For the past two decades, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been engaged in an extensive effort "to spread Islam to every corner of the earth." This has meant supporting or creating schools with a curriculum primarily based upon the teachings of Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab, the 18th century founder of the Islamist Wahhabiyya movement.
This report offers a preliminary overview of the Saudi education system focusing on its main principles, aspects of its organizational structure, translations from its textbooks and statements made by high ranking Saudi officials on the Saudi education policy.
Part I: The Philosophy of Education
Education Based on the Teachings of Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab
According to a book published in 1995 by the Saudi Cultural Mission to the U.S. on education in the Kingdom, titled "Education in Saudi Arabia," the roots of the contemporary Saudi education policy date back to the 18th century when Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab called for the return of Muslims to the fundamentals of Islam as preached by the Prophet Muhammad.
The cornerstone of education in Saudi Arabia consists of the most pervasive themes in Islam.The book, published by the Saudi Cultural Mission to the U.S., quotes a document published by the Higher Committee for Educational Policy which contains 236 principles that explain how students should promote loyalty to Islam by denouncing any system or theory that conflicts with Islamic law. The students are also taught to understand Islam in a correct manner, how to plant and spread Islam throughout the world, and how "to fight spiritually and physically for the sake of Allah," with emphasis on early Islamic glories.
Spreading Islam throughout the World
The concept of spreading Islam throughout the world is a fundamental pillar of the Saudi education system, as the following principles from the document by the Higher Committee for Educational Policy indicate:"The purpose of education is to understand Islam in a proper and complete manner, to implement and spread the Muslim faith, to provide a student with Islamic values, and teachings."The document discusses the importance of "providing the individual with the necessary ideas, consciousness and abilities to preach the message of Islam."Another concept within the Saudi education system is "widening the horizons of the thinking of the students by acquainting them with various countries of the world… and in attending to the duty of spreading its [Islam's] message..." In order to successfully spread Islam, students are taught "… at least one of the living languages in addition to their original language to enable them to acquire knowledge… [to] transmit our Saudi knowledge… to other communities and participate in the spreading of Islam."
Teaching the History of Islamic Glories
Educating students in "the spirit of Islamic struggle" is another common theme in the Saudi education system, as the following principles indicate: "Striving and fighting for the sake of Allah is a prescribed duty, a followed tradition and an existing necessity. This spirit of striving will remain in force until the Day of Judgment." This is done by "teaching history in a systematic way, deriving crucial lessons from it and explaining the Islamic points of view," highlighting the glorious stances in the history of Islam and the civilization of its people, "so as to be an example to be followed by our present Muslim generation." "Awakening the spirit of Islamic struggle to resist our enemies, restore our rights and glories, and perform our duties towards the Islamic message" is a general theme students are expected to learn.This in effect will lead to "prompting his [the student's] zeal for the restoration of the glories of his Muslim nation… and for the resumption of the march along the path of glory and honor."
Part II: Organizational Aspects
Government Control of Schoolbooks to Guarantee They are Consistent with Islam and Devoid of Anything Conflicting with Its Principles
The Saudi government maintains control of every aspect of educational material: "The government shall be concerned with the control of all books coming into the Kingdom from abroad or going out of the Kingdom to the outside world. No books shall be allowed for use unless they are consistent with Islam, the intellectual trends and educational aims of the Kingdom..." The government policy also states: "All books should fulfill the aims of education and be devoid of anything conflicting with Islam." Students also learn "how to face misleading rumors, destructive doctrines, and alien thoughts,"The Saudi education authorities insist "the school textbooks should be in line with Islamic requirements."
According to the study by the Saudi Cultural Mission to the U.S., "committees at the Ministry of Education oversee the development of textbooks in every subject for all educational levels… Textbooks are updated periodically to reflect developments in different subjects. The textbooks used in Islamic studies, for example, which primarily cover the traditional religious texts and their interpretation, change very little over the years. Textbook materials in fields such as mathematics, science, and social studies, however are reevaluated regularly. Similar textbooks are used by male and female students who also follow the same academic curricula.It is compulsory that private schools use the same textbooks and curricula employed in the public schools. The government provides textbooks to private schools free of charge."
Part III. Translations from Saudi Schoolbooks
From an early age, schoolchildren are taught about Jihad for the Sake of Allah (Al-Jihad fi sabil Allah). In a textbook for 8th grade students, a Hadith is introduced about a companion of the Prophet Muhammad who asked the Prophet: "What labor is most favored by Allah? He [the Prophet] answered: Prayers on time; he then asked: what next? The Prophet answered: love thy parents. He then asked: what else: The Prophet answered: Jihad for the sake of Allah."The textbook interprets the conversation between the Prophet and his companion as follows: the most important activity is Jihad for the sake of Allah and the convocation of Allah's religion on this earth.
