May 25, 2006

Saudi textbooks still preach hatred: report

By Andrew Hammond

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's education system
continues to preach hatred for both Muslims and non-Muslims who
oppose the ultraconservative state's version of Islam despite
pledges of reform, a report published in the United States

The Saudi curriculum came under intense scrutiny after the
September 11 attacks on U.S. cities in 2001 since 15 of the 19
attackers were Saudis acting in the name of al Qaeda, which is
led by Saudi-born fugitive Osama bin Laden.

Authorities in the absolute monarchy say the results of the
reforms to tone down the kingdom's puritanical Wahhabi form of
Islam in school textbooks and mosques will take time to appear.

But the report by the U.S.-based Institute for Gulf
Affairs, run by Saudi opposition figures, and U.S. think-tank
Freedom House says material currently taught at primary and
secondary school level shows the reforms are far from complete.

Schoolbooks say that "Christians and Jews are the enemies
of the believers" and that students should not "befriend,"
"respect" or "show loyalty to" non-believers, the report said,
citing Arabic passages.

The books also condemn most Sunni Muslims around the world,
including those who do not interpret the Koran literally, as
lax and accuses Shi'ite Muslims and Sufi sects -- mystical
groups that cross the Sunni-Shi'ite divide -- of being

Shi'ite Muslims form a sizeable minority in the country and
often complain of state prejudice against their community.

The textbooks are taught in Saudi government schools around
the world, said the report issued this week.

"What is being taught today in Saudi public school
textbooks ... may not simply influence a new generation of
Saudis, but also those Muslims around the world who rely on the
Saudi government's claim that its instructions on Islam are
authoritative," it said.

The birthplace of Islam, Saudi Arabia receives millions of
Muslim pilgrims every year, most of whom are not Wahhabi.

Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi ambassador to Washington,
issued a statement this week urging patience.

"Overhauling an education system is a massive undertaking.
There are hundreds of books that are being revised to comply
with the new requirements, and the process remains ongoing," he

Through its King Faisal Foundation, the al-Faisal branch of
the royal family says it will open a private university next
year whose curriculum will showcase a new education system.

But education reform remains a hugely controversial issue.

The powerful religious establishment has used public
debates, popular Web sites and mosques to attack liberal
reforms, including watering down the education system, which
they fear will "secularize" their model Islamic state.

The Islamists argue that the country, set up with Wahhabism
as state orthodoxy, is compromising its principles because of
pressure from the United States, which remains a close ally of
the Saudi government despite a rocky patch after September 11.