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Liberal Saudi Columnist: With Wahhabism as State Religion, There's No Chance of Reform for Saudi Schools

In an article on the reformist website www.aafaq.org, liberal Saudi columnist Mansour Al-Hajj, who resides in the U.S., discusses the Saudi school curricula, which include incitement to violence and hatred of the other. Al-Hajj, himself an alumnus of the Saudi school system, argues that as long as Wahhabi Islam remains the country's state religion, there will be no chance of meaningful reform in the Saudi curricula. He also questions the American policy of demanding reform in Saudi schools while at the same time allowing Wahhabi religious curricula to be taught in the U.S. itself.

The following are excerpts from the article: [1]

"Despite the 'Changes' and 'Corrections' Introduced by the Saudi Government, Saudi Curricula Still Incite to Violence and Hatred"

"Since 9/11, there has been an ongoing debate... about what is taught in Saudi schools, [both those] inside the Kingdom and those outside it. All the studies that have examined and analyzed the Islamic curricula have agreed that despite the 'changes' and 'corrections' that the Saudi government claims to have introduced, these Saudi curricula still incite to violence and to hatred of the other.

"I find it strange that everyone is focusing on the curricula themselves, while disregarding the sources on which they are based. Most of the examples that were examined and [characterized as] incitement to violence and hatred are based on the major Islamic sources - namely, the Koran and the Sunna. Thus, what needs to be amended is the sources, not the curricula.

"The most recent report, from July 2008... [found that] the ninth-grade curriculum includes the following hadith: "It was related by Abu Huraira that the Prophet said, 'Judgment Day will not come until you fight the Jews and kill them. The Jews will hide behind stones and trees, and the stones and trees will call: O Muslim, o servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him - except for the gharqad tree, which is the tree of the Jews.' [This hadith appears] in the Sahih of Al-Bukhari, which Muslims regard as the most reliable text after the Koran. [2]

"The eighth-grade curriculum on monotheism includes Koran 5:60: 'Shall I point out to you something much worse than this, [as judged] by the treatment it received from Allah? Those who incurred the curse of Allah and His wrath, those whom He transformed into apes and swine.' According to the commentary by ibn 'Abbas, [3] this verse refers to the Jews whom Allah cursed and punished by transforming them into [beasts]: the young ones into apes and the old ones into swine."

"In the 11th-grade textbook Aspects of the Political and Cultural History of the Muslims, Baha'ism is characterized as 'one of the destructive mystic cults of the modern era.' The textbook says further: 'It is thus clear that the Baha'i religion of Al-Bab, [i.e. Ali-Muhammad of Shiraz, founder of Baha'ism], as well as the religion of Qadian [i.e. the Ahmadiyya movement, founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, India], are misguided streams that joined Islam at a late stage, with the aim of harming it from within and weakening it. They [serve as] bases of colonialism in our land, and are among the obstacles to a new [Islamic] revival.'"

"The Saudi Curricula on Islam Are Based On the [Radical] Wahhabi Interpretation of the Religious Sources"

"I wish to clarify that in Saudi Arabia, pupils are taught Islam according to the perception and interpretation of the Wahhabis, with whom the founder of the Saudi state made a pact. Under [this pact], the king and his family received control of the state and its affairs, [and in return promised to run the country according to the Wahhabi doctrine].

"As a result, the Saudi curricula on Islam are based on the Wahhabi interpretation of the religious sources. The examples presented above... are all taken from the Prophet's hadiths... or from Koranic verses... or else reflect extremist Wahhabi ideas...

"The Koran is clear and is written in Arabic. The reader finds in it [all kinds of verses]: peaceful ones and aggressive ones, verses that call for performing charitable acts, and [others] that incite to violence, verses that preach love and verses that encourage hatred. People who preach violence can find what they seek and follow [the dictates of] the violent verses. [Conversely], those who preach against violence find the verses that urge to refrain from violence and bloodshed. This is true of the Koran and also of the Sunna, which is likewise full of [different ideas] - thus enabling the followers of each stream to find whatever suits their declared and undeclared plans.

