Following are excerpts from several programs in which Saudi intellectuals discuss the Saudi education system. They were aired on LBC TV on November 5, 2006, and on 'Ein TV on August 13, 2006.
LBC TV, November 5, 2006:
Saudi journalist Hussein Shubakshi: When a Saudi researcher published a serious study about the curricula, and about using astronomy to observe the [Ramadhan] moon, he was sentenced to thousands of lashings. This demonstrates clearly how much we accept dialogue.
I would like to focus on a very important point regarding the training of the teacher to deal with students. There are, of course, great fears, which in many cases are justified, about the "covert curriculum," which brings the teacher's personal convictions into the classroom, as well as out of the classroom, when he deals with a certain student or groups of students during their breaks. He passes on to them his convictions, views, books, booklets, and cassettes, which contain many views that are considered "extremist" - or, at the very least, different views that involve an extremist framework, and which are packaged in a political wrapping. This is very dangerous.
Interviewer: Is this done beyond the framework of the curricula?
Hussein Shubakshi: Yes, it is done out of the classroom, but of course, under the mantle of education and "extra knowledge." This way, one can inject a lot of poison, as indeed was the case for many years. One aspect of this phenomenon was the restriction of the liberty that was traditionally available for extra-curricular student activities. I myself was in the scouts and on the school's soccer team. I participated in school plays and other artistic activities – all within the official educational framework. All this has stopped. Today, such activities are fought against.
Saudi university lecturer Nasser Al-Hanini: Every society has marginal groups... How large is the group that perpetrated the bombings, compared to the number of our youth? In addition, the ideological writings of this group, which committed killings and bombings, are not part of the curricula at all. They have different writings. They published their research on the Internet, and everybody is familiar with them. They have nothing to do with the curricula or with the extra-curricular activities.
Saudi social activists Maha Fatihi: Sir, in our schools we used to have sport activities, we used to go to the scouts, and represented Saudi Arabia in scouts camps abroad. We were an exemplary model. As everyone can testify, they were pleased to see such exemplary Saudi women. What happened after 1979, like Hussein Shubakshi said, is absolutely true. If Sheik Nasser did not experience this, it is because he was not around then to see where we were back then and where we are now.
'Ein TV, August 13, 2006:
Turki Hamad: Many sheiks, whom I do not believe to be religious experts, try to issue rulings in all realms of life – in embryology, in medicine, in astronomy, whatever... Sir, you don't have to be an expert on everything.
We must draw a distinction between religion and the religious establishment. Religion is the holy of holies. The religious establishment, on the other hand, should be treated just as any other institution.
Interviewer: You are familiar with the West. How do you think the West views us Saudis – as people who have not managed to modernize religion? We say that photography is forbidden, TV is forbidden, songs are forbidden, music is forbidden, some sciences are forbidden, and some theories in chemistry and physics are forbidden... How do they view the Saudis? We were talking about education. This is the book "Monotheism..." Majdi, show this picture... This is "Commentary on Monotheism by Sheik Muhammad Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab." This is a ninth-grade book, printed in 1426-27 [2005-6]. It is a new book, which is in use now.
What does it say? In chapter 12 on page 100, which deals with photographers, it says: "If a photographer takes a picture of a being with a soul created by Allah, he is committing a grave sin, and deserves a severe punishment. This is one of the acts that detract from the monotheism of the believer, because it is an imitation of God's creation, and a form of polytheism. Whoever takes such a photograph will be the most severely tormented on Judgment Day. He will be tormented by his own creations. For every picture he has taken, a spirit will be sent to torment him in hell."
Such things are told to ninth-grade children, and you still tell me that there is a new political discourse? How should we deal with these students when they bring this ideology with them to university?
My dear brother, this generation and the previous one are the outcome of 30-40 years of well-greased religious machinery. We have now reached the stage at which there should be a new discourse. We should begin this, but don't expect things to change in a year or two.
You are not talking about a problem like unemployment, for which I could provide practical solutions. You are not talking, for example, about the problem of corruption, about which I could say to you: one, two, three, and I can eradicate it. You are talking about the destruction of young minds, which has been taking place over the past decades. This process of destruction, particularly the destruction of minds, requires time to create new ideas. It cannot be resolved by pressing a button, or by saying: Well, if you don't mind, please change your ideology." This requires the formation of new generations, and that is the problem. I agree with you that it is difficult, that it is a long problematic process, while we want a quick solution, but unfortunately, this is our reality.
Interviewer: Where shall we start from?
Turki Hamad: Like I said, the wheel must turn.
Interviewer: I have a very simple example. My son, who is in fifth grade, said to me: "Dad, I'm not listening to you anymore." I asked him why, and he said: "The teacher said that if your father and mother listen to songs, do not obey them." How can I now respect the teacher, first of all? We, by nature, have respect for the teacher. How can I maintain the teacher's respect in my son's eyes, while I want to distance my son from this ideology. This is only one example.
Turki Hamad: Let me tell you something. The same thing happened to me. The same thing happened to my son, with the songs – songs and other things. But there was something else. Once I got a message from school that my son must wear Islamic clothing. I began to wonder: What is Islamic clothing? Is there such a thing? He goes to school wearing regular clothes. Finally, I went to school, and asked: What is this Islamic clothing you want him to wear? They began to describe Afghan clothing. It was a private school, so I went to talk to the principal. I asked about the teacher, and went looking for him. I discovered that he had abandoned the curricula completely, and was indoctrinating them with the Taliban ideology. Brother, this is what goes on. If this is what happens in private schools, imagine what goes on in governmental schools.