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Saudi textbooks, religious freedom and why it matters

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–A Saudi man cut out his daughter’s tongue and then burned her to death as punishment for her conversion from Islam to Christianity.

That religious freedom does not exist in the Muslim Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is regrettably not a surprise. Tragically, murdering converts to Christianity is not uncommon in Saudi Arabia.

What makes this case so revealing is that the girl’s father is an employee of Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice — the very organ of the government that enforces the nation’s absolute prohibition of Christianity and conversion to Christianity.

Beyond the fact that Christians are obligated to support each other in adversity and that Christians in America must be concerned for the well-being of others, and beyond the fact that Baptists are among the first champions of religious freedom for all, understanding that true religion is uncoerced, this case should matter to Christians around the world because Saudi Arabia is exporting the form of radical Islam that teaches this sort of behavior in textbooks for Muslim schools across the globe, including America.

International Christian Concern (www.persecution.org), an organization that advocates for the persecuted church, reported the case of the Saudi father murdering his daughter for conversion to Christianity on Aug. 13. ICC relied upon an account by Gulf News, which did not identify the man or when the crime occurred, other than that it happened recently. The girl came to faith in Christ as a result of the Internet and her father is supposedly in custody, according to Gulf News.

Ironically, Saudi King Abdullah convened a conference in July in Madrid, Spain to counter religious extremism. The three-day gathering of 200 religious leaders of various faiths was regarded as something of a breakthrough because it was the first time a Saudi king invited Jewish rabbis to a religious conference, according to The New York Sun.

“But the most significant effect of the conference, the observers say, may ultimately be within Saudi Arabia, where the king’s example of personally greeting rabbis, priests, and leaders of other faiths, will be interpreted as a call to moderation directed to the most conservative among Saudi Arabia’s clergy, which is dominated by the Wahhabi movement of Sunni Islam,” the Sun reported.

Although the Madrid conference resulted in a statement urging the king to convene a special United Nations dialogue between religions and decried “theories that call for a clash of civilizations,” that didn’t keep a senior Saudi religious leader, Saleh bin Humaid, an imam of the grand mosque in Mecca, from defending his country’s ban on churches and synagogues throughout the entire country.

“From a religious point of view, they can’t build a synagogue or a church because it’s a sacred place for Muslims,” Sheik bin Humaid told the Sun.

This rejection of true religious freedom is all too clear in textbooks published by the Saudi Ministry of Education and used in Muslim schools across world — at the expense of the Saudi government.

According to a recent survey of the textbooks by the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and the Institute for Gulf Affairs, the most recent version of these textbooks are “murderously intolerant toward the Shi’a, Jews, Baha’i, Ahmadiyya, homosexuals, apostates, and ‘unbelievers’ of all kinds, and horribly repressive with respect to everyone else, especially women.”

Released last month, the Hudson Institute report, “Saudi Arabia’s Curriculum of Intolerance,” updated a similar report from two years ago that exhaustively examined the teachings of these Saudi textbooks. The U.S. State Department, as result of the 2006 report, negotiated an agreement with the Saudi government that was supposed to result in a comprehensive revision of the textbooks which would remove the religious intolerance.

Only superficial revisions have been made, according to the Hudson Institute. “Taken together, the revisions that have been made amount to moving around the furniture, not cleaning the house,” the report notes.

The report, which can be found at the Hudson Institute’s website (www.hudson.org), uses 12 “markers” to evaluate the textbook changes from 2006. Three markers note the repudiation of non-Wahhabi forms of Islam, five markers survey the textbooks’ intolerance towards Christians, Jews and other “infidels,” and four markers note the textbooks’ outrageous anti-Semitism.

The report offers selected quotes from the textbooks, illustrating the virulent intolerance of other faiths that is being taught to children every day in Muslim schools using this curriculum. Here are just a few of those quotes:

— “He (praised is He) prohibits killing the soul that God has forbidden [to kill] unless for just cause … [such as] unbelief after belief, adultery, and killing an inviolable believer intentionally.” Certainly, this is the sort of justification commonly used for incidents like the father’s murder of his Christian convert daughter.

— “As cited in Ibn Abbas: The apes are Jews, the people of the Sabbath; while the swine are Christians, the infidels of the communion of Jesus.:

— “The clash between this [Muslim] nation and the Jews and Christians has endured, and it will continue as long as God wills.” This certainly sounds like the “clash of civilizations” decried in the Madrid statement.

With teachings like these, it’s clear the textbooks are still promoting a view of religious intolerance that is dangerous to children, as well as to those against whom the children may ultimately seek to apply the teachings.

The Hudson Institute rightly has called upon the U.S. State Department to demonstrate that “it intends to subject the textbooks to the intense scrutiny and follow through required to enforce compliance” with the diplomatic agreement of two years ago.

Since 9/11, it has become commonplace in the media and among certain critics to casually equate evangelicals’ insistence upon the absolute truth claims of the Bible with the fundamentalism of radical Islam that motivated the terrorist attacks on America. Such moral equivalence fails to understand the critical differences between the so-called “fundamentalism” of evangelical Christians and that of Islam.

Christianity teaches believers to love those who persecute us, rather than use the force of government to annihilate those who do not share our religious views — like government officials who shamelessly murder their daughters.

Baptists have always believed — and were pioneers in advocating it for all people — that true religion is uncoerced and that all men must be free to make their own decisions about matters of faith.

Not the state, not the church, not the family — but every individual as an image-bearer of God must decide what he or she believes. Tragically, that right is not ensured for millions of human beings in Islamic nations who have no choice but to “believe” in Muhammad.

Baptists demand religious freedom for ourselves, as well as for those we must disagree with if we are to be true to our Savior and Lord. This notion of true religious freedom in which the government protects the human rights of its citizens to form and practice their religious convictions apart from interference of the state is a foreign concept to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — contrary to the apparent public relations campaigns to the West, like Abdullah’s Madrid conference.

Christians in America must continue to pressure our government to use its influence to advocate religious freedom for all citizens of the world — especially the nameless girls in Saudi Arabia who desire to follow Jesus.
James A. Smith Sr. is executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com.

    About the Author

  • James A. Smith
  • James A. Smith, Sr.
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