamic centers, and schools around the world. Mr.

Al-Ahmed also suggests pressing the kingdom to supply textbooks for experts to study and monitor. Until then, he gives Saudi Arabia a failing grade on reform.


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