Religious intolerance in Saudi textbooks

via Deccan Herald published on June 4, 2006

From Shyam Bhatia
DH News Service Washington DC

Saudi Arabia’s reluctance to moderate school textbooks intolerant of other religions has come under fire from an Indian professor of clinical psychology who says the country’s educational system encourages jihadi terrorism.

The desert kingdom’s educational curriculum and most recent textbooks have been monitored by a US non-profit group in Washington, the Center for Religious Freedom, that describes in a report how religious extremist thinking is part and parcel of education in Saudi’s government schools.

Among the examples cited is a text for first grade students that says, “Every religion other than Islam is false.” Fifth-graders are told, “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.”

The most controversial is a passage for eight grade students, which says, “As cited in Ibn Abbas: The apes are Jews, the people of the Sabbath; while the swine are the Christians, the infidels of the communion of Jesus.”

Professor’s remark

Commenting on the textbooks, Kerala-born Dr Babu Suseelan, a professor of clinical psychology in Pennsylvania, told Deccan Herald, “This is why jihadi terrorists are coming up. They believe what they are doing is justified in their educational textbooks. If you don’t restructure the thought system, more jihadis will come up.”

Saudi Arabia’s education system came under scrutiny after the 9/11 attacks when it was criticised for propagating extremist thinking. Responding to the criticism at the time, the Saudi authorities had promised a thorough revision of their educational texts.

But Freedom House, which has since monitored Saudi history and educational textbooks with the help of the Washington DC-based Institute for Gulf Affairs, says there is still a prevailing and systematic theme of hatred against unbelievers, whose ambit includes Christians, Jews, Hindus, atheists, Shiites and other minority Muslim groups.

Saudi stand

Responding to the criticisms, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the US Prince Turki Al-Faisal said in a statement, “There are hundreds of books that are being revised to comply with the new requirements, and the process remains ongoing. The objective of the educational system is to fight intolerance and to impart to Saudi youth the skills and knowledge required to compete in the global economy.”

Critical thinking

But Dr Suseelan says much more is required. “Education means helping students to think creatively and critically and also to transfer that ability to life situations,” he argues. “Critical thinking empowers one to participate effectively in society, or to change society

“. A lack of critical thinking, or the tendency to seek answers from dogma limits the individual’s ability to solve common human/social/psychological problems. Open-minded rational thinking and critical analysis embraces emerging new concepts and knowledge that can be applied across contexts.”

Asked why the Saudi authorities had not implemented the textbook changes they had promised, Dr Suseelan said, “Yes, they said they would revise their textbooks, but they made only superficial changes. They are a closed system and they thought no one would read the books because they are all in Arabic.”

Another take on the textbook controversy is offered by Hassan al-Ahdal, director general of the Saudi-based Muslim World League.

He told The Washington Post, “The problem is not with the text books, but the mentality of a minority. Some teachers or supervisors are projecting their own beliefs in the text books and are trying to convince their students that theirs are the real interpretations of the textbooks.”

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