Two U.S. allies review Islamic curricula at schools, mosques

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

CAIRO At least two Arab allies of the United States are considering changing the way Islam is taught by their mosques and schools.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia are reviewing Islam curricula amid the recent wave of Al Qaida suicide bombings in the Middle East. The two countries have been considering curriculum revisions as well as examining the role of clerics.

Officials in Egypt and Saudi Arabia acknowledge that the United States has pressed for a review of Islamic teachings since the Al Qaida strikes on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001. Fifteen of the 19 Al Qaida suicide hijackers were Saudi nationals.

Diplomatic sources said the Al Qaida suicide attacks in Casablanca and Riyad over the last week have alarmed the regimes in Arab allies of the United States. They said some of the regimes have concluded that many Islamic preachers and instructors hampered public support for any counter-insurgency effort.

In Saudi Arabia, officials described a major review of clerics throughout the kingdom. They said 1,000 mosque preachers and other staff have been replaced over the last year.

In addition, the kingdom is expected to appoint its first commission on civil and human rights. The panel will consist of 40 prominent Saudis and will be announced by next week.

In Egypt, the effort was said to have been launched over the last two months. Arab diplomatic sources said clerics deemed as anti-West have been either fired from state jobs or denied access to state radio and television, which broadcast from major mosques during Friday prayers.

Egyptian Islamic Affairs Minister Mahmoud Hamedi Zaqzouq said his ministry has begun revising sermons given in state-run mosques. Zaqzouq told a seminar in the Al Qalyubia governorate on Monday that the effort is meant to ensure that sermons given by clerics paid by the ministry are "in accordance to the correct Islam."

The minister said clerics would be ordered to return to what he termed were the original principles of Islam. This, he said, would ensure that social, rather than political, issues would be discussed.

The Riyad seminar is meant to discuss the Muslim curriculum in 13 countries in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. They include Israel, Jordan and Morocco.

"Changing the Saudi school curriculum should be done according to detailed and objective research carried out by those who have expert knowledge in the area," Abdul Rahman Al Turairi, dean of education at King Saud University, and a leading organizer of the symposium, said. "We aim to present a comparative study between our school curriculum and those that exist in many other countries, and so give researchers and specialists a complete international perspective of developing what we should teach in Saudi Arabia."

In March, Egypt's leading state-financed clerics urged Muslims to wage a holy war against Western allies that invade Iraq. Some of them also expressed support for Palestinian suicide bombings. In the aftermath of the U.S. victory over Iraq, some of those clerics have revised their positions.

In Rabat, the Moroccan parliament has moved to approve legislation that would facilitate investigations and arrests of suspected Islamic insurgents.

The legislation, expected to be approved in a vote on Wednesday, had been delayed for four months amid objections that the bill violated human rights.

On Wednesday, the kingdom hosted a two-day symposium on revising the Saudi educational curriculum. The Riyad conference, entitled, "Curricula: Principles and Fundamentals," has been chaired by Higher Education Minister Khaled Al Anqari.

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