A school complex in Medina, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Ikhlasul Amal via Flickr; CC 2.0)
A school complex in Medina, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Ikhlasul Amal via Flickr; CC 2.0)

School textbooks in Saudi Arabia still include content “promoting violence and hatred toward religious minorities and others”, according to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Even though the Saudi government has been “engaged in textbook reform for the last 15 years”, a new study by USCIRF found “inflammatory content … that was previously thought to have been removed”.

The study, published on Saturday, 24 March, compared 12 high-school religion textbooks from 2017/2018 with versions from 2012-2014, and still found “numerous intolerant and inflammatory passages”, including “extolling jihad as fighting against non-Muslims; prescribing execution of apostates and those who mock God or the Prophet [Muhammad]; and demeaning non-Muslims and warning Muslims against associating with them”.

USCIRF said it was “disappointed” with the outcome of the study, but said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s recent initiatives, and his statement that Saudi Arabia is “open to all religions and to the world”, “could serve as a strong basis for improving freedom of religion or belief in the Kingdom, including through much-needed textbook reform”.

Just last week the Saudi government announced that it would ban the “extremist ideologies” espoused by the Muslim Brotherhood from school curricula and books, and dismiss staff who support the group’s views.

Human Rights Watch reported in September that students in Saudi Arabia’s schools were receiving religious education that “contains hateful and incendiary language” towards other Islamic traditions than Sunni Islam, and that it included severe criticism of Jews, Christians and people of other faiths.

Saudi Arabia was designated a Country of Particular Concern – for “systematic, ongoing and egregious” violators of religious freedom – by the US State Department in 2017. The Kingdom is number 12 in the 2018 Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.