The latest textbooks of Saudi Arabia's public school curriculum continue to promote intolerance of other religions despite official pronouncements of curriculum reform, says a new study by the Center for Religious Freedom, part of Freedom House, a nonprofit group based in Washington.
A first-grade student is taught: "Every religion other than Islam is false." 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."
"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, told journalist Hassan Fattah. Shea said this curriculum leads to an “us versus them” ideology.
The report's authors worked with the Institute for Gulf Affairs, another Washington-based group, to obtain 12 history and religion textbooks from parents of Saudi schoolchildren. The textbooks were used last year in Saudi schools and Saudi-run schools in Washington, London and Paris.
The report says the curriculum includes 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 ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, responded to the report in a statement, saying that there are “hundreds of books that are being revised to comply with the new requirements and the process remains ongoing."
He said the objective of the Saudi educational system “is to fight intolerance and to prepare Saudi youth with the skills and knowledge to compete in the global economy."
Saudi Arabia's education system was heavily scrutinized after 9/11, and criticized for its extremism. Since then, the government has faced pressure from both inside and outside the country to change its schools.
King Abdullah, the Saudi monarch, has made the reform a priority. Still, Saudi reformers have said curriculum reform is difficult due to the resistance of a minority of religious conservatives.