Officials have granted a zoning exemption that will allow a Saudi-funded academy to expand its campus.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, which voted 6-4 Monday to grant the exemption, emphasized that the decision was made on zoning issues, not what goes on in the classrooms of the Islamic Saudi Academy.
Scores of people spoke at hearings in the spring and summer on the academy's plans. Some neighbors were against the expansion because of traffic worries. Others opposed the plans because of ideological concerns about what the school teaches.
'The community will get an awful lot of development,' said supervisor Penelope A. Gross. 'I think (it) will improve the community.'
The approval drew jeers from critics of the academy. Jim Lafferty, one of the critics, vowed political retaliation against the supervisors who supported it.
The academy was founded in 1984 and has some 1,000 students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12. It is the only Saudi-funded school in the United States.
About 80 per cent of its students are US citizens from the area's Muslim communities. Most students attend classes at a second campus in the Alexandria section of Fairfax.
The plans granted approval on Monday permit construction of a building that would eventually accommodate 500 students.
The school has undergone a series of high-profile examinations of its religious curriculum, which has been revised repeatedly to remove passages that extolled militant jihad and martyrdom.
In 2007, at least one textbook still said that the killing of adulterers and apostates was 'justified.' -- AP
DOES NOT TEACH INTOLERANCE
STUDENTS, parents and teachers have said the school does not teach intolerance.
'Throughout my whole time in ISA, I've never been taught to hate anyone,' said Heba Rashed, 16, a junior at the school.
The school's curriculum was again revised at the start of the 2008-09 school year after the US Commission on International Religious Freedom condemned its textbooks.
Critics of the academy say most of the offensive material has been taken out. But they say the textbooks clearly remain guided by Wahhabism, the fundamentalist school of Sunni Islam that is dominant in Saudi Arabia.
'The stuff about killing, it's not there anymore,' said Ali Al-Ahmed, the head of the Institute for Gulf Affairs and a critic of the Saudi government, who got copies of the latest textbooks.
Al-Ahmed said references to jihad had been removed from the curriculum.
He found that strange, because the idea - which in the Quran is described as 'striving in the path of God,' and is not necessarily violent - was essential to Islam.
In the past, textbooks referred to the militant form of jihad.
Al-Ahmed said he would have felt better if moderate references to jihad had been kept.
Attorney Lynne Strobel, who represented the academy, said she was pleased with the vote and said the school has undertaken efforts to reduce some of the potential traffic.