Review Finds Slurs In '06 Saudi Texts

Faridah Turkistani, Girls School principal at the Islamic Saudi Academy.
Faridah Turkistani, Girls School principal at the Islamic Saudi Academy. (Katherine Frey - The Washington Post)
By Jerry Markon and Ben Hubbard
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Saudi-funded academy in Fairfax County used textbooks as recently as 2006 that compared Jews and Christians to apes and pigs, told eighth-graders that these groups are "the enemies of the believers" and diagrammed for high school students where to cut off the hands and feet of thieves, a Washington Post review of the books has found.

Saudi officials acknowledged that the textbooks used at the Islamic Saudi Academy had contained inflammatory material since at least the mid-1990s but said they ordered revisions in 2006. School administrators said that they have been scrambling to change the texts and that all potentially offensive passages will be gone by the coming academic year. But, they said, teachers have always been told to avoid inflammatory material in the classroom.

A sampling of 2006-07 Islamic studies textbooks showed that much of the controversial material had been removed. At least one book still contained passages that extolled jihad and martyrdom, called for victory over one's enemies and said the killing of adulterers and apostates was "justified."

The academy, founded in 1984, has about 1,000 students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 and is separated into boys' and girls' schools. It is the only Saudi-funded school in the United States. About 70 percent of the academy's students are U.S. citizens drawn from the region's Muslim communities. About a quarter are Saudi.

The school has leased land from Fairfax for two decades and has been the subject of growing controversy. Last month, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said the academy's textbooks contain passages that advocate violence, less than a year after calling on the State Department to close the school unless it can prove that it is not teaching religious intolerance.

As a small group of protesters gathered recently outside the academy, less than 15 miles from the District, Fairfax officials were weighing what to do about the school's $2.2 million annual lease, which is signed by the Saudi Embassy and is "contingent upon" State Department approval. In May, the county Board of Supervisors extended the lease for another year, the fifth time it has been renewed since 1988, but Fairfax has since asked the State Department to determine whether the county should continue leasing the property to the school.

Fairfax spokeswoman Merni Fitzgerald said the county extended the school's lease until 2009 because "there seemed no reason not to" but decided to ask for State Department guidance after the commission report on the textbooks came out. "We're looking at this as a land use case," she said. "We're not capable of determining whether textbooks contain language that promotes violence."

She would not say what the county might do based on any State Department response, but she noted that the lease has a provision saying Fairfax can terminate the agreement if the board determines that is necessary for public "health, safety and welfare." The State Department has not responded to the county, and a department spokesman said late Friday that he was unfamiliar with the letter.

"The content of the books from Saudi Arabia has been a concern, and we have received assurances from the Saudi government that they would review and make changes to the textbooks in Saudi Arabia by the beginning of the 2008 school year," said the spokesman, Gonzalo Gallegos. "We will wait to see what changes have been made."

The debate is befuddling to many affiliated with the academy, which has a graduation rate of nearly 100 percent, sends students to prestigious colleges and trains U.S. soldiers in Arabic -- yet also counts among its alumni Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, a 1999 graduate convicted of plotting with al-Qaeda to kill President Bush.

Graduates said that the school taught respect for other religions and that teachers avoided controversial material. The academy has two campuses; the main one is on U.S. 1 south of Alexandria.

"It's just a normal school with one Islamic period during the day. I didn't get any hate teachings out of it or anything that was going to turn me into an extreme mood," said Fatima Abdallah, 29, a 1997 graduate.

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