Friday, November 26, 2010

This medieval Saudi education system must be reformed

What Saudi Arabia needs is a modern curriculum that portrays other religions and civilisations with objectivity and respect

Ali al-Ahmed, Friday 26 November 2010

"....In my years of work dedicated to promoting modernity and reform in my homeland, I have always given special attention to education as it is the foundation of social values and a major predictor of the direction in which a country is headed. Unfortunately, the Saudi government realised the same thing and has used the education system to shape societal attitudes towards the country's government and the world at large. The primary goal of Saudi education is to maintain the rule of absolute monarchy by casting it as the ordained protector of the faith, and that Islam is at war with other faiths and cultures. That's what the Saudi monarchy calls "intellectual security," maintained yet further by a ban on liberal arts education, philosophy, drama, and music.

Since January 2001, I have been writing about how Saudi religious education is dividing our country's population over the interpretation of Islam, and turning classmates into enemies because some of them view our religion in a different way. Since then, I have reviewed all the religious textbooks used in Saudi schools several times and found them to be comprised of medieval ideological indoctrination instead of offering a modern education that would prepare the student for the workplace.

The current textbooks do not spare most Muslims from the accusations of polytheism, deviance, hypocrisy, and outright apostasy. For example, the 12th grade book on "monotheism" claims that many in the Muslim world community have returned to polytheism. That could be ignored until you know what the texts teach about polytheists. In the classical Takfiri (declaring others to be outside of religion's bounds) style, the text allows for the killing of apostates and polytheists, and it does not take much to qualify as one or the other. Membership in capitalist, communist or secular groups makes you an apostate, and disagreeing with the Wahhabi/Salafi anthropomorphic characterisation of God makes you a polytheist.

The textbooks take a very aggressive stance against Jews and Christians whom it views as unbelievers and eternal enemies of Islam. And if you do not believe, or even doubt, that Christians and Jews are unbelievers, you are an infidel yourself.

The texts offer a chilling definition of murder as the intentional killing of "protected souls." You won't object very much until you know who meets the definition of a "protected soul". Let us see if you are among those who are protected. The text explains that "protected souls" include free Muslims, free (non-slave) non-Muslim citizens of Muslim countries, and non-Muslims who travel to Muslim countries by invitation of Muslim hosts. The rest are not deserving of the status of a "protected soul". If this is not license to kill the majority of the world's population, I am not sure what is.

One of that most disturbing messages offered by the textbooks is that slavery is legitimate, and that young children can be married by their fathers to adults or other children........"

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