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Review of Selected Saudi Textbooks 2020-21

(December 2020)
By Eldad J. Pardo

IMPACT-se published a report examining the 2020-2021 curriculum in Saudi schools, which found that many problematic examples had been removed from textbooks, but some remained. Overall, the report regarded the changes “as a significant improvement and an encouraging development, understood as representing a step toward moderation.”

This is a summary of the findings:

Among the problematic examples removed for the 2020–2021 curriculum is an infamous Hadith which teaches students that a war between Jews and Muslims is inevitable in which Muslims will kill the Jews. Historically, this Hadith has considerably influenced anti-Semitic attitudes in the Muslim world so its removal from the 2020 Saudi textbooks is hugely significant.

Other examples removed include a text describing the nefarious means utilized by Zionist forces, such as money, women and drugs, lending to the common anti-Semitic trope. Another alleges that Jews have no religious-historical rights as they refused to accept Muhammad. An entire chapter focused on commentary and analysis about a verse from the Qu’ranic Surah al-Baqarah that also contained a warning against those “resembling the people of Moses” was also removed from the textbooks.

The Islamic idea of killing the Jews during the Day of Resurrection was removed as too was the glorification of violent Jihad: “Jihad in the way of Allah is the climax of Islam.” This example was removed alongside an entire textbook unit that taught verses 41–68 from the Qur’anic at-Tawbah (“the Repentance”) Surah.

Remarkably, a graphic passage, condemning homosexuality and stating that gay people should be punished by death for performing the “crime of Sodomy,” was removed representing a dramatic and progressive shift towards greater tolerance and openness. Also removed was a passage that attributed disease and calamity to homosexuality.

An example discussing apostasy, describing it as punishable by death and eternity in Hell, was not found in the textbooks along with a passage that described “faith’s firmest bond” as being hostile towards infidels.

Much of the anti-Israel content that previously appeared in the textbooks has now been removed including Israel as plotting to expand its territory from the Nile to the Euphrates to secure “Greater Israel” (The 2019 version already omitted an addition to this description that had previously been included: “The global Jewish government, to control the entire world”). The description of Zionism as a racist movement was removed in one place, but still exists in another. A polemic delegitimizing Israel’s right to exist was also removed. All of the above examples were part of a chapter titled “The Zionist Danger” that has now been entirely removed.

It might be perceived as unrealistic to expect a complete change in the Saudi worldview overnight. We should also note that some of the most egregious examples had already been removed from the textbooks examined in our main 2016–2019 Saudi Curriculum Research. Moderation was found to be introduced and removed from the curriculum in a seemingly pendulum-like fashion however, the main direction in recent years points toward growing moderation, while serious problems persist.

Problematic examples still remained in the 2020–2021 editions. These include conservative Islamic views that infidels will be punished on Resurrection Day; A Jewish boy converted to Islam by the Prophet is saved from hell; and Jews are demonized in an example showing the generosity of Muhamad.

In what appears to be an attempt to moderate terminology in the 2019 edition, the term “Jews and Christians: has been replaced by the generic “enemies of Islam” in some areas. The text is part of an analysis of verses 119-123 of the Al-Baqarah Surah, which specifically refer to Christians and Jews. These verses still appear in 2020. Non-Qur’anic praise for martyrdom is still taught and there are still emphatic warnings against “polytheists,” including a decontextualized and ambiguous story with anti-Semitic implications about “Jewish wrongdoers” who are described as monkeys.

Israel is still not represented on maps and is still demonized in the curriculum in many ways. Zionism is presented as a racist political movement (although one example of this had been removed), and Jews as settlers, occupiers and aggressors. The First Intifada is praised as exposing Israel’s “falseness of democracy.” Allusions to the “State of Israel” appearing in 2017 were replaced by the pejorative “Zionist” or “Zionist Enemy” in the 2019 and 2020 editions. The libel that Israel burned the Al-Aqsa Mosque in 1969 continues to be taught. There are a number of examples emphasizing the anti-Israeli position taken by the Saudi Kingdom. A polemic about the “Arab Gulf” and other anti-Iranian material remain as do anti-Ottoman descriptions.

Click here to read the full report.

Source: IMPACT-se. Reprinted with permission.