Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat- The Saudi embassy in Washington has refuted the contents of a report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom which criticized what it called the promotion of religious extremism in Saudi-run schools, particularly the Islamic Saudi Academy, which operates two campuses in Fairfax Virginia.
A spokesman for the embassy said that the books and curricula at the academy do not carry any hostile language against the followers of other religions.
Dr Abdul-Muhsin Ilyas, deputy director of the Saudi Media Office, told Asharq Al-Awsat, “I can absolutely confirm that all textbooks at the academy do not include contents that offend any religion. We extend an open invitation to all US and non-US media to visit the academy, verify the validity of this, and closely examine the subjects that are taught and also the books used by the students.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended the closure of the Saudi academy, if it does not prove that it does not teach subjects that promote fanaticism. Commenting on this recommendation, a spokesman for the US State Department told Asharq Al-Awsat that Washington will work with the Saudi Government to make the agreed-upon changes in curricula (in a general way).
He noted that the Saudis have indeed made efforts in this respect. Tom Casey, deputy press spokesman, said, “We do not think that any kind of material can be considered educational if part of its message is a message of hate or intolerance.” Casey referred to the report that was prepared by Ambassador John Hanford, official in charge of religious freedoms at the State Department. He pointed out that the contents of this report continue to be an issue of discussion between Washington and the Saudi Government.
However, the commission said that it is concerned with what it alleged are text books in the kingdom that encourage violence against the Christians and the Jews.
In this regard, Abdul-Rahman al-Ghafuli, director of the academy, told Asharq Al-Awsat, “We teach US curricula.” One of the members of the academy has alleged that they [commission members] tried to obtain information about textbooks through Saudi government agencies, but they were unable to do so. Al-Ghafuli said that some of the materials, which are considered to be the subject of debate in the United States, have been removed. Al-Ghafuli noted that the report has created a state of apprehension among the parents of students. He said that many people have called to inquire about whether the academy will be closed. He said that he used to reply to them by saying: “We are in a good situation.” The Saudi academy was established in 1984. The number of students enrolled in the academy has fallen to 1000, compared to 1300 students five years ago, due to the drop in the number of Saudis in Washington and the states adjoining it, since Saudis account for 30 percent of the number of students [at the academy].The commission’s report does not bind the US Government to take a certain measure, but it presents proposals in the form of recommendations to the White House, Congress, and the State Department.