The Sunni Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally, has prohibited international schools from designating non-Islamic holidays, such as Christmas and New Year’s Day, as school vacation days, reports the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS).
“Saudi education ministry has warned international schools from marking non-Islamic occasions, such as Christmas and New Year, the media reported on Monday,” notes IANS in an article published by the Times of India (TOI).
Citing China’s state-run news agency Xinhua, IANS adds that “the ban includes forbidding those schools from providing holidays on such occasions or changing the dates of exams to suit them.”
The Saudi education ministry reportedly warned that schools that violate the edict risk having their licenses revoked.
Schools are ordered to abide by the state-mandated academic calendar for exams and holidays, which also excludes Shiite holidays, such as the Ashura celebration.
The Saudi “government has refused to allow Shiite teachers and students exemptions from schools or exams on Ashura, the most important religious day for Shiite Muslims,” points out The Clarion Project, adding that “protests over this ban have broken out in previous years. Shiites account for approximately 15 percent of the population in the kingdom.”
Shiite powerhouse Iran is considered Saudi Arabia’s regional rival.
Extremely strict Islamic laws govern the lives of Saudi Arabians. During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan this year, the Sunni country reportedly cracked down on “un-Islamic” clothing, arresting at least 50 men for wearing ripped jeans, shorts, necklaces, and Crocs shoes, as well as “bizarre Western hair styles.”
The mutaween, or Saudi religious police, carried out the fashion busts at malls and shopping districts in Mecca.
Earlier this month, the Independent reported that the Sunni kingdom, which is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, is expected to decapitate a disabled 23-year-old man who has been sentenced to death for participating in anti-government protests in the predominantly Shiite eastern part of the country.
Sara Hashah, a spokesperson for Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa branch, has revealed that Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran are responsible for 90 percent of all the executions across the world.
“Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most prolific executioners. Research last year by human rights organization Reprieve found that, of those identified as facing execution in Saudi Arabia, some 72 per cent were sentenced to death for non-violent alleged crimes, while torture and forced confessions were common,” noted the Independent.