A Saudi government-controlled school in a Washington suburb uses textbooks that explicitly promote violence and intolerance of other religions, according to a U.S. religious-freedom panel that obtained some of the materials.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, established by Congress in 1998, said today it acquired 17 textbooks used at the Islamic Saudi Academy during this academic year after the State Department failed to turn over texts it had received from the Saudi government.
"The most problematic texts involve passages that are not directly from the Koran but rather contain the Saudi government's particular interpretation of Koranic and other Islamic texts," the commission wrote in a four-page statement. "Some passages clearly exhort the readers to commit acts of violence."
The commission aims to pressure the State Department to hand over the books it received and the Saudis to eliminate disparaging or hate-promoting references from their educational materials, as the government pledged to do in July 2006. The Saudi ambassador to the U.S. serves as chairman of the board at the 933-student academy located near Alexandria, Virginia, a suburb of Washington.
The State Department designated Saudi Arabia in 2004 as a "country of particular concern" on religious freedom. The country is a major American ally in the Middle East and the second-largest source of oil imported by the U.S.
Demands on Saudis
The religious-freedom panel called last October for the State Department to close the school until Saudi officials produce textbooks to prove the academy doesn't encourage religious intolerance or violence. Neither the Saudi government nor State has turned over any textbooks, so the books were gathered from other sources, including a congressional office, the commission said.
The commission cites two examples of passages that directly encourage violence. One, in a 12th-grade textbook on the Koran, says it is permissible for a Muslim to kill a convert from Islam, as well as "an adulterer or someone who has murdered a believer intentionally," the commission said in its statement today.
Another 12th-grade text indicates a Muslim "can take the life and property of someone believed to be guilty" of polytheism, the commission wrote.
The Saudi interpretation of Islam considers that category to include Shiite and Sufi Muslims as well as Christians, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists, according to the commission. Saudis follow a Sunni form of Islam.
The commission cited other passages that it says implicitly promote intolerance.
One begins, "The cause of the discord: The Jews conspired against Islam and its people," according to an excerpt quoted by the commission.
The academy, founded in 1984, has developed a growing home- study department for education and testing of Saudi students in several states. More than 90 percent of students go on to study at American universities, according to the school's Web site.
Nail al-Jubeir, a spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, didn't immediately return a telephone message seeking comment. He said in October that the school doesn't use inflammatory or extremist material and that the teaching staff includes non-Muslims.
The school's director-general, Abdullah Al-Shabnan, didn't immediately return a message left on voice mail at his office.