Researcher Dubious That Islamic Saudi Academy Curriculum Problems Solved


A National Review article carries an analysis of the textbooks used for the 2008-2009 school year by the Islamic Saudi Academy (ISA), the Virginia school founded by a decree of Saudi King Fahd in 1984. The authors state they were not persuaded that problems with the curriculum had been solved. Their specific criticisms included:

  • Jihad is a central tenet of Islam and is raised multiple times in the Koran. Saudi textbooks describe jihad as “the summit of Islam” and “one of the most magnificent acts of obedience to God,” and endorse its militant form for both defensive and aggressive purposes. ISA’s new texts, however, make no mention of militant jihad, not even as a defensive measure. And they make only a single passing reference to the alternative view of jihad. (Buried toward the end of a twelfth-grade text is a two-line reference to the “greater jihad” — the obligation “to do jihad against Satan, selfish desire and capriciousness.”) At a time when many Muslim radicals proclaim the merits of militant jihad, ignoring the issue almost completely will not suffice to orient students toward the peaceful interpretation. One must wonder whether the books were even intended to do such a thing.
  • When it comes to relating to other people, ISA’s new texts reject critical thinking. “The human mind is incapable of rendering appropriate judgments as a result of its inability to grasp truths, goals, and purposes,” states one book. Based on this assumption, the books provide exhaustive guidance for public and private behavior, detailing, for example, how to entertain other Muslims: Hospitality is obligatory for “one day and one night,” food should be placed on “a sheet on the ground,” and so forth. This dogmatic approach makes it more than unusual that ISA’s books omit all instruction on relating to non-Muslims. While the new texts raise the Koranic injunction against religious coercion, they are silent on how Muslims should treat Jews, “apostates,” “polytheists,” “adulterers,” and “homosexuals” — all of whom ISA’s old texts taught it was permissible to kill. Nor do the books indicate how one should view Shiites, non-Wahhabi Sunnis, Baha’is, and Ahmadiya, all of whom ISA’s former curriculum cast as enemies within; or Jews and Christians, who, it had taught, were to be hated; or Americans, who, it stated, were continuing the Crusades by promoting women’s rights and sponsoring universities in Beirut and Cairo.
  • The question is not whether ISA supplements these new textbooks with other material, but what these other materials contain. There is evidence that the school, over the past school year, did in fact continue to use some extremist supplemental resources. ISA’s website for 2008-09 stated that the school “follows the Islamic Studies curriculum which has been set forth by the Kingdom.” As the first resource on its “Useful Links” webpage, ISA linked to the Saudi Education Ministry site, where the noxious curriculum is posted in full. Those books, according to the Ministry, are electronically formatted to facilitate copying, cutting, and pasting. This underscores the problem of a piecemeal approach to Saudi educational reform. Even the new texts themselves reference several extreme Islamic authorities.

A post from January 2008 discussed a review of the textbooks used by the Islamic Saudi Academy in 2007-2008 undertaken by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom which recommended that ” the State Department close the school until it proves that it is not teaching a type of religious intolerance potentially dangerous to the United States. These findings came a month after the Fairfax Virginia County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to extend the academy’s lease for its main campus, which lies on county property, after conducting its own study of the textbooks last year. The earlier post noted that the congressionally created commission’s actions caused “tensions” at the State Department who were said to be annoyed that the panel was pressing the issue during a “delicate moment of diplomacy over Saudi education.” State Department officials said at the time that Saudi education is undergoing reforms within the kingdom and at affiliated schools around the world.  Another post discussed  subsequent reports about textbook passages that were were anti-Semitic, intolerant of various Muslim groups, and which advocated violence against those who convert from Islam. A FOX report noted that the school has had a history of problems:

Founded in 1984, it drew national attention after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which turned the focus onto the Saudi educational system after 15 of the 19 hijackers were of Saudi origin. In December 2001, former ISA students Mohammed El-Yacoubi and Mohammed Osman Idris were denied entry into Israel when authorities there found El-Yacoubi carrying what the FBI believed was a suicide note linked to a planned martyrdom operation in Israel. In 2005, a former ISA valedictorian, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, was convicted in federal court of joining Al Qaeda while attending college in Saudi Arabia and plotting to assassinate President George W. Bush. Last year, the school’s then-director Abdalla al-Shabnan was convicted of failing to report a suspected case of child sex abuse.

There are possible connections from the Academy to the global Muslim Brotherhood. Islam Online, an Islamic news portal associated with global Muslim Brotherhood leader Youssef Qaradawi, ran a story defending the Islamic Saudi Academy titled “US Islamic School Braves Smear Campaign.”Also, the 2004 annual report of the Islamic charity known as LIFE for Relief and Development, associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, lists Dr. Dawood Abdul Rahman as a director while the website of the Saudi Islamic Academy lists an individual with the same name as director of its Islamic Studies program. According to German TV reports the King Fahd Academy in Germany, another Saudi financed academy, maintained contact with the local Muslim Brotherhood organization and its registration papers indicated that in the event of its closure, its assets would revert to them. The King Fahd Academy was also accused of various forms of extremism including teaching hatred of Jews and Christians.

The National Review piece concluded:

Since 9/11, ISA officials — including the various Saudi ambassadors who have served as ISA chairmen — have annually given assurances of curriculum reform and annually broken their promises. They’ve had help: The school’s accreditation by the Southern Association for Colleges and Schools was seriously flawed, since the association’s “volunteer” evaluators did not know Arabic and therefore never read the Islamic-studies curriculum. ISA’s brandishing of a recent letter by two American academic consultants to the school, giving their approval for the sanitized Wahhabi textbooks, only deepens the school’s reputation for deception. The State Department reached an understanding with Riyadh in 2006 that, within two years, Saudi Arabia would remove intolerant passages from all its educational materials both within the Kingdom and abroad, including in its network of 20 international schools of which ISA is a part. Under new legislation initiated by Virginia congressman Frank Wolf, State must now follow up. It should do so with an informed assessment of what ISA teaches, especially about jihad and the religious other — in both semesters, in Arabic as well as English, and in all educational and resource material. And until an independent, professional, and thorough process verifies reform, Fairfax County should reject the Academy’s request to expand.

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