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Saudi Arabia: Photographers Union Demand Change in School Curriculum | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat-The chapter on religion and photography in the subject of tawhid (monotheism) taught to students in the ninth grade in Saudi Arabia is open to revision, as part of a wider re-examination of school curricula, according to the Saudi Ministry of Education.

Dr. Said al Malis, deputy minister of education, indicated that subjects such as photography, which are included in religious education, are subjected to revision and religious scholars and specialists who clarify information students might misunderstand or confuse with other matters. He would not rule out a yearly update of school curricula so that education can benefit the Kingdom’s sons and daughters.

His comments come as the union of photographers reaffirmed that the views expressed in religious textbooks have caused students to assault photographers and cause injury because of inadequate understanding of religious subjects.

The textbook used in tawhid classes for the ninth grade claims that photography as a form of idolatry. On page 100, it is written that “depicting living creatures, animal or human, whether life-sized or on paper or walls is prohibited because it imitates God”s creation.”

Khaled al Atiq, one of the founders of the largest union of Saudi photographers (friends of the light) said, “If I am killed by one of the ninth grade students, I cannot blame the children. Instead, I hold the Ministry of Education and the teachers responsible.” He added, “Our society considers this hobby atheist and maybe thinks that a photographer is equal to an individual who drinks alcohol.”

Asked to give his personal view on the religious edicts on photography, al Atiq revealed that religious scholars disagreed amongst themselves in determining which photographs to prohibit, with some rejecting them because artists are able to modify them and tinker with God’s creation. In Atiq’s opinion, “we do not change any of God’s creations and have no means to do so.”

According to the photographer, religious scholars in Saudi Arabia were divided into two groups: the first wanted to ban all photography while they are pictured in newspapers on a daily basis, and others who are more understanding of the photographer”s plight.

Al Atiq demanded to be put on the same par with artists “because we only take photographs while artists, who are our friends, are respected and valued.” He urged the Ministry of Education to clarify the information on photography to avoid any problems from arising.

Sheikh Mohamed Al-Othaimeen gave his opinion on the subject and said, “What I see is a machine which instantly produces a picture. The individual has no part to play in the process; it is not a depiction but a copy of an image that God created. It is an impression with no intervention by the photographer. The Hadiths (sayings of the Prophet) deal with representation which imitates the acts of God.”

A religion teacher at a Saudi school who requested to remain anonymous said the topic was complicated and required the instructor to clarify a number of issues to his class, such as stating the students are not responsible for correcting wrong behavior and that the authorities would ensure wrong actions are dealt with.

Several teachers refused to comment on the subject and the current contradiction between prohibiting photography in the school curricula and allowing photography by royal decree.