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Saudi school children (Photo: Arabianbusiness.com)

Islamic Textbooks and Violence

OurIndonesia – Several years ago, U.S. based think tink, Freedom House’s Centre for Religious Freedom released a report analyzing the syllabus and textbooks of Islamic studies used in Saudi schools. One of the important findings is that ideology of hatred and enmity toward Christians, Jews and Muslims who do not subscribe to the Wahhabi doctrine is still dominant and widely taught.

The research was quite comprehensive since it involved various scholars from the Middle East, including from the Saudi Arabia. They collected textbooks and teaching materials for elementary and secondary schools. Most of them are about theology (tawheed), Islamic jurisprudence (fikh) and prophetic traditions (hadith).

Despite the fact that the area of research was limited to Saudi Arabia, the finding is interesting and important to discuss since the issue of Islamic teaching is concerning Muslims in general. Afterall, Saudi Arabia has significant role in the Muslim world and its position as the “centre” of Islam makes the research is even crucial to consider.

Saudi Arabia is an Islamic state that is rigorously implementing sharia (Islamic law). Officially, the Saudi government declared itself as an Islamic kingdom and imposed social regulations in Islamic way. Islamic education is highly emphasized by separating boys and girls in schools and inserting religious materials in every discipline of knowledge, including Science.

The Saudi schools curriculum is not quite unique. Some Islamic doctrines in the curriculum can be easily found in any other schools in the Middle East. Likewise, we can find similar stuffs in Indonesian religious and non-religious schools. Generally, Islamic curriculum taught in the Muslim world derives from the main sources of Islam i.e. the Quran and the Hadith. Some other materials are also taken from legal Islamic books (fiqh), which were mostly written during the medieval time.

Many of those books contain intolerant teachings and enmity toward other religions and different sects. That was quite natural because the Islamic formation was forged by tensions and clashes between Muslims and non-Muslims (Jews particularly) and between the mainstream Islam and the “deviant” sects. No wonder if the textbooks contain doctrines that teach hatred propagation against Jews, Christians, and Shi’te followers.

Almost every textbook of Islamic studies in Saudi Arabia’s schools –and I think in any other Muslim countries too- taught about the universality of Islam and that Islam is the only true religion. This doctrine is not the creation of ulama, but is originally derived from the Quran.

For instance, the holy book clearly says: “And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers” (Sura 3:85). It demonizes other religions as “deviant” and “bad.” It boldly says in a provoking way: “And the Jews will not be pleased with thee, nor will the Christians, till thou follow their creed” (Sura 2:120).

Hatred and enmity toward other religions were cultivated and seeded onto the minds of Muslim children since the very beginning of their age. A Saudi textbook for the first grade, for instance, puts the question as follow: “Fill in the blanks with the appropriate words (Islam, hellfire): Every religion other than ______________ is false. Whoever dies outside of Islam enters ____________.”

Students of the fourth grade were taught about the true belief (iman) which means, “that you hate the polytheists (mushrik) and infidels (kafir) but do not treat them unjustly.” Polytheists and infidels usually referred to the Jews, Christians, and other religions than Islam.

However, in many cases in Saudi Arabia, the word “unbelievers” does not only refer to Jews and Christians, but also to whoever adhere different beliefs, including those non-Wahhabi Muslims who do not adhere particular understanding of Islam. This is specifically taught for the sixth grade, with additional affirmation that Muslims are brothers even without blood relationship. However, they are clearly taught that non-Muslims are enemies although they are relatives.

The eight grade students were given more profound materials, with some hatred nuances referring to Prophet’s saying (which is probably not the sound one) as narated by Ibn Abbas: “The apes are Jews, the people of the Sabbath; while the swine are the Christians, the infidels of the communion of Jesus.

Hatred toward Jews and Christians has been well-preserved among Muslims in Saudi Arabia. Students of the ninth grade were taught that the clash between Muslims (umma) and the Jews has always endured, and it will continue forever. Students of higher grade were given broader and more analytical materials, with some obvious discrimination here and there. The tenth grade text on Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) teaches that life for non-Muslims (as well as women, and, by implication, slaves) is worth a fraction of that of a free Muslim male.

The negative treatment upon non-Muslims in those curriculums is parallel to the treatment upon women. Referring to the classic legal Islamic books, women are entitled to only half the inheritance of males, and woman’s testimony in court is worth only half of a man’s.

With such curriculum, no wonder that many people believe in the strong connection between Arabs’ religiosity and the doctrines that are taught in their schools. The hatred toward America, the infidel state where many Jews and Christians live, was the main force behind the September 11 tragedy. Weren’t 15 of the 19 hijackers were the citizens of Saudi Arabia?

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