Don’t Be Friends With Christians or Jews, Saudi Texts Say

Don’t Be Friends With Christians or Jews,
Saudi Texts Say


May 24,

Quoted from The New York

Don’t Be Friends With Christians or Jews,
Saudi Texts Say


May 24,

Quoted from The New York

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, May
23 ? Despite years of work aimed at changing Saudi Arabia’s public school
curriculum, the country’s latest textbooks continue to promote intolerance of
other religions, a new study said

A first-grade student is
taught that “Every religion other than Islam is false”; the teacher instructed
to “Give examples of false religions, like Judaism, Christianity, paganism,
etc.” Fifth graders learn “It is forbidden for a Muslim to be a loyal friend to
someone who does not believe in God and his prophet, or someone who fights the
religion of Islam.”

Those lessons are
among numerous examples cited in a controversial new study of Saudi Arabia’s
religious curriculum released Tuesday by the Center for Religious Freedom, part
of Freedom House, a nonprofit group in Washington that seeks to encourage
democracy. Despite official pronouncements that curriculum change is marching
ahead, intolerance continues to pervade religious education in Saudi public
schools, the report says.

“It is not
hate speech here and there, it is an ideology that runs throughout,” Nina Shea,
the center’s director and principal author of the report, said in a telephone
interview from Washington. “It adds up to an argument, an ideology of us versus

The report’s authors, who worked
with the Institute for Gulf Affairs, a research group based in Washington that
focuses on the Middle East, obtained 12 history and religion textbooks from
parents of Saudi schoolchildren, and translated the texts. The textbooks were
used last year in Saudi schools and Saudi-run schools in Washington, London,
Paris and several other cities, the report

The results, they say, outline a
systematic theme of “hatred toward ‘unbelievers,’ ” mainly Christians, Jews,
Hindus and atheists, but also Shiites and other Muslims who do not ascribe to
the country’s orthodox Wahhabi teaching of

Saudi Arabia’s education system
was heavily scrutinized after the Sept. 11 attacks, and criticized
internationally for its extremism. Since then, the government has faced
significant pressure from both inside and outside the country to change its
schools. King Abdullah, the Saudi monarch, has made the reform a

Religion is at the core of
Saudi public education and can amount to one quarter to a third of class time.
By the time Saudi students reach high school, that amount drops slightly to at
least one period in six devoted to religious topics, including interpretation of
holy texts, theology and morality. (The report looked solely at religion and
history texts, and excluded books on other subjects like math and

The findings contradict Saudi
statements that educational materials have been revised, the report

Saudi officials acknowledged that
acerbic language remains in Saudi textbooks, but said their revision was far
from complete.

Saudi Arabia’s
ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, responding to an
article by Ms. Shea in The Washington Post over the weekend, said in a statement
Monday, “There are hundreds of books that are being revised to comply with the
new requirements, and the process remains

He added, “The objective of
the educational system is to fight intolerance and to prepare Saudi youth with
the skills and knowledge to compete in the global

Saudi reformers note that if
the latest textbooks are wanting, they are still a far cry from what they were
five years ago. The Saudi public, said Muhammad al-Zulfa, a member of the
consultative Shura council, say they are generally in favor of reforming
textbooks and curriculum, but religious conservatives have stymied the

“It is an uphill battle to
revise the curriculum because the resistance by well-established conservative
pockets is so fierce,” Mr. Zulfa

One Saudi official, speaking on
condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity, also cited religious
conservatives. “We know what needs to be taken out,” he said. “But it’s not that
easy to do it.”

Hamza al-Mozainy, a
professor of linguistics and a columnist who has campaigned for education
reform, said the seeming clash between Islam and the West creates a tough
environment for change.

“What makes
changing the curriculum so difficult is that the people are living in the middle
of a conflict,” he said. One of the easiest ways conservatives have of attacking
him is to say he is serving America by demanding the change, he

“As we discuss change, they say,
‘Look what America is doing to us, look what Israel is doing,’ ” he

But even if the textbooks were
changed, the effort might not amount to much unless the country’s teachers were
retrained, a far more difficult

“The problem was not the
textbooks, it was the mentality of a minority,” said Hassan al-Ahdal, director
general of the Muslim World League, a Saudi-based Islamic organization. “Some
teachers or supervisors are projecting their own beliefs on the textbooks and
are trying to convince their students, as if theirs is the real interpretation
of the textbooks.”

Shaheen contributed reporting from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for this


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