Saudi Arabia: 'All those women are going to hell'

Arab News
Our religious education is completely sectarian and one-sided, stressing only one point of view. Article by Raid Qusti.
A Saudi father came home from work and relaxed in the living room, watching TV after a long day. He wanted to watch his favourite show hosted by the Islamic preacher, Amr Khaled, who has become popular by telling stories, in an interesting way, about Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) life.
As he sat calmly on the sofa, his son, an intermediate school student, came in and watched a bit of the program. Suddenly the boy said, “All of those women are probably going to Hell.” He was referring to the women in the studio audience who had come to hear the preacher and learn about the Prophet (Pbuh).

Shocked at what his son had just said, his father asked, “Why.” To which the boy answered, “Because they are committing a grave sin, making a tremendous mistake.” He then went on to explain to his father, “Today in school, in one of our Islamic textbooks, we studied this passage: ‘And what some women do by being easy in the matter of hijab and not covering their faces and hands in front of non-relatives is a grave sin and a tremendous mistake.’” This story is taken from one of the letters to the editor published in Al-Watan. It was written by a Saudi father who had this experience. In the letter he said that our religious education is completely sectarian and one-sided, stressing only one point of view. These one-sided views often deal with subjects that are open to different interpretations by Muslims in different parts of the Islamic world.

The father also said that he believed that the difference of opinion in the matter of the hijab - whether to cover the face in public or not - between Islamic schools of thought should be part of our curriculum. Students should be made aware that there is no single opinion on the matter; rather there is disagreement among many Islamic scholars.

Among the consequences of not making students aware of the differences, he said, was that this kind of sectarian education would produce extremism and intolerance for other opinions and beliefs. He said that if students were taught - without prejudice and without slandering any school of Islamic thought - the many teachings and opinions on this subject, it would teach them to accept differences of opinion, even in religious matters about which even scholars disagree.

The man went on to point out that in the Islamic world today, 90 percent of Muslim women believe that it is not a sin for them not to cover their faces and hands in public - and he added that most Muslim scholars in the Islamic world today do not believe that women’s uncovered faces and hands are sinful.

There is, however, something else that needs to be addressed here. The fact that the boy was judgmental enough to say that all the women in the audience would go to Hell is not a matter to be lightly dismissed. To begin with, he was doing something that only God can do: Deciding the ultimate fate of human beings.

Secondly, if a young person is filled with such intolerance and prejudice at such an early stage of his life, what will be the consequences when he is an adult and interacts with either Muslims or non-Muslims?

It is no longer difficult to figure out that much of the terrorism we have experienced in Saudi Arabia since May 12, 2003 is the result of extremism - something we have failed, and continue to fail to address at the national level.

When I asked Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal at the Anti-Terror International Conference in Riyadh a few months ago if any of the workshops were discussing how young men were being brainwashed and fed extremism and what the solution was, he said that we needed to emphasize education. Like so many other things, I am afraid that our education system has come through the storms unscathed and unchanged. In other words, statements have made and have appeared in the media but the status quo remains as it was. Unchanged.

Last year, many delegates at the second National Forum for Dialogue in Makkah spoke about the need to change our school textbooks, saying that they were not suitable for today’s generation. They also said that the textbooks failed to teach tolerance and understanding. Their recommendations were made, forgotten and have now gone with the wind. The status quo remains. Unchanged. The fourth National Forum for Dialogue in the Eastern Province also called for a change in the curriculum - and these calls came from the young participants who represent the Kingdom’s new generation. Their calls were made, forgotten and have now gone with the wind. The status quo remains. Unchanged.

Tolerance: Such a small word with such huge implications, such an honorable history in Islam and such an important meaning. Unfortunately, it seems not to exist in our dictionary.

The longer we wait for a change in our present curriculum that promotes intolerance, the greater the danger of losing another generation. The danger of them not learning tolerance and not being able to listen to different opinions and viewpoints is too great for us to contemplate.

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