In a textbook titled "Pictures from the Lives of the Companions," the students are told that following the battle of Badr (the first victory of Muslims over the disbelievers) a new chapter in the Koran had descended on the Prophet which raised, in the eyes of Allah, the status of the mujahideen (Jihad warrior) and their preference over those who sit still. The chapter challenges the mujahid to Jihad, and discourages those who sit still.
Jews and Christians – Cursed by Allah and Turned into Apes and Pigs
A textbook for 8th grade students explains why Jews and Christians were cursed by Allah and turned into apes and pigs.Quoting Surat Al-Maida, Verse 60, the lesson explains that Jews and Christians have sinned by accepting polytheism and therefore incurred Allah's wrath.To punish them, Allah has turned them into apes and pigs.
The Whole World Should Convert to Islam and Leave Their False Religions Lest Their Fate Will Be Hell
A schoolbook for 5th grade instructs the students: "The religions which people follow on this earth are many, but the only true religion is the religion of Islam.As for the other religions, they are false as mentioned in the Koran (the Sura of Aal 'Umran Verse 85): 'And whoever follows a religion that is not Islam, it will not be accepted from him and in the Hereafter he will be of the losers.''The religion of Islam we know from the Koran and the Hadiths about the Prophet. The whole world should convert to Islam and leave its false religions lest their fate will be hell. As mentioned in the Koran (the Sura of Al-Nihal Verse 125): '[I swear] by Him who holds Muhammad's soul in his hand that not one Jew or Christian who had heard me and did not believe in the message that I was sent with shall die without being one of those whose fate is hell.'"
The students are then asked to mark "yes" or "no" to the following questions:
*"The Islamic religion is the road to heaven…"
*"Other religions bestow eternal damnation on their adherent…"
"There is a Jew Behind Me, Come and Kill Him!"
A schoolbook for the 9th grade on Hadith introduces a famous narration known by the name, "The Promise of the Stone and the Tree."It tells a story about Abu Hurayra, one of the Prophet's companions who quoted the Prophet as saying: "The hour [the Day of Judgment] will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them.A Jew will [then] hide behind a rock or a tree, and the rock or tree will call upon the Muslim: 'O Muslim, O slave of Allah! there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him!' - except for the gharqad tree, for it is one of the trees of the Jews." The Hadith is accompanied by a number of statements:
- "It is Allah's wisdom that the struggle between Muslims and Jews shall continue until the Day of Judgment."
- "The Hadithbrings forth the glad tidings about the ultimate victory, with Allah's help, of Muslims over Jews."
- "The Jews and the Christians are the enemies of the believers.They will not be favorably disposed toward Muslims and it is necessary to be cautious [in dealing with them] ."
The book asks questions for class discussion:
- "Who will be victorious in the Day of Judgment?"
- "With what types of weapons should Muslims arm themselves against the Jews?"
- "Name four factors leading to the victory of Muslims over their enemies."
In a textbook for 5th grade on the "History of the Islamic State" the students are told that the Prophet Muhammad had concluded an agreement with the Jewish tribes in Medina so that they would not commit treacheries against Muslims. "The Jews (then) broke their promise because they were known for treachery, and the Prophet had expelled them from Medina to their relatives in Khaibar where they started plotting (again)."It is then that the Prophet had decided to invade them, destroy their fortifications and bring them under submission.
A subject of discussion in the classroom is the case of Abdullah bin Saba, a "hypocrite Jew" who converted to Islam fraudulently and caused sedition among Muslims which resulted in the martyrdom of the third Khalifa, Othman ibn 'Affan.
Jesus is Not the Son of God
Islam acknowledges Jesus, the son of Miriam, as a prophet. In the book, "Interpretation of the Oneness of God (Tawheed)," for first year high-school students it is related that God had sent Jesus to order the Jews to worship the oneness of God. The book then states that "He [Jesus] is the messenger of God, not his son as the Christians claim."
Part IV: Exporting the Saudi Education System
Spreading Islam throughout the world is emphasized on numerous occasions in the official Saudi document authored by the Higher Committee for Educational Policy. For example, students are taught: "to plant and spread the Islamic creed," and that "preaching of Islam throughout the world … is the duty of the state and its citizens." The Saudi curriculum also educates students on the importance of "propagating Islam in all areas of our globe, with wisdom and sound preaching."
