Daniel W. Drezner

The Saudis have some ‘splaining to do

Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House, has a long essay in the Washington Post today on just what Saudi textbooks are saying after they promised to excise some of the more intolerant rhetoric post-9/11: A review of a sample of official Saudi textbooks for Islamic studies used during the ...

Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House, has a long essay in the Washington Post today on just what Saudi textbooks are saying after they promised to excise some of the more intolerant rhetoric post-9/11:

A review of a sample of official Saudi textbooks for Islamic studies used during the current academic year reveals that, despite the Saudi government’s statements to the contrary, an ideology of hatred toward Christians and Jews and Muslims who do not follow Wahhabi doctrine remains in this area of the public school system. The texts teach a dualistic vision, dividing the world into true believers of Islam (the “monotheists”) and unbelievers (the “polytheists” and “infidels”). This indoctrination begins in a first-grade text and is reinforced and expanded each year, culminating in a 12th-grade text instructing students that their religious obligation includes waging jihad against the infidel to “spread the faith.” Freedom House knows this because Ali al-Ahmed, a Saudi dissident who runs the Washington-based Institute for Gulf Affairs , gave us a dozen of the current, purportedly cleaned-up Saudi Ministry of Education religion textbooks. The copies he obtained were not provided by the government, but by teachers, administrators and families with children in Saudi schools, who slipped them out one by one. Some of our sources are Shiites and Sunnis from non-Wahhabi traditions — people condemned as “polytheistic” or “deviant” or “bad” in these texts — others are simply frustrated that these books do so little to prepare young students for the modern world. We then had the texts translated separately by two independent, fluent Arabic speakers.

What follows is a sample of some of the translated phrases:

FIRST GRADE ” Every religion other than Islam is false.” “Fill in the blanks with the appropriate words (Islam, hellfire): Every religion other than ______________ is false. Whoever dies outside of Islam enters ____________.” FIFTH GRADE “Whoever obeys the Prophet and accepts the oneness of God cannot maintain a loyal friendship with those who oppose God and His Prophet, even if they are his closest relatives.” “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.” “A Muslim, even if he lives far away, is your brother in religion. Someone who opposes God, even if he is your brother by family tie, is your enemy in religion.” EIGHTH GRADE “As cited in Ibn Abbas: The apes are Jews, the people of the Sabbath; while the swine are the Christians, the infidels of the communion of Jesus.” TWELFTH GRADE “Jihad in the path of God — which consists of battling against unbelief, oppression, injustice, and those who perpetrate it — is the summit of Islam. This religion arose through jihad and through jihad was its banner raised high. It is one of the noblest acts, which brings one closer to God, and one of the most magnificent acts of obedience to God.”

I have no doubt that this is going to inspire a lot of “The Saudis are not our friends” rhetoric, and I can’t say I’m inclined to completely disagree. There is a small part of me, however, that wonders two things:

1) How much cherry-picking is going on with the quotations? 2) If one were to go to religious schools in other countries, including the United States, how much rhetoric would one find that would smack of this kind of chauvinism?

I don’t know the answer to either question, but I would be curious.

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