The Saudi Indoctrination of Children

by N. M. GUARIGLIA July 19, 2012

The Muslim community of believers is the best in the eyes of God, and we must make it the same in the eyes of men by force... We must fight the unbelievers.  When I grow up, I intend to carry out jihad in every possible way.

- Nine-year-old madrasa student, Northwest Pakistan

When the Soviet Red Army captured Berlin in May 1945, the last Germans to surrender were the Hitler Youth.  Most of these young boys chose to fight to the death.  For their entire cognizant existence, all they had known was Aryan supremacy, hatred of inferiors, and subservient allegiance to the Führer.  The Nazis were not the first to use children in combat, nor have they been the last.  Excluding North America, to this day the depraved practice of child soldiery has continued on every inhabited continent.

Before a child's life is destroyed in this manner, an adult must destroy the child's mind.  The apparent ease with which this can be done is chilling.  It requires the devious task of using a child's weakness to eradicate his natural-born strengths.  Children's strengths are evident.  They are curious and question everything.  They are not born blindly adhering to a political or religious doctrine.  They are eager to befriend others regardless of differences.  They are not born hateful and vindictive. 

But this innocence is their vulnerability.  Children trust adults with their safety.  They believe as truth whatever adults tell them to be true.  As such, they are not aware of the fact that they are being conscripted against their will.  A child will endure an adult's seminar and unknowingly emerge with a contaminated character.  The most prevalent contemporary example of such evil is Saudi Arabia and its religious indoctrination of children throughout the world's mosques and madrasas. 

Even if international affairs were placid, the Saudi royal family's global propaganda would constitute an egregious offense to supporters of human rights.  International affairs, however, are not placid.  There is a bit more urgency to the matter.  Saudi Arabia is on the other side-and at the forefront-of an ideological conflict that has for decades shown its potential to bend the trajectory of the human condition violently downward. 

The Saudis are the chief masters of jihadist ideology.  Although the threat of international terrorism comes from multiple and diverse sources, the Saudis stand alone as worldwide propagators of the jihadists' most noxious creed: the Wahhabi-Salafist cult within Islam's Sunni denomination. 

Wahhabi-Salafism is the puritanical faith of al-Qaeda and its network of affiliates.  Indeed, the rivalry between Saudi King Abdullah and the late Osama bin Laden was merely fraternal; a simple tactical dispute amongst coreligionists otherwise of like-mind.  It is evocative of the power struggle between Stalin and Trotsky, as the late Laurent Murawiec once observed.  In this analogy, King Abdullah is Stalin: defend the homeland and use it as a base for global ideological conquest.  Whereas bin Laden and the al-Qaedists are Trotskyite: perpetual revolution at all costs.

Al-Qaeda has its sympathizers within the Saudi kingdom, as well.  A poll conducted some years ago by the Saudi internal intelligence bureau found that 95% of Saudi males between the ages of 25 and 41 held a positive view of Osama bin Laden.  More recently, studies show continued Saudi tolerance of radical Islam.  Though this was once perceived as a threat to the Saudi regime, the Saudi royals have mastered the art of triangulation.  The Saudis will arrest al-Qaeda operatives from time to time, in order to assuage American concerns.  But they will also covertly assist al-Qaeda-ideologically and materially-so long as they divert their barbarism away from the kingdom. 

This is the Middle East's dirty little secret: regimes that "like" us have populations that hate us, whereas regimes that hate us have people that generally like us.  The clearest indication of whether or not a new generation of people will hate the United States is what they are learning in school as children.  Dr. Arnon Groiss compiled, translated, and edited the Saudi schoolbooks that are used within the kingdom itself, and his exhaustive study sheds much light.

At first glance, education within Saudi Arabia defies caricature.  Girls are not banned from education, as in the Taliban's Afghanistan.  There are, in fact, more female students than male students.  Consequently, there are more female schools than male schools.  There are some 28,000 public schools in Saudi Arabia, 16,600 of which are female schools (the regime requires a separation of boys and girls).  The decades-long Saudi emphasis on education has brought literacy rates for women up from 2% in 1970 to 70% today; 15% to 91% for men.  Though controlled by the state, education is not compulsory-the state even pays most of the tuition.

