For more than a decade since 9/11, Saudi Arabia has remained resistant to educational reform, judging by the persistent extremist Islamic themes in Saudi textbooks, reports the magazine Foreign Policy (May/June).
Despite periodic reforms, textbooks in the nation’s schools “remain stubbornly impervious to change. Even in the past two years, they have instructed first graders not to greet infidels and warned 10th graders of the West’s threat to Islam,” writes Eman Al Nafjan. When 15 of the 19 hijackers from 9/11 were revealed to be Saudis, the nation’s educational system came under harsh scrutiny.
The issue became especially pressing when the human rights watchdog group Freedom House undertook a study in which 12 Islamic-studies textbooks were analyzed and concluded that the Saudi public school curriculum “continues to propagate an ideology of hate toward the ‘unbeliever,’ most egregiously in a 12th grade text that instructed students to wage violent jihad against infidels to ‘spread the faith.’” The Education Ministry responded to the report by relegating 2,000 teachers it deemed extremist to administrative roles far from the classroom.
Yet textbooks remained untouched, with only the most explicitly extremist views removed. Just last year, new interpretations were introduced in the boys’ 10th grade hadith, the book of the Prophet Mohammed’s sayings and traditions, where such new subjects as globalization and human rights were included. But the fine print under the text’s headings often express an anti-Western themes, such as the subjection of Muslims by Western nations, and warn students about the risk of losing one’s faith by studying in the West.
A new curriculum development project will be implemented in the coming year, but the Education Ministry’s mission statement for the project has already drawn fire for calling for loyalty to Islam and the renunciation of anything that goes against the faith, and warning against “deviant sects and creeds.”
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