Officials at the Islamic Saudi Academy (ISA) in Fairfax, Virginia gave a reporter a glimpse of their "new" textbooks but still refused to show them to persistent critics like Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Virginia) and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
The Traditional Values Coalition said the ISA is unveiling its new textbook in order to undercut citizen opposition at next week's Fairfax County Planning Commission meeting which will consider a proposal to expand the ISA Popes Head Road location.
Federal agencies and both Democratic and Republican officials have criticized the Shariah-based curriculum at the school as well as numerous instances of investigation and arrests of school officials and students.
"The textbooks are only one symptom of the problems at the radical Islamic Saudi Academy, "said Traditional Values Coalition Executive Director Andrea Lafferty. "The extremists who run the school are training the next generation of Wahabbist young people to hate our children, particularly those who are American, Christian and Jewish.
"There is a pattern of anti-American, anti-Semitic and anti-Christian activity at the Islamic Saudi Academy which cannot be explained away by this clumsy ploy. The Associated Press reporter who was permitted a glimpse of the so-called 'new' history textbook reported that even this 'new' textbook still has radical passages.
"The Planning Commission should listen to all of the county residents' complaints about this academy and reject its request for expansion. Every elected official has a responsibility to protect the health and welfare of the citizenry. The people of Virginia and America need to be protected from the cynical and hate-driven activities of the extremists at this academy.
The Associated Press report cited changes in the textbooks but said "problematic" passages have been included in the new texts.
"While the Islamic Saudi Academy deleted some of the most contentious passages from the texts, copies provided to The Associated Press show that enough sensitive material remains to fuel critics who claim the books show intolerance toward those who do not follow strict interpretations of Islam.
"The academy, which teaches nearly 900 students in grades K-12 at its campus just outside the Capital Beltway, developed new Islamic studies textbooks for all grades after a 2008 congressional report called portions of the previous editions troubling. The school provided the AP copies of the new textbooks, which revise language on hot-button issues such as requiring women to cover their heads and how Muslims should relate to people of other religions.
"School officials say the books are part of the school's effort to promote universal values of tolerance and kindness and modernize some of the lessons.
"They've had to make similar defenses before.
"The school was founded in 1984 and largely stayed out of the spotlight until the Sept. 11 attacks, which focused attention on the Saudi educational system. In December 2001, two former ISA students, Mohammed El-Yacoubi and Mohammed Osman Idris, were denied entry into Israel when authorities there found El-Yacoubi carrying what the FBI believed was a suicide note linked to a planned martyrdom operation in Israel.
"In 2005, a former ISA valedictorian, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, was convicted in federal court of joining al-Qaida while attending college in Saudi Arabia and plotting to assassinate President George W. Bush.
"Last year, the school's then-director, Abdalla al-Shabnan, was convicted of failing to report a suspected case of child sex abuse.
"Last year also was when the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released a report saying the school's textbooks contained several troubling passages, including one saying it is permissible for Muslims to kill adulterers and converts from Islam and another saying "the Jews conspired against Islam and its people."
"The new books don't contain those passages. The AP reviewed them with assistance from Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs in Washington, who has criticized the academy and the books used there and in schools in Saudi Arabia.
"While the academy's books borrow extensively from those used in the Saudi system, they also revise and delete certain words and passages. For instance, the books used in Saudi Arabia say that women must cover their face and body to conform with Islam's tenets. The ISA textbooks, though, only talk about covering the body. Words like "kaffir," which is often translated as "infidel," have been replaced with more neutral words like "non-Muslim."
"Some sensitive sections survived the revisions, though. One of the few references to Christians and Jews, or "People of the Book," disparages scholars in those faiths for rejecting the truth of Islam.
"Al-Ahmed, whose group monitors politics and education in the Gulf, said the revised texts now being used at ISA make some small improvements in tone. But he said it's clear from the books that the core ideology behind them — a puritanical strain of Islam known as Wahhabism that is dominant within Saudi Arabia — remains intact.
"'It shows they have no intention of real reform," al-Ahmed said.
"Al-Ahmed cited other passages that, while not offensive, reflect what he sees as a medieval mentality despite the academy's efforts to modernize. One chapter deals extensively with sorcery, for instance, while another warns Muslims to be careful in accepting party and wedding invitations from non-Muslims.
"'We don't live in the desert 1,000 years ago," al-Ahmed said. "It's disconnected from today because the authorities themselves are disconnected.'"
Traditional Values Coalition is an inter-denominational public policy organization speaking on behalf of over 43,000 churches.