The caveat, however, is the curriculum.  The curriculum is almost exclusively Koranic.  This is not a Medieval Latin Mass, where lingual or literary ignorance of the congregants is expected.  No, the Saudi regime mandates its subjects to be able to read the Koran-but that's it.  Mathematics and the sciences are taught infrequently, begrudgingly, and only within the context of Islamic preeminence.  All books that enter Saudi Arabia must be scrutinized by the government, and can be rejected if the royals decide.  Private schools must adhere to the government-approved Wahhabi curriculum.

The Saudi Ministry of Education mandates stringent Islamic studies for students of all ages, dividing the country's syllabus into five theological topics: 1) Koranic recitation, or tajwid; 2) Koranic commentary, or tafsir; 3) "Prophetic sayings," or the study of the Hadith; 4) Islamic jurisprudence, or fiqh; and 5) Wahhabi monotheistic doctrine, or Tawhid.  Students will read the Koran until they are able to recite it cover to cover.

Proselytization starts at an early age.  Saudi children in first grade are instructed to repeat "Allah is my Lord; Muhammad is my prophet.  I am Muslim; I love my religion."  Another recitation: "I prayed every day with my father in my mosque.  I pray five prayers every day.  I worship only God, who has no partner."  This seems harmless enough; in tone, it is almost indistinguishable from the lesson plans of a Midwestern Sunday school class.  But consider the guidelines of the Siyasat al-Ta'lim, the official Saudi state education policy laid out in a government document with 236 clauses:

  • "Calling for [conversion to] Islam in all parts of the earth, with wisdom and good religious exhortations, is the duty of [both] the State and the individual..."
  • "The purpose of education is to understand Islam completely and correctly..."
  • "Jihad in God's cause is a firm religious duty, a norm to be followed and an existing necessity. It is to continue [so] until the Day of Resurrection."
  • "Promoting the spirit of loyalty to Islamic law [Shari'ah] by disavowal of any system or principle contradicting Islamic Law, and by producing upright action and behavior in accordance with its general and comprehensive rules."
  • "Awakening the spirit of Islamic jihad in order to resist our enemies, reclaim our rights, return our [past] glories, and perform the duties of the Islamic mission."
  • "Preparing the student for jihad in God's cause, spiritually and physically."


Saudi textbooks condemn alcohol, sodomy, magic, and sorcery (hence the hatred of Harry Potter).  They reject parliamentarianism and democracy, as well as the mingling of boys and girls.  Non-Islamic holidays are considered blasphemous; Valentine's Day is banned, as is the color red in the weeks before the February holiday.

There are proud, nationalistic mentions of Saudi Arabia's unique role in defending Islam and spreading Islamic law throughout the world.  But Saudi children are forewarned: "It is not permissible to stage a revolt against those in charge, nor desist from obeying them-even if they are oppressive-nor pray against them."  For apostates, or Muslims who convert out of the faith, the "punishment in this world is death, if he does not repent."  In the hereafter, his punishment is "staying forever in the fire of Hell."

The superiority of Islam is engrained into the minds of early teens.  "Muslims are the leaders of the world," the children must narrate over and again during language exercises.  Seventh-grade Saudis are told that the unbelievers "shall burn in the fire of Hell... they are the vilest of creatures."  Koranic commentary, one of the five subject matters of Saudi education, declares to ninth-grade students: "The religion of Islam is the true religion and any other religion is false.  The religion of Islam is lofty and triumphant over all [other] religions"

As with all tyrannies, the Saudi royals fear their own people.  As with all dictators, the royals therefore create imaginary external enemies in order to maintain internal submissiveness.  An eighth-grade book titled Geography of the Muslim World states, "There is no doubt that the Muslims' power irritates the infidels and spreads envy in the hearts of the enemies of Islam-Christians, Jews and others-so they plot against them... harass them, and seize every opportunity in order to eliminate the Muslims."  Prohibited is "befriending the infidels or revealing the Muslims' secrets to them."  It is "not permitted to ask for [God's] forgiveness, nor pray, for the sake of the infidels and polytheists... it is not permitted to befriend the infidels by loving [them] or helping [them] against the Muslims."  It is permitted, though, "to destroy, burn, and demolish the infidels' castles, as well as anything that strengthens them against the Muslims, if it contributes to the Muslims' victory and to the infidels defeat." 

