By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Fairfax County leaders asked U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday to determine whether the county should continue leasing property to the Islamic Saudi Academy following controversy surrounding the school's teachings.
With unanimous support from the county's Board of Supervisors, Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) sent a letter to Rice "formally requesting" that the State Department provide direction regarding the county's one-year lease renewal, approved last month, with the Saudi Arabian government for operation of the academy.
"As a local governmental entity, Fairfax County is not capable of determining whether textbooks, written in Arabic, contain language that promotes violence or religious intolerance, or is otherwise offensive to the interests of the United States," Connolly wrote. "The county simply does not employ the linguists and scholars required to make such a determination, and more important, such an effort is well beyond the scope and responsibility of local government."
At issue are recent reviews of teaching materials concluding that some textbooks used by the Islamic school in Fairfax contain language intolerant of Jews and other groups as well as passages that could be construed as advocating violence.
One review of academy textbooks was undertaken for the congressionally appointed U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which recommended in October that the State Department close the school until it proves that it is not teaching a type of religious intolerance potentially dangerous to the United States.
Bahais and Shiite and Sufi Muslims are among those denounced in some academy texts, according to reviews of the books by the commission.
Rahima Abdullah, of the academy's Education Department, reiterated the academy's position that criticisms of its teachings have relied on out-of-context interpretations. She noted that the academy has revised a number of passages and will do so again if given direction from the State Department.
"Just like Fairfax County, we would like to know what the State Department would say, too," she said. "They've had the books since 2007. We've done our best to comply with all requests by extending the books over to the State Department."
The State Department press office did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
The Islamic Saudi Academy receives funding from the Saudi Embassy but operates independently. In addition to providing a set of textbooks to the State Department, the academy gave a set to Fairfax Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon), who, before the county agreed late last month to extend the lease for a year, told his fellow supervisors that there was nothing of concern in the materials.
The academy provides a pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade education on two campuses in southeastern Fairfax County. It has leased its main campus, a former Fairfax high school, from the county for 20 years.