Even the new texts themselves reference several extreme Islamic authorities. For example, the new twelfth-grade book directs students to Ibn Taymiyyah for resolving moral questions. A 14th-century author, Ibn Taymiyyah extolled the militant jihad we call “terror.” His fatwas were found in a recent study by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center to be “by far the most popular texts for modern Jihadis.” Renowned religion scholar Philip Jenkins wrote that Osama bin Laden cites Ibn Taymiyyah as a “special hero.”
In addition, it’s important to note that on matters besides jihad, the books still largely reflect Wahhabi orthodoxy. For example, ISA’s new texts endorse marriages between adults and pre-pubescent children, teach that women should not be judges or exercise “greater governorship,” and starkly divide the world into believers and unbelievers.
Since 9/11, ISA officials — including the various Saudi ambassadors who have served as ISA chairmen — have annually given assurances of curriculum reform and annually broken their promises. They’ve had help: The school’s accreditation by the Southern Association for Colleges and Schools was seriously flawed, since the association’s “volunteer” evaluators did not know Arabic and therefore never read the Islamic-studies curriculum. ISA’s brandishing of a recent letter by two American academic consultants to the school, giving their approval for the sanitized Wahhabi textbooks, only deepens the school’s reputation for deception.
The State Department reached an understanding with Riyadh in 2006 that, within two years, Saudi Arabia would remove intolerant passages from all its educational materials both within the Kingdom and abroad, including in its network of 20 international schools of which ISA is a part. Under new legislation initiated by Virginia congressman Frank Wolf, State must now follow up. It should do so with an informed assessment of what ISA teaches, especially about jihad and the religious other — in both semesters, in Arabic as well as English, and in all educational and resource material. And until an independent, professional, and thorough process verifies reform, Fairfax County should reject the Academy’s request to expand.
– Nina Shea is director of the Center for Religious Freedom of the Hudson Institute and serves on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Ali al-Ahmed is a Saudi expert and directs the Gulf Institute, a Washington-based policy research center. Views expressed herein are their own.