OnMarch 1, 2002, 'Ayn-Al-Yaqeen, a weekly news magazine published online by the Saudi royal family, detailed the efforts of the Saudi royal family to spread Islam throughout the world. The article states, "The cost of King Fahd's efforts in this field has been astronomical, amounting to many billions of Saudi riyals. In terms of Islamic institutions, the result is some 210 Islamic centers wholly or partly financed by Saudi Arabia, more than 1,500 mosques and 202 colleges and almost 2,000 schools for educating Muslim children in non-Islamic countries in Europe, North and South America, Australia, and Asia…"
According to 'Ayn-Al-Yaqeen, the list of countries where the Saudis have established schools includes (among others): the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Belgium, New Zealand, Spain, Austria, Scotland, Italy, Croatia, Bosnia, Hungary, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Palestinian Territories, Jordan, Lebanon, Yemen, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Burundi, Fiji, Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Algeria, Nigeria, Chad, Kenya, Cameroon, Senegal, Uganda, Mali, Somalia, Sudan, Brazil, Eritrea, and Djibouti.
The Case of the Islamic Academy in Washington, D.C.
The 'Ayn-Al-Yaqeen article added, "it is not surprising that King Fahd Ibn Abd Al-Aziz initiated a program to establish Islamic academies in some of the major capitals of the world…Amongst them is the Islamic Academy in Washington, D.C. established in 1984. The academy has 1,200 students... 549 are Saudis. The rest represent 29 nationalities." A report in The Washington Post on July 11, 2002, explained that the Saudi academy now educates about 1,300 students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade on two campuses in northern Virginia, with a dual American and Middle Eastern curriculum. Muslim educators say the academy is unlike other Muslim schools in the United States, many of which struggle for resources, in part because it is heavily funded by Saudi Arabia. Some Islamic studies classes at the school use Saudi Arabian textbooks that promote hatred of other religions. The Saudi Islamic Academy lost its accreditation and withdrew its membership from a respected association of private schools in Virginia following an unwelcome inquiry. According to sources, the association raised questions regarding the Academy's funding sources, as well as voiced concern about the substance of the Academy's curriculum.
Part V: Saudi Officials on their Education System
Of late, many members of the Saudi royal family, as well as government spokesmen, have made statements regarding the Saudi education system. Saudi government preachers also speak often about education.Sheikh Majed 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Firian recently stated in the SuleimanBin Muqiran mosque in Riyadh: "Muslims must… educate their children to Jihad. This is the greatest benefit of the situation: educating the children to Jihad and to hatred of the Jews, the Christians, and the infidels; educating the children to Jihad and to revival of the embers of Jihad in their souls. This is what is needed now…"
In reaction to U.S. criticism of Saudi education policy, high level Saudi officials have issued statements in defense of their education system, insisting it does not teach hatred and Jihad. In fact, this has been part of the message of the multi-million dollar Saudi PR campaign in the U.S. to explain to Americans that Saudi Arabia is against terrorism. In an interview with the Associated Presson October 21, 2002, 'Adel al-Jubeir, foreign policy advisor to Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Adbullah, urged Americans not to fault the Saudi education system for producing 15 of the September 11 hijackers by saying, "the Unabomber went to Harvard" and "can you tell me that Timothy McVeigh represents America?"
During the last week of August 2002, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia released a 10 page summary report from its embassy in Washington, D.C. documenting its "Initiatives and Actions in the Fight Against Terrorism." The Saudi embassy document explains: "Our education system does not teach anti-American doctrines and hatred of the West... Islam teaches peace, amicability, and tolerance, not violence and hatred…" Saudi Foreign Minister Prince S'ud al-Faysal's address to the UN on September 19, 2002 added, "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which itself suffered from acts of terrorism… made the fight against terrorism part of basic school curricula…"
Another official government reaction came on the first anniversary of September 11.Saudi Minister of the Interior, Prince Naif Ibn Abd Al-Aziz gave an interview to the Saudi-owned London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat.He spoke about his views of those who call for changing the Saudi school curricula, especially on subjects relating to Jihad. The prince said: "We do believe in the soundness of our educational curriculum, but we never oppose development of educational methods in a manner that does not run counter to the country's deep-rooted principles."The prince added: "We strongly believe in the correctness of our education system and its objectives. We don't change our systems on the demands of others... "
On October 20, 2002, Prince Kahled Bin Fahd Bin Khaled wrote in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that the Saudi school curriculum is based on Shari'ah (Islamic Law) and that while it is true that a small group of Saudis were involved in September 11, they were not the masterminds of these acts.The prince explained that the leading perpetrators of the attack were unaware of the objectives and the impact of the operations which were erroneously and arbitrarily linked to Saudi Arabia's educational curriculum. The prince claimed that the Saudi curriculum does not warrant baseless accusations.
