A private research group in Washington says religious textbooks in Saudi Arabia, despite revisions, continue to teach intolerance and violence.
The Washington-based Center for Religious Freedom and the Institute for Gulf Affairs recently analyzed 12 new textbooks the Saudi government says were purged of all intolerant language.
In its study, entitled Saudi Arabia's Curriculum of Intolerance, the center examined textbooks used in Saudi schools and in Muslim academies in 19 capitals around the world.
The report criticizes what it calls the "Saudi ideology of hatred," saying supposedly revised textbooks still teach that Christians, Jews and other Muslims are "enemies." It says the textbooks condemn all those who do not practice the strict Saudi state-supported Wahhabi sect of Islam.
At a recent conference at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, the head of the Center for Religious Freedom, Nina Shea, described what even the youngest students are being taught.
"It is an ideological curriculum of intolerance against the unbeliever," said Nina Shea. "This includes explicitly Christians, Jews, and other Muslims are all demonized. They assert that peaceful co-existence is not possible. The first grade text condemns Christians and Jews explicitly to hellfire, so it implants the idea that they are evil. It goes against the Islamic teachings that these are heavenly religions. And again, keep in mind this is not religion talking, this is the government of Saudi Arabia."
Professor Ahmed Ibn Saidfuddin of the Imam Ibn Saud University in Riyadh acknowledges the curriculum of Saudi schools does need changing, and he insists it is being done. But he rejects the accusation that what is taught in Saudi schools condones terrorism.
"Of course, we have to be very careful because we are not changing religion here, we are not changing our view of how important Islam is for us," said Ahmed Ibn Saidfuddin. "What we are doing is at least removing, reinterpreting some of the things that might be misinterpreted by extremists. But these curricula have always been in existence for many centuries. They did not produce terrorists."
The Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, also disagrees, saying the Freedom Center report does not accurately describe what is happening in Saudi Arabia. He says the government has worked diligently over the past five years to revise not only textbooks, but to introduce new teaching methods.
But Saudi dissident and scholar Ali Al-Ahmed of the Institute for Gulf Affairs disagrees. He says there is a link between the Saudi teachings and terrorism.
"The Saudi education system is an often ignored front on the war on terror," said Ali Al-Ahmed. "The Saudi 9/11 hijackers were a product of this education system. As children they were indoctrinated with this curriculum that is full of hate and hostility toward the other. So it was not a hard thing for them to be converted al-Qaida terrorists in a matter of months. These textbooks groom millions of children into hateful, angry, and misinformed youths that are just one step away from being the perfect terrorist."
Fifteen of the 19 hijackers in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States were from Saudi Arabia.
Ahmed says reforming the Saudi education system must be an integral part of the war on terrorism.