One text describes how Jews and Christians were cursed by Allah, who turned them into apes and pigs.  Another book for eight-grade boys describes the duties of jihad; that "the whole world should convert to Islam and leave its false religions lest their fate will be Hell."

Vilification of Christians, secularists, unbelievers, and Western civilization is ubiquitous.  The most sincere vitriol, however, is saved for the Jews and Israel.  The State of Israel is alluded to as a "gang state."  It is not recognized on Saudi students' geography maps of the Middle East.  The entire map is Palestine.  The Jews themselves resemble a "donkey that carries big books but does not benefit from them all."  A Muslim "should act according to one's knowledge, since not acting according to knowledge is a characteristic of the Jews."

According to the Saudi textbooks, the Jews are accused of being responsible for both world wars, the Bolshevik Revolution, the hijacking of the French Revolution, "attempting to immerse the people in vice," owning bars and nightclubs throughout Europe, "fraud, bribery, stealing, and trickery," "controlling literature and art," and the banks, and the media, and so on.  The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the infamous anti-Semitic forgery, is a popular paperback.  On tests, students are provided a fill-in-the-blank question: "Those who have incurred God's wrath are..."  The correct answer: "The Jews."  Ominously, one book states that the Jews are "a people of treachery and betrayal.... Their end, by God's will, is perdition."

The Saudi royals' aim is to poison and stultify the minds of young Muslim men throughout the world.  The Wahhabi-Salafist doctrine preached within the kingdom is disseminated in classrooms in nearly 50 countries.  Almost always, these schools are the most radical Islamic centers in their host nations.  The Saudis' crusade to control global Islamic education spans the planet, from the Persian Gulf through Africa, Europe, and the Americas, to South and Southeast Asia. 

Pakistan is one of Riyadh's time-honored recipients.  During the Soviet-Afghan War, Saudi Arabia matched the United States in giving $3 billion to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI).  This money made its way to Pakistani madrasas, which churned out young jihadists to fight the Russians.  The United States ceased sending these particular expenditures long ago, but the Saudis did not.  For decades, the Saudi royals have financially backed the construction of religious schools like Darul Uloom Haqqani, "Jihad University" along Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province.  Darul Uloom Haqqani, or the "Center for all Religious Knowledge," is Mullah Omar's alma mater, and is but one of many Saudi-backed Pakistani institutions the preaches hatred of Jews, Christians, and non-Muslims.

Considering Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, the Riyadh-Islamabad relationship is perhaps the most consequential in the region.  And considering Pakistan's history, Saudi Arabia's influence makes modern-day affairs seem all the more tragic.  Pakistan's founders did not intend for their country to become a haven of the Wahhabi death cult.  Their intent was a "culturally Muslim" country, much the way India is "culturally Hindu."  They sought a state that respected secular education and tolerance for others.  Mohammed Ali Jinnah once said, "I would rather be protector-general of the rights of the Hindu minority in Pakistan than governor-general of Pakistan.  You will find in the course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense, as citizens of the state."

Pakistan's economy, polity, and schools have failed the Pakistani people.  Cynically, the Saudis used their oil wealth to fill this void, and have built a web of some six thousand Wahhabi-Salafist schools that teach young Pakistani boys how, and why, and where, and when they ought to be killing non-Muslims.  Just like that, the lost are given eternal purpose.

This most recent decade saw the Saudi reach eclipse even nominally moderate Muslim countries, such as Indonesia.  The Saudis, responsible for the radicalization of vast swaths of the planet, have seen their propaganda campaign through the madrasas become a stepping-tool for direct terrorist activity.  Six years ago, the U.S. Treasury Department blew the whistle on Saudi jihadist-financing institutions guised as charities.  Al Haramain was one of these charities and operated in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, Pakistan, the Netherlands, and even Cambodia.

