Problematic Passages from Saudi State Textbooks for the 2018–19 School Year
To access all report chapters, as listed below, please follow this link.
I. Passages about Jews
II. Passages about Christians
III. Passages about Infidels
IV. Passages about Other Sects of Islam
V. Passages Pertaining to the Status of Women
VI. Passages about People who Engage in Anal Sex
VII. Passages about Apostasy or Sorcery
Despite Saudi Commitments, Incitement Remains in State Textbooks
In the fall of 2017, ADL examined Saudi Arabia’s government-published textbooks and found that considerable incitement to hatred or violence remained, despite a longstanding pledge from the Saudis to eliminate such language. This led ADL to endorse the bipartisan Saudi Educational Transparency and Reform Act in the U.S. House of Representatives.1 Now, the 2018–19 school year also marks ten years since the expiration of an important Saudi commitment to end such incitement. Further, it takes place amidst considerable debate over U.S. interests and priorities in Saudi Arabia.
In 2006, Saudi Arabia received its first U.S. waiver from penalties under the International Religious Freedom Act.2 This was due in part to the kingdom’s explicit commitment to revise its textbooks to eliminate all incitement, removing “remaining intolerant references that disparage Muslims or non-Muslims or that promote hatred toward other religions or other religious groups.”3 According to the U.S. government, Riyadh stated that this process was “scheduled to be completed in time for the start of the 2008 school year.”4
A decade has passed since that deadline expired, and today ADL is disappointed to report that intolerant language of all kinds still abounds in Saudi Arabia’s government-published textbooks for schoolchildren. The incitement is particularly egregious at the high school level.
This is at odds with a September 2018 statement by the Saudi foreign minister that incitement in Saudi textbooks is not “still continuing” because the curriculum has been completely “revamped” numerous times. He contended that any allegations about incitement in the books are merely an outdated “legacy issue” raised by ill-informed critics of the kingdom.5 It is also at odds with assurances Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Education made in October 2017 to U.S. officials in which he stated his intent to fully revise all textbooks by the 2018–19 school year.6
This report demonstrates that the new Saudi state textbooks for the 2018–19 academic year still contain passages that encourage bigotry or violence against numerous categories of people, including Jews, Christians, Shi'ite or Sufi Muslims, women, people who engage in anal sex and anyone who mocks or converts away from Islam. Derogatory language against “infidels” — which is used in this context to refer to non-Muslims such as Christians and Jews — remains especially pervasive.
This is not to suggest that the Saudis have made absolutely no positive changes to their state curriculum over the past decade. Stridently intolerant material against Jews and Christians is now less common in books at the elementary and middle school levels.7 According to Human Rights Watch, recently some intolerant language regarding Shi’ite and Sufi Muslim rituals has also been toned down at these grade levels.8 In our review of the latest edition of the Saudi textbooks, ADL has not seen a recurrence of some of the many anti-Semitic passages identified in a previous review of Saudi high school textbooks from the 2010–11 school year, including assertions that God transformed the Jews into apes and pigs, and that the hateful hoax known as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is historical fact.9
However, as this report demonstrates, such incidental improvements should not alter the final analysis. Intolerance against all such people remains inexcusably abundant in the kingdom’s current high school textbooks. In fact, much of the incitement evident in today’s textbooks is still alarmingly similar to what was included in the kingdom’s curriculum around the time of the 9/11 attacks.10
1. David Andrew Weinberg, “Congress Must Act to End Incitement in Saudi Textbooks,” Huffington Post, December 5, 2017 (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/congress-must-act-to-end-incitement-in-saudi-textbooks_us_5a26b5bbe4b0e383e63c3cae); Rep. Ted Poe, “Saudi Educational Transparency and Reform Act, H.R. 4549, introduced December 5, 2017 (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/4549/text)
2. State Department, “Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Briefs Congress on U.S.-Saudi Discussions on Religious Practice and Tolerance,” July 19, 2006 (https://2001-2009.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2006/69197.htm)
