Critics of Saudi Academy Say Textbooks Promote Intolerance

Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, January 10, 2008

Some textbooks used by an Islamic school in Fairfax County contain language intolerant of Jews and other groups as well as passages that could be construed as advocating violence, according to two reviews of the materials.

Abdalla I. Al-Shabnan, director-general of the Islamic Saudi Academy, said he doubts that such language is in the textbooks but said he would remove offending material if found. He would not say whether he had read passages that might be considered offensive. The academy’s books were revised over the summer, he said, and students have never been taught material advocating hate.

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One review of academy textbooks was undertaken for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which recommended in October that the State Department close the school until it proves that it is not teaching a type of religious intolerance potentially dangerous to the United States.

Commission member Nina Shea said the panel is concerned that Saudi Arabia is using its educational system, and connections to schools worldwide, to export intolerant and militant religious teachings. The school’s board of directors is headed by the Saudi ambassador, and Shea has called the school an extension of the Saudi Embassy.

“We are very concerned, on a partial review of the Saudi Academy textbooks, [about] some passages that instruct that ‘jihad’ is ‘the pinnacle of Islam,’ that speak about impunity for murders of ‘polytheists’ or non-Wahhabis, that legitimize the murder of Muslim ‘apostates’ and that state the lives of only those non-Muslims living or working under Muslim rule are inviolable,” Shea said.

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In addition to Jews, Bahais and Shiite and Sufi Muslims are among those denounced in some academy texts, according to reviews of the books.

Al-Shabnan said the school, which receives funding from the Saudi Embassy, operates independently of the embassy. He also said the school had given a set of textbooks to Fairfax County Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon), who has a county employee translating them.

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Al-Ahmed said passages that had been the source of earlier complaints had been removed–sometimes by whiting them out–but that some intolerant material remained.

In a book of Koranic interpretation, called “Tafsir,” some passages “are troubling,” the commission translator wrote, including those that discuss the issue of the spirit of Islamic struggle, a common theme in Saudi education.

According to a copy of the translator’s report, which is to be submitted to the full commission today, a passage interpreting a Koranic verse says:

“In these verses is a call for jihad, which is the pinnacle of Islam. In [jihad] is life for the body; thus it is one of the most important causes of outward life. Only through force and victory over the enemies is there security and repose. Within martyrdom in the path of God . . . is a type of noble life-force that is not diminished by fear or poverty.”

Al-Ahmed said academy statements that the curriculum did not originate in Saudi Arabia are false.

“It still has poison in it,” he said. “Who are we kidding? It’s the mind-set, the spirit of the texts.”

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