By Moaz Nair
The Malaysian government has shut down the Saudi-backed King Salman Centre for International Peace.
Saudi Arabia’s ideological role worldwide has been disputed by many Muslim scholars in view of its official doctrine of Wahhabism which critics say has inspired extremist Muslim groups and the Islamic State ideology.
The Saudi education curriculum is contentious in nature, and consists of textbooks and student workbooks for the primary, middle and secondary education levels. It in a way, reinforces the Wahhabism school of thought described by many as an ultraconservative, deviant sectarian movement and a distortion of Islam.
Knowing a little Arabic is adequate to be able to browse through these textbooks and make a conclusion on this issue.
In fact, most Muslim intellectuals would also agree with the fact that Saudi school textbooks are based on a “literal” understanding of some of the verses in the Quran and hadith, and those who are indoctrinated by these discourses tend to falsely believe that “violence and intolerance” are acceptable in the name of religion.
Propagation of skewed ideology
Children in Saudi Arabia, as well as in Saudi-sponsored schools and madrasahs all over the world, are indoctrinated or brainwashed from a tender age, without wisdom, into hating followers of other faiths. These young and impressionable minds are told that all others are “kuffar”, or unbelievers.
This approach to religion has undeniably bred the violence and hatred that we see today among extremists in the likes of the Islamic State and many other deviant Muslim groups.
Petro-dollars, Wahabbism and the political desire for the Saudi religious guards to remain in power undemocratically, to be influential and be more influential and dominant in the Sunni-Shia hostilities, have pushed the propagation of their skewed ideology to many parts of the world. This has contributed to the creation of some Muslim groups that have adopted violence as a way of life.
In some non-Arabic speaking countries, children are taught from youth to memorise verses from the Quran – never mind if they do not understand the message or meaning of the verses. Here slips in the proselytisation process to make these children blindly believe the sermons of the unhinged mullahs whose distorted views of the religion leave much to be desired.
Saudi schools’ religious studies curriculum contains some detestable and provocative language concerning other religions and Islamic traditions that they perceive as not adhering to their interpretation of the Quran and hadith.
The texts disparage other religious practices and label Jews, Christians and disciples of other sects in Islam as “unbelievers” with whom Muslims should not associate. This smacks of political hegemony more than anything else.
The curriculum calls Jews, Christians and adherents of other faiths the “disarrayed” and declares that it is the duty of Muslims to excommunicate them. It says in the textbooks, “for whoever does not detest them or whoever doubts their religious infidelity is himself an unbeliever”.
Imagine if this content were found in our local religious textbooks. God forbid. Nonetheless, aberrant elements of this deviant cause are gradually seeping into the psyche of many local sympathisers with some foreign-born preachers paving the way in subtle manners.
Lessons of ‘hate’
Saudi Arabia does not allow public worship by adherents of religions other than Islam. Its school religious textbooks are but one aspect of an entire system of discrimination that promotes intolerance towards those perceived as “non-believers” in their version of faith.
Students in Saudi schools are indoctrinated to loathe all those perceived to be of a different faith or school of thought. The classroom lessons in “hate” are reinforced at every level of the school curriculum.
For instance, the textbook says to recognise the approach of the Day of Resurrection, “the Hour will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews, and Muslims will kill the Jews”.
The irony is that the Saudi Sunnis are now a close ally of Israel and only recently pronounced that Jews should not be killed but befriended!
Similarly, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdulaziz Al Sheikh, issued a surprising religious ruling, saying that fighting against Israel (the Jews) was inappropriate.
Another disturbing lesson in the curriculum warns against imitating, associating with, or joining the “non-believers” in their traditions and practices. It denounces the practice of celebrating the birth of the Prophet, accusing these people of imitating Christians – the “unbelievers” – in their celebration of the birth of Jesus. Those who make the graves of prophets and the righteous into mosques are also considered evil-natured.
Saudi Arabia even had a plan to clear the grave of the Prophet to make way for development! They have already cleared many Islamic historical structures in the name of expansion and development for the haj and umrah pilgrimages where they make billions of dollars annually. Apparently, to the Saudi dynasty, money talks more than anything else.
Elements of extremism
The textbooks also overtly call on Muslims to reserve loyalty for God, the Prophet, and other believers and to express enmity and resentment towards believers of other faiths.
It warns Muslims that by imitating “unbelievers” or even joining them in their celebrations by wishing them, one is at risk of displaying loyalty to them, and worse, becoming one of them. These elements of extremism must have germinated from the thoughts of some zealous groups among the Saudi mullahs who interpret the Quran and hadith literally.
The Saudi way has always been to disparage other religious groups and ban the public practice of other religions. This has spurred provocation to hatred or discrimination. Saudi Arabia is not tolerant of other people’s personal beliefs, regardless of which faith they are from – an indication of incitement to discrimination and hostility.
Saudi Arabia has been promoting this menace for more than half a century to consolidate its power base and influence. But this has also backfired in many ways and Saudi Arabia has now come to realise its self-made blunders that have created many extremist groups among the Muslims, albeit a little bit too late.
As reported, Mohammad Salman Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, is now calling for a review of the school curriculum and a review of the books of hadith and the literal understanding of some of the verses in the Quran, which were revealed in the seventh century. He said they should not be interpreted in the context of the past era and circumstances but rather the present.
Wahhabism strictly adheres to a literal interpretation of the Quran or hadith, conforming to the era when the verses were revealed or narrated. However, enlightened Muslim clerics of the 21st century are of the opinion that many verses of the Quran should not be interpreted literally in the present context, for instance:
“They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing: But take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah. But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and take no friends or helpers from their ranks.” (Quran, 4:89)
“(Remember) when your Lord inspired the angels… I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.” (Quran 8:12)
There are many more hadith, authentic or otherwise, denoting the same fervour, for instance:
“Allah’s Apostle said, ‘Know that Paradise is under the shades of swords’.” (Sahih Bukhari, 52:73)
“Killing unbelievers is a small matter to us.” (Tabari, 9:69)
“I leapt upon him and cut off his head and ran in the direction of the camp shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ and my two companions did likewise”. (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham, 990)
Broader curriculum overhaul necessary to transform the country
In the light of these self-created dilemmas by the Saudi dynasty in the cradle of Islam, they have now admitted that a broader curriculum overhaul is necessary to transform the country religiously, culturally and economically. This has to be the way forward for Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world in general.
News is that Saudi Arabia has embarked on a programme to purify religious books of extremism by producing new books to be taught in Saudi Arabia and distributed worldwide to some Muslim countries that have been influenced by Saudi indoctrination. Even young imams in Saudi mosques are now being moulded to abandon any extremist approach to Islam.
This is in line with Article 18 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, which states: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include the freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest his religion or relief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”
Putrajaya made the right decision to shut down the Saudi-backed anti-terrorism centre, as it serves no purpose in a multi-religious country like Malaysia and where the majority Muslims belong to the Sunni school of thought.
Moaz Nair is an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.