Monday, August 2, 2004

Two Islamic groups say a private Saudi school in Alexandria is teaching first-graders an extreme version of Islam that fosters contempt for other religions, a charge denied by the Saudi government, which creates curriculum for such schools.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a District-based Islamic civil rights and advocacy group, has joined with the Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism in calling for an Arabic textbook to be removed from classes at the Islamic Saudi Academy.

One page in the manual for the first-grade textbook instructs teachers to tell students that any religion other than Islam is false.

“These first-grade students are very impressionable,” said Kamal Nawash, a Palestinian and practicing Muslim who runs the six-month-old Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism.

“The extremist version of Islam encourages violence. We don’t need to be teaching that anymore in this diverse world. We need to teach people to get along.”

The Islamic Saudi Academy referred inquiries to the Saudi Embassy, which dismissed Mr. Nawash’s assertion as an attempt to restart a failed political career.

Embassy spokesman Nail Al-Jubeir compared the textbook to any other religious teaching and said it was “shameful” of Mr. Nawash “to be using this as a source of bigotry.”

“They are making a big thing out of nothing,” Mr. Al-Jubeir said. “If that’s the only thing they have to bring up, how pathetic the argument is. Judaism does not recognize Christ as the Messiah. Christians say the only way to salvation is accepting Christ in your heart.”

CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said the textbook page conflicts with the teachings in the Koran, which says Jews, Christians and all “who believe in God” will “have their reward with their Lord.”

“The [page of the] textbook is inaccurate in terms of portraying Islam’s relationship with other faiths,” Mr. Hooper said. “I would suggest either removing the textbook or inserting a notation that something is being changed in the textbook.”

Mr. Nawash began a campaign this week criticizing the school. CAIR studied the textbook page and backed his stance.

According to the academy’s Web site, its educational curriculum and materials are established by the Saudi Ministry of Education.

“We strive to educate and develop every aspect of a student’s life, including spiritual, moral, intellectual, and physical,” the site states. “Simultaneously, the Academy aspires to create an atmosphere that motivates students to strive for academic excellence, take personal responsibility, and become productive citizens in their communities.”

A few years ago, Mr. Nawash said, the Saudi government revised 5 percent of its textbooks and classroom material considered offensive. Mr. Nawash thought that the Islamic Saudi Academy’s materials had been edited, but he found the disputed page recently in the 2003 edition of the school’s manual for first-grade teachers.

Mr. Al-Jubeir suggested that Mr. Nawash is taking advantage of recent attacks on Saudi Arabia by filmmaker Michael Moore in “Fahrenheit 9/11” and by others. Mr. Al-Jubeir also suggested that Mr. Nawash is criticizing the school for political gain.

Mr. Nawash, a Republican immigration lawyer from Falls Church, tried unsuccessfully to unseat state Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, Arlington Democrat, in 2003. He received 30 percent of the vote, and Mrs. Whipple was elected to a third term.

He also ran unsuccessfully for the state House of Delegates in 2001.

But Mr. Nawash said he has no intention of running for office again and that his only motive is to stop extremist teaching that he fears will lead to terrorism.

“This is much more important, and it should have been done a long time ago. There is a strong movement of people pushing extremist Islam that tolerates any means, including terrorism, to meet their goals,” he said. “It’s not a handful, it’s a worldwide uprising. … We’re not staying silent anymore.”

This is not the first time Mr. Nawash has been under scrutiny.

His law firm once represented Abdul Rahman al-Amoudi, a prominent U.S. Muslim leader who had a role in a Libyan conspiracy to assassinate Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. Al-Amoudi on Friday pleaded guilty to illegal financial transactions with Libya and admitted his role in the plot.

Al-Amoudi had donated $10,000 to Mr. Nawash’s campaign for the state Senate. Mr. Nawash returned the donation.

When asked whether he was friends with al-Amoudi, Mr. Nawash refused to comment.

“I was part of a law firm that represented him,” he said. “I can’t really comment on that. One of the attorneys in the firm represented him for a short time.”

Al-Amoudi’s current attorney, Stanley Cohen, said Mr. Nawash’s firm has had “nothing to do” with the case for 10 months.

In defending his position, Mr. Hooper cited the teachings of the prophet Muhammad in the Hadiths: “Both in this world and in the Hereafter, I am the nearest of all people to Jesus, the son of Mary. The prophets are paternal brothers; their mothers are different, but their religion is one.”

• Jerry Seper contributed to this report.

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