Saudi school textbooks 'teach children to hate other religions'
Saudi Arabia's school religious curriculum teaches children to hate minority Muslim sects, Christians and Jews, Human Rights Watch has claimed.
The rights group released a comprehensive review on Wednesday of the conservative kingdom's religious studies textbooks for primary, middle and secondary schoolchildren.
"As early as first grade, students in Saudi schools are being taught hatred toward all those perceived to be of a different faith or school of thought,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
"The lessons in hate are reinforced with each following year."
The texts disparage Sufi and Shia Muslim practices and label Jews and Christians "unbelievers" with whom Muslims should not associate.
In many cases, the curriculum labels practices, such as visiting the graves of prominent religious figures, and the act of intercession, by which Shias and Sufis supplicate to God through intermediaries, as evidence of shirk, or polytheism, that will result in the removal from Islam and eternal damnation.
The curriculum reserves its harshest criticisms for Jews, Christians, and people of other faiths, often describing them as kuffar, or "unbelievers."
In one fifth-grade second semester textbook, the curriculum calls Jews, Christians, and Wathaniyeen, or "idolaters" and declares that it is the duty of Muslims to excommunicate them.
A recurring and alarming lesson in the curriculum warns against imitating, associating with, or joining the "unbelievers" in their traditions and practices.
One passage rejects and denounces the Sufi practice of celebrating the birth of the prophet, accusing Sufis of imitating Christians in their celebration of the birth of Jesus in Christmas.
Saudi Arabia has faced pressure to reform its school religion curriculum since the September 11 attacks, particularly from the US, after it was revealed that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens.
Saudi officials have said repeatedly they will carry out these reforms, although past reviews of the curriculum over the last dozen years have shown these promises to be hollow.
Saudi Arabia does not allow public worship by adherents of religions other than Islam.