3. Ibid.; “Appendix C: Saudi Reform Pledge Publicly Distributed in July 2006 by U.S. State Department Officials,” in Nina Shea and Samuel Tadros, Ten Years On: Saudi Arabia’s Textbooks Still Promote Religious Violence, Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom, September 16, 2001, p. 47 (https://www.hudson.org/content/researchattachments/attachment/931/sauditextbooks2011final.pdf)
4. “Appendix B: Letter to Senator John Kyl from Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Jeffrey Bergner,” in ibid., pp. 45-46. (https://www.hudson.org/content/researchattachments/attachment/931/sauditextbooks2011final.pdf)
5. “A Conversation with Adel al-Jubeir,” Council on Foreign Relations website, September 26, 2018 (https://www.cfr.org/event/conversation-adel-al-jubeir)
6. U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, “Saudi Arabia,” 2018 Annual Report, April 2018,p. 87 (https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/2018USCIRFAR.pdf)
7. International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, The State of Tolerance in the Curriculum of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, completed in 2012 for U.S. government use only, released under Freedom of Information Act in 2016 (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/08/17/international-home/document-state-dept-study-on-saudi-textbooks.html)
8. Adam Coogle, “Saudi Arabia’s ‘Reforms’ Don’t Include Tolerance of Shia Community,” Human Rights Watch, September 21, 2018 (https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/09/21/saudi-arabias-reforms-dont-include-tolerance-shia-community)
9. International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, The State of Tolerance in the Curriculum of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, completed in 2012 for U.S. government use only, released under Freedom of Information Act in 2016, pp. v & 38 (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/08/17/international-home/document-state-dept-study-on-saudi-textbooks.html)
10. See, for example, Arnon Gross, The West, Christians, and Jews in Saudi Arabian Schoolbooks, Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace & American Jewish Committee, 2003 (http://www.impact-se.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/SA2003.pdf)
A Report by David Andrew Weinberg, Ph. D.
ADL Washington Director for International Affairs
November 20, 2018
Real Textbook Reform is Achievable
Saudi Arabia has implemented some very significant religious and social reforms in recent years, most notably granting women the right to drive and dramatically curtailing the kingdom’s punitive religious police.11 Furthermore, Saudi rulers have articulated an ambitious socioeconomic reform plan with the stated goal of becoming a “tolerant country with Islam as its constitution and moderation as its method.”12
Achieving this objective requires timely changes to Saudi Arabia’s state textbooks.
Eliminating the incitement from Saudi state textbooks is particularly important given the kingdom's leadership role as custodian of the two holiest sites in Islam. Because of this special status, and thanks to the kingdom’s considerable oil wealth, the kingdom’s textbooks have been exported to a broad swath of countries on nearly every continent.13
While many of the passages highlighted in this report have their roots in religious teachings, very few are direct quotes from the Quran. Even in those instances, particular references to such teachings can be removed from textbooks, replaced or paired with more tolerant quotations from other authoritative sources, or interpreted or contextualized differently while still respecting Islam.
Such changes would no doubt be unpopular with some religious extremists, but the Saudi monarchy is nonetheless capable of implementing these reforms.
Since late 2017, Saudi Arabia has controversially imprisoned many of the most prominent opposition preachers, who among other things publicly stood against these sorts of reforms.14 Saudi leaders have successfully overruled the religious establishment previously on issues of national interest, such as abolishing slavery, authorizing the introduction of television and allowing men and later women the right to vote in local elections. The kingdom has even removed controversial content from its textbooks on very short notice when doing so was identified as a political priority.15
Removing intolerant passages from state textbooks would also generate some external and internal benefits for the kingdom. Fixing the textbooks would eliminate a longstanding obstacle to better Saudi foreign relations and help prepare the next generation of Saudi youth for a more interconnected and tolerant future.
