Despite Years of Curriculum Overhaul, Saudi Textbooks Still Preach Intolerance

May 24, 2006

Source: The New York Times

On May 24, 2006 The New York Times reported, "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 Tuesday. 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 them...' 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 Islam. 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 priority. 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."