The same week on October 26, 2002, Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan Ibn Abd Al-'Aziz discussed his country's education system: "We will never change our education policy, and there is no demand that we change it. Our country has a policy... and above all religious curricula that must never be harmed.Any demand by another country in the world that Saudi Arabia change its curricula is unacceptable interference in [Saudi] sovereignty. There is no such demand, and we ask that our free press take note that there are people who belong to Israel [and act] against the [Saudi] kingdom's policy and do the impossible in order to drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. in particular, and between Saudi Arabia and the European countries. Our friendship will continue, and it is flawless..." During a press conference held between American and Saudi officials in late October 2002,Saudi Deputy Education Minister Dr. Khaled Al-'Awad also referred to the matter, claiming that during recent meetings with U.S. officials, the Americans had retracted their accusations regarding the Saudi curricula. He explained: "Meetings were held between top Saudi Education Ministry officials and American media personnel and officials to clarify that the Saudi curriculum is fine and does not encourage or boost terrorism and hatred of a member of another religion or faith. This follows attacks on the Saudi curriculum, according to which it was claimed that the curricula nourished the [ideas] of terrorism in the souls of the pupils following the events of September 11, in which 15 of the 19 perpetrators of the events that shocked New York and Washington and killed hundreds of people were Saudis." Dr. Al-'Awad also claimed that the U.S. admitted it made a mistake regarding criticism of the Saudi education system and would be offering an apology: "These meetings yielded positive results, and since most of those present realized that the Saudi curricula were fine, they retracted their baseless accusations.In light of the facts and information presented to them during this meeting, some of the media personnel realized that the Saudi learning process is fine, and they promised to stop the attacks and to apologize for the false accusations. Similarly, some of the officials promised to retract their previous positions."
*Steven Stalinsky is Executive Director of MEMRI.
[I] In view of the recent attention given to the Saudi education system and its role in the radicalization of Saudi youth and Muslim students in Saudi-supported schools throughout the world, MEMRI is releasing this preliminary overview from a full study of Saudi school books that is underway and will be published in 2003.
 When the Saudi royal family refers to "spreading Islam," it refers to the form of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia, which is Wahhabi Islam. See Ayn-Al-Yaqeen: The Saudi royal family spent billions of riyals to 'spread Islam to every corner of the earth;'MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 360: http://www.memri.org/legacy/report/SP36002.
 According to the Encyclopedia of Islam, Wahhabiyya denotes "the doctrine and the followers of Muhammad Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab (1115-1206/1703-92)."Wahhabiyya was founded in the mid-18th century in the Arabian Peninsula.The core ideology of Wahhabiyya is based on the concepts of adhering to tawhid (monotheism) and fighting shirk (polytheism).Muhammad Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab believed that Muslims throughout the world had become religiously ignorant and were no better than non-believers.In addition to gaining knowledge of tawhid and refraining from shirk, believers were expected to "combat... those who did not act according to the rules of tawhid, who were thus regarded as not being Muslims..."
 Al Salloom, p. 15. "Education in Saudi Arabia" contains a total of 236 articles which serve as the main reference in the formulation of ideas and provide the main principles that direct education in Saudi Arabia, its policies, objectives, systems, curricula, teacher training, and the evaluation system. The document details the national education policy and states that the educational process (should) fulfill the duty of acquainting the individual with Islam and adjust his conduct in accordance with the teaching of religion, in fulfillment of the needs of society, and in the achievement of the nation's objectives. Islam is not only integral to Saudi education but also serves as the very essence of its curriculum.
 Al-Zaid, Abdulla Muhammad. Education in Saudi Arabia: A Model with A Difference (1982). (Omar Ali Afifi, Trans.), p. 51. The author, Al-Zaid, is a former member of the teaching staff at King Abd Al-Aziz University, former chairman of the department of education, and former director general of education for the western province of Saudi Arabia.
 According to the report by Al Salloom (p.22), the Ministry of Education of Saudi Arabia oversees the Kingdom’s education system. Its responsibilities range from policy-making, planning, and budgetary staffing to providing physical and teaching materials and supplies to schools. The Ministry also undertakes research and development programs related to the development of curriculum and teaching methods.
