A 2021 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:
While there has been a 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.
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.”
IMPACT-se released another report in May 2023 examining texts for the 2022-23 school year with CEO Marcus Sheff writing:
The clear trend of moderation in relation to Israel, while still not recognizing the Jewish state, is highly noteworthy. While all textbook reform is important, Saudi Arabian textbooks are particularly consequential. Kudos is due to the Saudi government for this multi-year and systematic removal of Jew hate and moderation of content on Israel in the textbooks of over six million Saudi children, and of many more who study the textbooks outside of Saudi Arabia.”
The report specifically found,
An area of significant change is the criticism of Jews in the early Islamic period, with almost all previously identified problematic examples in Islamic Studies textbooks removed from 2022-23 editions. Prominent examples of material removed include God turning infidels into apes and pigs because they worshipped the devil and implying that Jews are the enemies of Islam. Many harmful interpretations of Qur’anic verses and oral traditions, which for example, accused Jews and Christians of plotting against Islam, were removed.
The coverage of Israel dramatically improved.
The study found only one problematic text, a social studies volume that included the
description of Zionism as a European colonial and racist movement aimed at expelling Palestinians from their homes.
Kristin Diwan, senior resident scholar at the Gulf States Institute in Washington, told CNN the kingdom is adopting a more secular form of nationalism and changing its political orientation to make “the ruling family central to its legitimacy.”
Mira Al Hussein, a research fellow focusing on Gulf states at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, told CNN, “This also is intended to signal that the new Gulf states’ leaders are modern, forward-thinking and secular-leaning – all of which is meant to appeal to a specific, largely external audience.”
“This is consistent with efforts to ease religious intolerance of Jews, incrementally preparing the way should a political decision be made on Israel normalization,” Diwan said.
Source: “A Further Step Forward: Review of Changes and Remaining Problematic Content in Saudi Textbooks 2021–22,” IMPACT-se, (September 19, 2021).
“Updated Review Saudi Textbooks 2022-23,” IMPACT-se, (May 2023).
Hadas Gold and Abbas Al Lawati, “Saudi Arabia is quietly changing its textbooks. Could that lead to acceptance of Israel?” CNN, (June 19, 2023).