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Saudi Textbooks Show Improvement

(September 19, 2021)

This study of Saudi textbooks from the second semester of 2020–21 and the first semester of the 2021–22 school year “shows that the trend of significant improvement continues in several key areas.” Specifically, it reports that “since the previous review, twenty-two anti-Christian and anti-Semitic lessons were either removed or altered….An entire textbook unit on violent jihad to spread Islam and protect Muslim lands – which had previously detailed circumstances to justify jihad while praising it as an act of piety – was removed.”

The study also found a number of positive changes related to the description and history of the Jewish people:

Several lessons that explicitly blamed “the Jews” as a collective for attacking Muslims and Muhammad were altered, instead attributing responsibility to Arabian tribes and in some cases removing them altogether. References to forbidding friendships with Jews and Christians, referred to as “infidels,” as they are “enemies of God,” were removed, as well as a lesson condemning Judaism as “negligent” and Christianity as “excessive.” Another passage about “a group of Jews” who curse Muhammad was replaced with a hadith that highlights the Prophet’s generosity and tolerance without mentioning Jews at all. Also removed were a series of ahistorical and harmful assertions, such as Jewish connections to the Temple Mount being fabricated by rabbis and the idea that the mount has always been the site of a mosque. Similarly, other lessons removed insisted “the Jews” attempted to destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque and aimed to remove the Islamic character from the city of Jerusalem.

While there has been great improvement, “some concerns in relation to international standards remain.” In addition, “a handful of examples of anti-Semitism and religiously intolerant lessons are still present, as are ahistorical and dubious claims about Israel.” Israel is also erased from maps in social studies and Islamic jurisprudence books.

For example, the study says one 8th grade text quotes “a Qur’anic verse comparing Jews to ‘a donkey carrying books’ for failing to abide by the Torah and by God. Furthermore, the textbook states that the Jews pretend to be God’s favorites, meaning they falsely claim to be safe from God’s punishment (in the afterlife). It is explained that the Qur’an therefore challenges the Jews to wish for death, arguing they will not do so precisely because they know they are lying. The implied meaning is that God will indeed punish the Jews after death.”

In a social studies text for grades 10-12, “Zionism is defined as a racist European movement which aims to expel Palestinians and establish a Jewish state by force.” The same book falsely accuses “Zionists” of trying to burn down the al-Aqsa Mosque in 1969 when, in fact, it was a Christian from Australia who was responsible. It also teaches that Israel started the Six-Day War “to expand its borders, take over Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, and take over oil wells in the Sinai Peninsula.”

Overall, the study found “the Saudi educational curriculum appears to be sailing on an even keel toward its stated goals of more moderation and openness. Society remains traditional but there is substantial mitigation of hate and phobias directed against foreign and internal actors.” It also complimented the authorities for the changes:

One cannot but be impressed by the painstaking efforts of Saudi educators, their respect for tradition and their determination to lead their country—slowly but surely—away from religious radicalism to a society that truly embraces international standards of peace and tolerance.

Eldad Pardo, Director of Research for IMPACT-se, acknowledged, “changes to the Saudi curriculum will not take place overnight, but the pace at which it has been amended in the span of one year is a dramatic leap forward. This review therefore offers an exciting insight into a long-awaited development that could produce a ripple effect in other Muslim majority countries.”

Source: “A Further Step Forward: Review of Changes and Remaining Problematic Content in Saudi Textbooks 2021–22,” IMPACT-se, (September 19, 2021).