 According to Al Salloom, pp. 99-100, the curriculum used in the education system in Saudi Arabia undergoes a constant process of change and improvement in response to social and economic developments in the Kingdom, as well as international developments in technology. National committees, established by the Ministry of Education in 1984, are devoted to curriculum development and review, and advise the Educational Development Department of the Ministry.
 Visit http://www.ain-al-yaqeen.com/(extensive archives can be found here).
 On October 22, 2001, in a statement addressed to the Saudi government before the Council on Foreign Relations, Senator Joseph Biden, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said: "It's one thing to decide you're going to export Wahhabi Sunnism, by setting up Madrassas around the region. Okay, I get that. But what I don't get is setting them up where they have a third feature: that they're a hate-filled, anti-American breeding ground." Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate’s Armed Service Committee, added months later that the U.S. should reassess its relationship with Saudi Arabia unless it reforms its schools.Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin sultan bin Abd Al-Aziz replied to that statement on January 15, 2002, in a press release posted on the Saudi Arabian Embassy website, "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia prohibits the teaching of hatred and violence. Charges that Saudis fund schools that do so are baseless and lack an understanding of our society, culture, and laws… I have great respect for Senator Levin but I am surprised by his statement. If he has any concerns, I urge him to visit Saudi Arabia..."On October 18, 2002, Congressmen Jim Davis and Douglas Bereuter wrote an op-ed in the Bergen Record (New Jersey) titled "To Fight Terror, Fix Saudi Schools" which fiercely censured the Kingdom’s education system for having "tolerated elements within its education system that promote and encourage extremism." The congressmen wrote "The religious curriculum is written, monitored, and taught by followers of the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam," who have permitted teachers to use "texts and lesson plans that encourage intolerance and antisemitic, anti-American, and anti-Western views, making some Saudi students prime recruiting targets for militant extremist groups."The congressmen also connected the Saudi education system to the U.S. war on terrorism: "If left unchecked, extremist influences could become a threat to the national security of not only the United States, but also of Saudi Arabia.If the United States wants to fight terrorism, it is past time that we take steps to publicly support reforms in Saudi Arabia to prevent extremism from infecting the country's next generation of leaders. It is past time for the United States to hold the government of Saudi Arabia to its promise to combat terrorism…"
 The Interior Minister recently blamed the September 11th attack on "Jews" and claimed that "it is impossible that 19 youths, including 17 Saudis, carried out the operation of September 11;"
Saudi Minister of Interior, Prince Nayef Ibn Abd-Al-Aziz: 'Who Committed the Events of September 11... I Think They [the Zionists] are Behind these Events... [Arab] Mass Media Should Condemn Terrorism, Warn Arab Nationals of it, and Let Our Voice be Heard by the World....
 As reported in 'Ayn-Al-Yaqeen, September 20, 2002;
 Prince Sultan Ibn Abd Al-'Aziz recently accused "Yarmulke-wearing Congressmen" of making allegations against Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Defense Minister:Yarmulke-Wearing Congressmen to Blame for Media Attacks on Saudi Arabia.
 Al-Bawaba, October 27, 2002 http://albawaba.com/news/index/php3?sid=231619&lang=a&dir=news.
 According to a press release issued by the American Embassy in Saudi Arabia on October 27, 2002: "U.S. Ambassador Robert W. Jordan hosted a dinner on October 23rd to commence an ongoing program to encourage contact between Saudi and American religious educators. The Ambassador heralded the event as a celebration of the first visit of Saudi Religious Educators to the United States. During the dinner, ten Saudi educators who had spent three weeks in the United States meeting with their American counterparts, expressed their observations of U.S. schools and talked about Saudi education, culture and Islam. The Saudi religious instructors included: Mr. Ahmed Al-Boali, General Director of Al-Ihsa Educational District, Mr. Abdulrahman Al-Huzaimi, General Director of Curriculum, Ministry of Education, and Mr. Ahmed Al-Faisal, Supervisor, Department of Islamic Education, Ministry of Education, and others. They visited religious schools in Washington, D.C., Salt Lake City, Utah, Chicago, Illinois, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and New York City. The schools represented many religions including Islam, Mormon, and Amish, among others. The program was funded by the U.S. Embassy."
 Al-Hayat (London), October 22, 2002. The paper also noted that the Saudi education minister had spent some 10 days in the U.S., meeting and consulting with American educators and signing a number of agreements.