Like the proverbial hand that cradles the cradle, textbooks still have a great influence on a country’s next generation, despite the growing power of social media. And perhaps no country has made such a rapid change in its textbooks in recent years as Saudi Arabia, the center of the Islamic world.
The Saudi education ministry’s abandonment of teaching hate and fear of others – especially Jews and Christians – has been so dramatic that a new study of the latest textbooks claims that a change in Saudi attitudes “could have a ripple effect in other Muslim majorities.” countries.”
âThe Saudi education program appears to be sailing on a single keel towards its stated goals of more moderation and openness,â says the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (Impact-se), an Israeli research group. Since 2020 alone, at least 22 anti-Christian and anti-Semitic lessons have been deleted or changed in textbooks while an entire unit of textbooks on violent jihad to propagate Islam has been suppressed.
âWe believe Saudi Arabia is seeking a place in a region that hopes to resemble a family of sharing and cooperating nations,â the Impact-se study concludes.
Although the study cites the need for further changes in textbooks, it points out that a national vision for the transformation of the Saudi economy, presented in 2016 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, requires a shift in dominant ideas, not just industries.
For decades, the country’s social and educational outlook has been controlled by Muslim clerics preaching a fundamentalist version of Islam known as Wahhabism. After the September 11 attacks by predominantly Saudi terrorists, the United States and others have drawn attention to the hate radicalism of Saudi textbooks.
But the real motive for change may be the need to allow the free flow of ideas among students and to encourage critical thinking in order to create an economy based on technological innovation, rather than oil exports. While Saudi Arabia is far from being a democracy, it feels pressure from young people to modernize. Almost two-thirds of Saudis are under 35.
As the Impact-se report states, “rigidity and hatred of the other will not serve to unleash a nation’s potential, while respect for others is the key to prosperity and security”.