Religious textbooks at the Islamic Saudi Academy (ISA) in Fairfax, Va., which have sparked controversy for content that allegedly promotes violence and hatred toward non-Muslims, will be rewritten and reissued by the time students return to school in the fall, said school officials.
"We hope the books will be clean from any kind of misunderstanding that people think about," the head of Islamic teachings at the academy, who asked not to be named, told Cybercast News Service on Tuesday.
The ISA official, however, denied that the books used until now contain lessons that teach children to hate non-Muslims or incite violence against people outside the faith.
"There is nothing in these books -- but people that don't have this background, they may understand it in a wrong way, in a negative way," the official said.
Earlier in the day, a dozen or so people who disagree with the school's claim of a curriculum that teaches the importance of tolerance and service to the community gathered along the sidewalk in front of the school and held up signs that read, "Stop teaching kids Jihad" and "Terrorists trained here."
Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative Christian group, said she organized the protest to educate the public about IPA and "lift the veil" on what is taught in its classrooms.
"We're concerned that this is a tax-payer funded building ... that is being leased out to an organization that teaches hate and violence to children," Lafferty told Cybercast News Service. "We know that the individuals (who) hijacked the planes on 9/11 were educated under the same Saudi system, with these same books, and we think the American people need to understand what's happening."
In October, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom asked the U.S. State Department to obtain all of the Arabic-language textbooks being used by the ISA -- which is leased by the Saudi Embassy and acts as an arm of the Saudi government -- to "determine whether the texts used at the (academy) promote violence, discrimination, or intolerance based on religion or belief," the commission said.
Passages cited in the report include a twelfth-grade Tafsir of Koranic interpretation textbook. In it, the author states that it is permissible for a Muslim to kill an apostate (a convert from Islam), an adulterer, or someone who has murdered a believer intentionally.
Judith Ingram, communications director for the Commission, said the State Department did not turn over any of the books and that its latest report, released on June 11, was made after books were obtained from other sources, including a congressional office.
The report said that the 17 books it obtained, which were used for this school year, "do, in fact, include some extremely troubling passages that do not conform to international human rights norms" -- this despite the Saudi government telling the United States in July 2006 that it would "revise and update textbooks to remove remaining references that disparage Muslims or non-Muslims or promote hatred toward other religions or religious groups."
A spokesperson with the State Department told Cybercast News Service that it saw no need to release the books to the Commission or to the public because the text of the books was already posted on the Saudi Ministry of Education Web site.
"Since they're already made public, we don't need to make them public," a State Department spokesperson said. "We don't need to duplicate them on our Web site or give them to (the Commission) because they've already been put out in the public domain.
The head of IPA's Islamic teachings department confirmed to Cybercast News Service that copies of all textbooks had been handed over to the State Department, and David Kovalik, a U.S. history teacher at ISA and spokesman for the school, said it supported having the State Department make the books available to the Commission and the public.
"Absolutely," Kovalik said.
Kovalik agreed, however, when shown some of wording allegedly from an academy textbook as reported by the Commission, that it was offensive.
"The cause of discord: The Jews conspired against Islam and its people," the textbook translation reads. "A sly, wicked person who sinfully and deceitfully professed Islam infiltrated (the Muslims)," the text read.
"Well, that is very anti-Semetic and uh, wow, no, but those don't exist in our books," Kovalik said.
Cybercast News Service asked the State Department about the status of the investigation into the textbooks.
"We're continuing to review the hard copy ones received, and we're working with the Saudi government," a spokesperson said, adding that she could not comment on what that work involved.
"That goes back to the fact that we're still reviewing and working with the government in this, and so we're not really at a place to explain what our review is bringing up or what those discussions are entailing," she said. "But they are taking place. This is a priority, it's not just something that we've slipped under the rug."
The ISA official said the new books will still teach Islam, but that the books will not include controversial subject matter.
"We are in the process of initiating new books that have nothing -- sensitive issues -- that may make people understand in the wrong way," he said.
Ingram said she welcomed the school official's remarks.
"That would be very good news," Ingram said. "If that's true, we are working toward the same goal. Let's start the school year off on the right foot, with clean textbooks."