"However, the radical Wahhabi ideas are not based directly on clear Koranic verses or hadiths from the Sunna, but reflect the general Wahhabi perception of Islam and the opinions of extremist religious scholars, past and present.

"Reform in the Saudi curricula is therefore useless. The examples presented above show that the calls for such reform will produce no results as long as the Wahhabis continue to believe that only they are entitled to teach [Islam] and to inculcate their interpretation of Islam in the public by virtue of the power conferred upon them by the [Saudi] regime...

"In 2006, Saudi Arabia made a public promise to change the curricula, and said that it would need a year to two years to complete the task... [However], the changes and corrections it made in the Saudi curriculum were like moving the furniture around in a house instead of cleaning it..."

Incitement to Hatred and Violence in Informal Education

"Schools are not the only place where [Saudi] children learn hatred and intolerance... [There are also] Koran classes, [religious] centers and summer camps... whose Islamic instruction cannot be supervised, [because] the people in charge there, usually radical Salafis, give the pupils oral lessons [not based on any official curriculum]...

"As a graduate of the Saudi elementary and secondary school system, and as someone who attended these Koran classes, I know for a fact that the damage to the mind caused by these institutions is permanent, and that the chances of repairing this damage are very small.

"What I learned in [my] Saudi school, and what pupils still learn today, is 'hatred for the sake of Allah.' In Saudi schools, pupils learn to become close to God and to please Him through hatred, based on a hadith that says that hatred for the sake of Allah and love for the sake of Allah are 'the strongest pillars of the faith'..."

"A Mind Destroyed by 12 Years of [Intolerant] Schooling Cannot Absorb Anything [New]"

"...Let me relate some stories that [show how] the Saudi school curriculum destroys the mind. Four months after coming to the U.S., I moved to a town where there were some Saudi students. I met them at the mosque where we prayed. One day during Ramadhan, I visited them and found them overjoyed because a young American had converted to Islam. My apartment roommate, a Saudi MA student, told me, his face glowing: 'After an exhausting search [for the truth], this boy has found the true religion, the religion of Islam.'

"I said 'congratulations.' [But] then I added bluntly: 'Why [then] do the Muslims want to kill an Afghan boy who converted to Christianity after an exhausting search for the truth?' He replied: 'He should indeed be killed, because he wants to discard the truth for falsehood. [Death] is the punishment set out by shari'a for those who renounce Islam.' I said, 'But he [too] went through the same process of contemplation and search, just like your [American] friend.' He responded [by quoting a hadith], 'He who converts must be killed'...

"Another example: During a conversation with [another] Saudi MA student in the U.S., I criticized the Muslim leader Muhammad the Conqueror [i.e. Sultan Muhammad II], who took Constantinople, for turning the Hagia Sophia church into a mosque. I called this a sign of intolerance and disrespect for what is sacred [to others]; furthermore, I said, it contravened the values of Islam, which preaches tolerance towards the People of the Book [i.e. Christians and Jews].

"[My interlocutor] was angered by my criticism of the great commander, and justified his actions, saying, 'How can you say such a thing about the man of whom [the Prophet Muhammad] prophesied, "Constantinople shall be conquered - how excellent is that commander and that army!"'...

"A mind destroyed by 12 years of [intolerant] schooling cannot absorb anything [new], no matter how simple and logical. This is due to the constant layering [of dogma upon dogma], and by the stifling of creative thought and of the ability to question taboos... That is why I have little hope that the thousands of Saudi students who go to study in the U.S. will change anything when they return to their country - [even though they go back] with diplomas from the finest universities..."

"Why Does the U.S. Demand That... Saudi Arabia Reform [Its] Curricula, When The Very Same Extremist Ideas Are Being Taught Here in the U.S.?"

