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Jewish World Review March 5, 2002 / 21 Adar, 5762

Betsy Hart

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Are negative views about American Muslims wrong? Meet some young Muslim students -- STUDENTS at the Saudi Islamic Academy, according to The Washington Post, "study energy and matter in physics, write out differential equations. . .Then they file into their Islamic studies class, where the textbooks tell them the Day of Judgment can't come until Jesus Christ returns to Earth, breaks the cross and converts everyone to Islam, and until Muslims start attacking Jews."

At the Al-Qalam school, students discuss whether Osama bin Laden is just a victim of prejudice, and "maps of the Middle East hang on classroom walls, but Israel is missing."

Several students at the Saudi Academy told the Post that "in Islamic studies, they are taught that it is better to shun and even to dislike Christians, Jews and Shiite Muslims." One student said his instructors "teach students that whatever is kuffar (non-Muslim) it is okay for you' to hurt or steal from that person."

No, these are not schools in Muslim countries. They are elite Muslim day schools in the United States near Washington, D.C., educating both American-born Muslims and diplomatic children. There are hundreds of Muslim day schools in America, serving all ages, and the number is growing.

The struggle these schools face, suggests the Post, is between the path some have chosen of greater tolerance and openness to the world, or becoming places where ". . .they (Muslim students) don't have to assimilate. . ." as one teacher described her school's mission.

Saudi money tips the scales towards the latter, says Ali Al-Ahmed, who is both Saudi and Muslim. He runs the Virginia-based Saudi Institute that promotes religious tolerance in his homeland. Al-Ahmed is outspoken about what are by all accounts large amounts of Saudi money supporting an array of institutions in the United States, including schools like the Saudi Academy, and what Al-Ahmed sees as its "corrupting" influence in American Muslim life. The Saudi regime backs a rigid branch of Islam, known as Wahabism.

Al-Ahmed's organization has extensively reviewed Saudi textbooks including those used at the Saudi Academy and other American Muslim schools. (The Institute will soon publish an expose, "Saudi Religious Curriculum: What Do They Teach?") He told me standard instruction focuses on Jews, that "they are behind every conspiracy, they created the French Revolution in order to destroy morality, and even started World War I." Christians and Shiite Muslims are also excoriated.

As Al-Ahmed outlined to the Post, an 11th-grade textbook used at the Academy teaches a "sign of the Day of Judgment will be that Muslims will fight and kill Jews, who will hide behind trees that say: 'Oh Muslim, oh servant of G-d, here is a Jew hiding behind me. Come here and kill him.'"

So, what do prominent Muslim organizations have to say? My calls on the matter to the Saudi Embassy went unreturned. The spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a leading American Muslim group, would only refer me to the Council on Islamic Education (CIE). The CIE spokesman (who did not want to give me his name even though he was quoted in the Post piece) told me that maps excising Israel must be "ancient maps." They are not.

He maintains his organization's goals are to live up to the ideals of Islam and America. Does the teaching apparently going on at these schools qualify? He refused to say, arguing that these reports might not be true or might be taken out of context, and in any event the media were trying to create an impression of Islam that's not real. The Council on Islamic Education will not be looking into the matter, he said, because it only deals with public schools.

Some argue that such teaching is only "extreme" Islam anyway, and that some things taught at Christian schools can sound strange too. But of course no one is worried about genuinely peaceful Muslims, nor are "extremist" Christians blowing up airplanes.

Since private schools are rightly free to preach virtually anything, the only response may be to expose what's being taught in many such schools and for prominent Muslim groups to actively denounce and disassociate from them. Already, one anonymous official at the Saudi Academy told the Post that he had no knowledge of intolerant passages or views being taught but that ". . . textbooks with such (offensive) passages would be replaced soon."

Oh really? And how soon?

Leaders of the American Muslim community must forcefully respond now. If they don't, it will make it harder for them to credibly argue that the media are trying to create an impression of Islam that's not real.

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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© 2001, Scripps Howard News Service