Saudi Arabia has come under fire for using schoolbooks for children that disparage Christians as “unbelievers” and promise that the day of resurrection will not come until Muslims have fought and killed the Jews.
An official textbook for fifth graders published by the Saudi Ministry of Education states that the approach of the Day of Resurrection will be recognizable by a series of signs. “The Hour will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews, and Muslims will kill the Jews,” it declares.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), a U.S.-based advocacy group, Saudi Arabia’s religious studies curriculum “contains hateful and incendiary language toward religions and Islamic traditions that do not adhere to its interpretation of Sunni Islam,” including the labeling of Jews and Christians as unbelievers “with whom Muslims should not associate.”
Human Rights Watch undertook a comprehensive review of school religion books published by the Saudi Education Ministry for the 2016-17 school year. The curriculum, titled al-tawhid, or “Monotheism,” comprises 45 textbooks and student workbooks for the primary, middle, and secondary education levels.
The September 11, 2001 jihadist attacks that killed some 3,000 Americans provoked public outrage at the incendiary language in Saudi schoolbooks after it became known that 15 of the 19 hijackers of 9/11 were Saudi citizens. Saudi officials promised at the time to expunge the abusive language from its curriculum. A decade and a half later, however, some of this insulting and dangerous content is still a part of Saudi texts, HRW declared.
In February 2017, Saudi’s education minister acknowledged the need for a “broader curriculum overhaul” but offered no specifics as to when if ever such an overhaul would take place.
“As early as first grade, students in Saudi schools are being taught hatred toward all those perceived to be of a different faith or school of thought,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The lessons in hate are reinforced with each following year.”
Although the U.S. State Department has designated Saudi Arabia a “country of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) ever since 2004, the American government has elected to waive the penalties, economic sanctions, arms embargoes, and travel and visa restrictions that accompany this designation.
During his speech in Riyadh in May 2017, President Donald Trump underscored the importance of religious liberty in the Middle East, while also announcing a massive $110 billion arms purchase by the Saudis as part of economic deals between the two countries totaling some $400 billion.
“For many centuries the Middle East has been home to Christians, Muslims and Jews living side-by-side,” he said. “We must practice tolerance and respect for each other once again—and make this region a place where every man and woman, no matter their faith or ethnicity, can enjoy a life of dignity and hope.”
In its recent report, HRW painted a dour picture of the state of religious freedom in Saudi Arabia, beginning with the indoctrination of schoolchildren.
“The curriculum reserves its harshest criticisms for Jews, Christians, and people of other faiths,” HRW declared, and the texts often refer to them as kuffar, or “unbelievers.”
One fifth-grade textbook refers to Jews and Christians as among the “original unbelievers” and declares that it is the duty of Muslims to excommunicate them: “For whoever does not [excommunicate them], or whoever doubts their religious infidelity is himself an unbeliever.”
The proper attitude toward such unbelievers is “hostility and antagonism,” the textbook states, while warming Muslims never to join with them in their celebrations.
In its review of the Saudi curriculum, Human Rights Watch limited its study to the al-tawhid series and did not explore religion texts dealing with Islamic law, Islamic culture, Islamic commentary, or Qur’an recitation.
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