11. Sewell Chan, “Saudi Arabia Moves to Curb its Feared Religious Police,” New York Times, April 15, 2016 (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/16/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-moves-to-curb-its-feared-religious-police.html); Hannah Bloch and Nicole Werbeck, “Saudi Women Start Driving, But Activists Remain Jailed,” NPR, June 25, 2018(https://www.npr.org/2018/06/25/623174723/photos-saudi-women-start-driving-but-activists-remain-jailed)
12. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, “Full Text of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030,” Saudi Gazette (Saudi Arabia), April 26, 2016 (http://saudigazette.com.sa/article/153680/Full-Text-of-Saudi-Arabias-Vision-2030)
13. International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, The Global Spread of Saudi Textbooks, completed in 2013 for U.S. government use only, released under Freedom of Information Act in 2016, (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/08/17/international-home/document-state-dept-study-on-saudi-textbooks.html)
14. Simeon Kerr, “Saudi Arabia Detains Two Prominent Clerics,” Financial Times (UK), September 12, 2017 (https://www.ft.com/content/7375dd7c-9796-11e7-b83c-9588e51488a0); Taylor Luck, “What’s Behind Saudi Arabia’s Summer of Discontent?” Christian Science Monitor, August 16, 2018 (https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2018/0816/What-s-behind-Saudi-Arabia-s-summer-of-discontent); “Saudi Cleric Abdelaziz al-Fawzan Arrested over ‘War on Religion’ Tweets,” Middle East Eye (UK), July 31, 2018 (https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/saudi-cleric-abdelaziz-fawzan-arrested-over-war-religion-tweets-1915905016)
15. Ben Hubbard, “Saudi Textbook Withdrawn over Image of Yoda with King,” New York Times, September 21, 2017 (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/21/world/middleeast/saudi-yoda-king-textbooks.html); Sahar Abu Shaheen, “Internet Image Pulls Islamic Education Book, " Makkah Newspaper (Saudi Arabia), September 9, 2014, (https://makkahnewspaper.com/article/59440/Makkah); Nidaa al-Saif, “Formal Decision to Withdraw Textbook Displaying Image of Shi’ite Sheikh,” Juhaina News (Saudi Arabia), September 9, 2014, (https://www.juhaina.net/?act=artc&id=17393)
Organization of this Report
This report is organized according to the different categories of incitement in current Saudi textbooks. There are separate sections for problematic passages pertaining to Jews, Christians, “infidels” as a broader category, Shi'ite or Sufi Muslims, women, people who engage in anal sex and apostasy or perceived acts of sorcery.
All passages cited in this report are from Saudi state textbooks for the 2018–19 academic year. All passages are from books at the high school level unless otherwise indicated.16
This report builds on the work of several recent studies of Saudi state textbooks from the previous two school years. Those studies include research by this author for ADL17 and before that for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies,18 in addition to important recent studies of past textbooks, conducted by Human Rights Watch19 and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.20
This report confirms that virtually all of the most problematic passages identified in recent studies remain in the 2018–19 curriculum.
Every citation below includes a hyperlink to the website from which the specific current textbook was accessed by the author. In addition, archived copies of the full textbooks cited in this report have been saved via Dropbox.21
16. The Saudi high school curriculum is bifurcated into standard and quarterly tracks. All passages cited in this report from high school textbooks are references to textbooks from the kingdom’s standard track unless otherwise indicated.
17. David Andrew Weinberg, “Congress Must Act to End Incitement in Saudi Textbooks,” Huffington Post, December 5, 2017 (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/congress-must-act-to-end-incitement-in-saudi-textbooks_us_5a26b5bbe4b0e383e63c3cae)
18. David Andrew Weinberg, “Saudi Arabia’s Troubling Educational Curriculum,” Testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade Subcommittee, July 19, 2017 (https://docs.house.gov/meetings/FA/FA18/20170719/106289/HHRG-115-FA18-Wstate-WeinbergD-20170719.pdf)
19. Human Rights Watch, “Saudi Arabia: Religion Textbooks Promote Intolerance,” September 13, 2017 (https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/09/13/saudi-arabia-religion-textbooks-promote-intolerance); Human Rights Watch, They Are Not Our Brothers: Hate Speech by Saudi Officials, September 2017, (https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/saudi0917_web.pdf)
20. U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Special Report: Study Revealed Numerous Passages in Saudi Textbooks Advocating Intolerance and Violence, May 2018 (https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/USCIRF%20Special%20Report%20-%20Saudi%20textbooks%205-16-18_0.pdf)
21. For archived copies of the books, see: Dropbox folder, “Full text of cited books (2018–19),” October 16, 2018 (https://www.dropbox.com/sh/v4xtzlvae4gmh2r/AAApZeEDmyaM2BLyAwku5AH-a?dl=0)