HRW slams Saudi Arabia for ‘hateful language’ against Shia in textbooks

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The file photo shows Saudi students sitting for their final high school exams in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on May 24, 2015. (By AFP)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has slammed Saudi Arabia for the state-sponsored “hateful” and “intolerant” language against Shia Muslims in its school religion textbooks.

In a report released on Monday, HRW said the textbooks currently used in Saudi schools continued to portray negatively some practices associated with Shia Islam, even though the language they maintained “does not make direct reference to Shia Islam or use derogatory terms.”

The New York-based organization further said that some Shia practices were harshly criticized and remained stigmatized as “un-Islamic” and prohibited, after reviewing textbooks produced by the Saudi Education Ministry for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 academic years.

“The texts harshly criticize practices and traditions closely associated with Shia Islam in broad terms, in many cases labeling them evidence of polytheism that will result in removal from Islam and eternal damnation for those who practice them,” HRW said.

Michael Page, the deputy director for the Middle East at HRW, said Saudi Arabia’s “glacial progress” on textbook reform “appeared to have… picked up steam” recently, but “as long as the texts continue to disparage religious beliefs and practices of minority groups, including those of fellow Saudi citizens, it will contribute to the culture of discrimination that these groups face.”

HRW examined textbooks used in primary, middle, and secondary education during a mandatory taught subject, which focused on teaching students about different religions and beliefs.

The rights group did not review additional educational texts dealing with the Islamic faith, such as law, culture, commentary, or the recitation of the Qur’an.

HRW previously studied the same textbooks in 2017 and found that Riyadh’s “curriculum contains hateful and incendiary language toward religions and Islamic traditions that do not adhere to its interpretation of Sunni Islam.”

Saudi Arabia has been much criticized for teaching lessons of hatred toward followers of other religions or sects in its textbooks.

Between 2017 and 2020, the Saudi Education Ministry made some changes to the texts in response to criticism.

HRW said, however, that the textbooks continued to label some Shia practices negatively.

“As long as disparaging references to religious minorities remain in the text it will continue to stoke controversy and condemnation,” Page said.

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