State Department officials said Thursday they have no plans to close a Saudi-financed Islamic school in Northern Virginia that has failed to eliminate violent and intolerant language in textbooks.
“They told us they would revise the textbooks by the 2008 school year,” State Department spokesman Rob McInturff said. “We don’t plan to take additional action apart from the discussions that have been going on with the Saudi government.”
Results released Wednesday from a federal investigation into the Islamic Saudi Academy - with campuses in Alexandria and Fairfax - found textbooks at the 900-student private school had passages that blame the Jews for “discord” and say it is sometimes permissible to kill non-Muslims.
The investigation by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom focused on 17 textbooks used during the last school year and obtained from independent sources.
The panel, formed by Congress, last year recommended the State Department close the school, though members had not yet reviewed the textbooks. The commission said the Foreign Missions Act gives the Secretary of State authority to “require a foreign mission to divest itself of or forgo the use of property and to order it to close.”
State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos on Thursday cited the Saudi government’s 2006 acknowledgement of a need to revise its textbooks and agreement to do so “in time for the start of the 2008 school year,” which starts this fall.
“For several years we’ve engaged the Saudi government on the need to eliminate intolerant references toward other religious groups in textbooks and other educational materials used in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere,” Mr. Gallegos said. “And we’ll continue to work with the Saudi government in efforts to revise the textbooks.”
The passages found in the review, according to the panel, include:
c A passage in a 12th-grade Koranic interpretation textbook that states it is permissible for a Muslim to kill those who have left the faith, an adulterer or someone who has murdered a Muslim intentionally: “He (praised is He) prohibits killing the soul that God has forbidden (to kill) unless for just cause ….”
The commission said the text defines “just cause” as “unbelief after belief, adultery and killing an inviolable believer intentionally.”
c A social sciences track that states, “The cause of the discord: The Jews conspired against Islam and its people. A sly, wicked person who sinfully and deceitfully professed Islam infiltrated (the Muslims). He was ‘Abd Allah b. Saba´ (from the Jews of Yemen).”
Officials at the academy and the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia did not return calls seeking comment. The school’s director general, Abdullah al-Shabnan, previously said officials modified the textbooks to eliminate controversial passages.
For example, academy officials last year noted that an excerpt in first-grade textbooks telling teachers to explain “that all religions, other than Islam, are false, including that of the Jews, Christians and all others” was removed.
The academy has leased property from Fairfax County since 1989, and the county’s board of supervisors in May voted unanimously to continue the agreement through June 2009. The school pays about $2.2 million a year for its main campus, in Alexandria.
Commission officials also have called on the State Department to publicize a review of academy textbooks given to the department previously by the Saudis.
The books reviewed by the panel were obtained from sources that included a congressional office. Dwight Bashir, a senior policy analyst for the commission, said the State Department has had the books for more than six months and the public would benefit from knowing what is being taught at the school.
“What we found with just a handful of books was a lot of bad stuff,” Mr. Bashir said. “It would be great if they would review what they got and let the public know what they found.”
Commission spokeswoman Judith Ingram also said members are taking “a wait-and-see approach” before they would again call for closing the school.
She said the books reviewed by the panel evidence that some revisions were made, but “they have not addressed all of the problems” that need to be changed by the start of the next school year.
“We’re a couple months away now, but this is a process that was supposed to have been under way, and we haven’t seen any evidence that it’s proceeding as it should be,” Mrs. Ingram said.
This is not the first time the school has been involved in controversy. In 2002, Mohammed Osman Idris and Mohammed El-Yacubi, both alumni, were denied entry to Israel over concerns about their ties to a potential suicide bombing.
In 2005, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, the academy’s 1999 valedictorian, was indicted on charges of providing material support to terrorists, bringing national attention to the school and prompting Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, to ask if the school was just “another madrassa,” or fundamental Islamic school.
The alumnus was sentenced to 30 years in prison after being convicted on charges that included plotting to assassinate President Bush.
The academy is one of 20 international Saudi schools around the world. About 28 percent of its students are Saudi citizens.