"...But what is surprising is that the very same curricula are [also] studied in the U.S. [itself], [for example] at the Islamic Saudi Academy in Fairfax [VA]. [4] According to The Washington Post, 70% of the pupils [at this school] are American... I fail to see why America tolerates the damage caused by these Saudi curricula...

"[It should be kept in mind that in Saudi schools,] all pupils receive religious instruction, even if these studies have been [officially] removed from the curriculum... To clarify, let me present some examples. Basic Islamic studies include learning about the Five Pillars of Islam: Shahada [Profession of Faith], Salah [Prayer], Zakah [Giving of Alms], Sawm [Fasting during Ramadhan] and Hajj [Pilgrimage to Mecca]... When studying the second Pillar, i.e. prayer, pupils must be taught how to pray - and thus must be taught how to purify themselves before praying. This involves learning how to observe the laws of purity, and teaching these laws requires informing the pupils... that non-Muslims are impure... Even if the school omits this [detail] from the curriculum, [obviously] the teacher will answer the pupils' questions and the discussion will not necessary follow the guidelines of the official curriculum.

"The goal of the Islamic schools, and in fact of any religious school, is to provide religious instruction per se, not [merely] to [cover material] with the objective of granting a diploma..."

"This catastrophe is not [limited to] the Islamic Saudi Academy in Virginia, of which many have heard. There is also the American International University. Have any of you heard of this university?... I will not go into detail about its curriculum - I will leave that to those who are in charge of curricula [in Saudi Arabia], thousands of miles from America. [It is amazing that] such curricula, and perhaps even more extremist ones, are being taught right here in the U.S.

"I will not discuss the [university's] curricula on Muslim law, Muslim faith, and hadith - which students from all over the world can access online, because [the American International University] offers distance-learning courses and even [provides] its students with what they need [to access them], that is, a computer. I will mention just one [incident], which will suffice.

"The dean [of student affairs] at this university, and one of its prominent lecturers, is Abu Hamza Hijji. Does that name ring a bell?... Following the [April 16, 2007] massacre in Virginia Tech, this man [contacted] Muslim students on a private mailing list, and asked them not to pray for [the souls] of the non-Muslims who were killed. [He based this request] on the Prophet's hadiths and on Koranic verses... Here is the full text of his message...: 'I wish to bring to your attention that Allah has forbidden us to pray for non-Muslim dead, or even for the non-Muslim living... It is only permitted to pray for them to be rightly guided [i.e. towards Islam]... [The massacre] was a sad occurrence, but that does not give Muslims the right to disobey Allah's laws..." [5]

"...It is outrageous that institutions like these are allowed to export extremist curricula from the U.S. itself. [Moreover,] it begs an important and crucial question: Why does the U.S. demand that countries like Saudi Arabia reform their curricula, when the same extremist ideas are taught here in the States?

"I leave the task of investigating the curricula of the American International University to American research institutions... If the American authorities' research institutes are not familiar with it, it is a disaster - and if they are familiar with it, it is an even greater disaster."


[1] www.aafaq.org, August 25, 2008.
[2] The Sahih is a compilation of hadiths collected by Muhammad ibn Isma'il Al-Bukhari (810-870 AD), a Sunni scholar of Bukharan origin. It is regarded in Islam as one of the most authentic collections of the Prophet's sayings.
[3] 'Abdallah ibn 'Abbas (d. 687 AD), a cousin of the Prophet Muhammad, was the author of a commentary on the Koran titled Tafsir ibn 'Abbas.
[4] The Saudi Academy in Fairfax, Virginia, a private Muslim school with classes from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade, has been accused of promoting violence and intolerance of non-Muslims. In mid-June 2009, it was reported that despite these allegations, Fairfax officials had approved a proposal to expand the school. Al-Hayat (London), June 13, 2009; ABC 7 News, June 15, 2009.
[5] For more on the debate about the student mailing list, see MEMRI Blog post http://www.thememriblog.org/blog_personal/en/1286.htm, April 19, 2007.

Posted September 30, 2009, MEMRI