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A Survey of 2017-2018 Saudi Middle and High School Textbooks

The full report may be found here.

Summary of Findings

This follow-on contracted study reviews 22 middle and high school textbooks published by the Saudi government for the 2017-2018 academic year, including the 12 high school books previously reviewed by USCIRF in its May 2018 Special Report. The books number more than 3,000 pages and primarily focus on religious subjects. For comparison, the study also includes two middle school texts on social and national studies.

Intolerant content is scattered throughout many of the books. This intolerance is reflected in the commentary and interpretations offered by the textbooks. Whereas the middle school curriculum and books generally dwell on developing “right” belief, the high school books focus on inculcating appropriate responses by society and the individual to those with “wrong” beliefs. They teach that those who worship differently from the Saudi state-sanctioned interpretation of Islam are polytheists who will go to hell regardless of their good deeds. Shi’a and Sufi veneration of the gravesites of prophets is dismissed as “heresy” while criticism of Islam is deemed “apostasy,” for which the textbook endorses the death penalty. The textbooks caution students to avoid friendship with members of other religions. They also encourage both violent and non-violent jihad against non-believers. Finally, the passages espouse the death penalty for women who have an affair, and for gay men. The textbooks examined in this study are more intolerant than the six religious books from 2012–2014 reviewed in a previous internal analysis by USCIRF. They are even more intolerant than the 2011–2012 textbooks studied by the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD), which identified many troubling passages. The 2017–2018 books are more akin to Saudi textbooks from the early years of the previous decade before the Saudi government promised to reform its curricula.