The Indonesian case was the most intriguing.  The Saudis in Al Haramain signed a memorandum with the Indonesian Ministry of Religion allowing it to subsidize Indonesia's educational institutions.  In due time, this window of opportunity became a conduit for the Saudis to provide money to Jemaah Islamiyah, the Indonesian affiliate of al-Qaeda that wants to establish a Wahhabi theocracy across Southeast Asia.  Umar Faruq, a senior member of Jeemah Islamiyah in American custody, admitted to the CIA that the terror group was on the Saudi payroll.

Indonesian libraries are filled with Saudi books.  The Saudis' religious affairs office in Jakarta translates nearly one million books a year, almost all of them Wahhabi-Salafist in nature.  Indonesia, it seems, is going through much the same process than Pakistan has gone through... albeit faster.  In 2000, 75% of Indonesians said they had a favorable opinion of the United States.  Three years later, 83% had an unfavorable opinion.  Much of this could be due to the Iraq war, which began in 2003.  But Saudi influence should not be discounted (Saudi leader King Abdullah is one of the most popular men in Indonesia).

Another case study of what Professor Madawi al-Rashseed calls the "Saudisation" of a country's psyche, would be Yemen, the small nation on Saudi Arabia's southern border.  Yemen's radicalization is visibly plain.  Several of the previous thwarted al-Qaeda attacks originated from Yemen.  As al-Rasheed explains, the Saudis have their hands in the cookie jar:

The Saudi state and elites play a major role in the whole ‘transplantation' mechanism.  In the specific Yemeni case study, dominant representations implicitly claim that where there was once a traditional and pure Islam which was characterized by its moderation and its religious toleration, there is now an extremist, anti-modern and violent Islam.  Such a normative discourse would state that through the funding of institutes and mosques or through scholarships and education, the Saudi government has built a sort of ‘Trojan horse' or ‘bridgehead' that... enables it to reshape to its advantage the loyalty of the population and some clients it sponsors: imams, tribal sheikhs and politicians.

In recent years, Saudi officials have maintained that they have reformed their global curriculum in order to make it more tolerant.  Yet when they are presented with evidence to the contrary, they will defer to what they consider to be their singular prestige within the Muslim world.  As Saudi Ambassador to the United States Adel al-Jubeir once publically stated: "The role of Saudi Arabia in the Muslim world is similar to the role of the Vatican."

If we are to grant the Saudi royals this inane comparison, let us at least hold them to the same standard that we would hold the Vatican to.  If the Vatican-or any Christian country or school-was spreading curriculum to the children of the world, using the most bloodcurdling passages from Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and this was creating dozens of transnational Christian terrorist organizations intent on indiscriminately murdering non-Christians, someone, somewhere would raise an objection.

It is this double standard that must be confronted at its very core.  Saudi-indoctrinated children are taught about the injustice of the Crusades, but nothing of the four-plus centuries of Islamic conquest that preceded the Crusades.  All historical references to Islamic invasions are described in triumphalist terms.  Objectivity is absent.  There is little to no cultural introspection or self-rumination.  Clerics stifle pensiveness and open debate.  Might a madrasa student throughout the years have asked, "Teacher Imam, why do the infidels not cite centuries-old grievances to justify their political decisions in the here and now, as we do with them?"

The world does not stand up to Saudi Arabia for three reasons.  The first is oil, which is self-explanatory.  Black gold turns tribesmen into monarchs and almost exclusively distinguishes the rulers of Saudi Arabia from the killers in al-Qaeda (the former have it, the latter do not).  The second reason is taboo: religion.  The Prophet was born and heard voices in Arabia.  The peninsula is home to the origins of Islam.  Through historical happenstance, the al-Saud clan emerged the sole guardians of this history.  Adequately challenging the Saudis on an ideological level would likely require raising certain theological issues that our own sensitized culture has exempted from critique, or even discussion. 

And that is the third reason the world does not stand up to the Saudis: because the United States does not.  Preventing the rise of another generation of jihadists requires it.

Contributing Editor N.M. Guariglia is an essayist who writes on Islam and Middle Eastern geopolitics.


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