Pictures of Pigs to be Removed from Saudi Textbooks

The Saudi Ministry of Education recently ordered the removal of pictures of pigs, music instruments and anything else that might be considered “un-Islamic” from English language text books for private schools.

The rationale for removing the images of pigs as being un-Islamic is not unusual in many Muslim-majority countries however it deserves a second thought. Without a doubt Islam does not permit eating pigs. It also does not allow eating falcons, eagles, bears, dogs, cats, monkeys and a whole host of other animals that are sometimes eaten in other cultures. Will all such animal images also be banned?

The religious prohibition against eating an animal does not make the animal inherently “un-Islamic”. Indeed one has to wonder how any of God’s Creation can be considered un-Islamic?  Viewing of animals is not banned in the religion (whether one is allowed to eat them or not) so why remove their images from books?

Children in Saudi Arabia will not accidently come across a pig and decide to eat it; they are much more likely to come across stray cats!  What is most important in the long run is to teach children what is allowed, what is not allowed and why. Teach them how religious law does not allow eating omnivores; how pigs  fall in the category of prohibited animals and how their anatomy prevents Islamically correct slaughter. It is only when they learn the “why” that they will be less tempted to try pork products in the restaurants of neighboring Bahrain. Erasing a picture will not convey the correct message.

Change in Saudi Arabia- Short and Long Term

As we have all read by now, Saudi Arabia has made some changes in its government and brought in more moderates. Some changes were expected, some were nominal while others are profound.

A lot of people focused on the first woman appointee as it heralds something new, however bringing in women is an inevitable change. No matter how much certain segments of society fight this change, it will happen – and within a generation. The reasons are obvious in a country where women will be majority business owners within a decade: demographics, telecommunications and education. By the way, a week or so before these changes, the first female Saudi cultural attache was announced for Canada.

Some are talking about the change of the Justice minister which is in line with the judicial reform that started a few weeks/months ago. Plans to overhaul the system were put into action several months ago.

Others are talking about the changes in education. This is aligned with the changes in curriculum that have already been started, as well as some of the “experimental” programs that have been tried out.

Changes in SAMA, Health and Info/Culture (along with all the other changes) were necessary for stability. The word is that several people maintained their positions/ranks however they have been reformed by internal pressure- better to reform yourself than be replaced!

The next big area is of course the change in the Hayy’a head (Commission for Promotion of Virtue and  Prevention of Vice). This is where it starts to get really interesting, not because of the change in person but because of the change in status quo in the ongoing tussle between the reform agenda of the administration and the religious right. There is a constant thrust-and-parry dance between society and the Hayy’a; the King has come down on the side of society.

The most profound and long term changes are the ones in the Shoura Council. Changing the head is of  course newsworthy. However this is the first time that all four Sunni schools of thought are being represented in the Shoura Council, not just the Hanbali school. Avoiding a history lesson, Wahabbism/Salafism is an off-shoot of the Hanbali school.

Including the other schools of thought on the Shoura Council dilutes the impact of Hanbalism/Wahabbism/Salafism. This is a long term change that has the potential to change the country in unprecedented ways; it effectively weakens the alliance between the House of Saud and the idealogues of  Ibn Abdul Wahab. There are different extreme end points that can come out of this (over the next few decades):

  • the door can be opened to move from a direct monarchy towards a constitutional monarchy
  • the religious right can feel threatened and destabilize the legitimacy of the monarchy
  • the country moves in the direction of becoming the next Dubai

Reality will probably lie somewhere between these extremes. The reign of King Abdullah has initiated the internal reform process. Crown Prince Sultan will have the choice of continuing on this path or reversing its course.

Several news story that cover the recent government changes are given below:

Qutb

Saudi Arabia recently removed two books related to Qutb from it’s school libraries. One is written by him, and one is apparently about him. Extremist ideas and deviant ideology is the given reason. IT’S ABOUT TIME SOMEONE PAID ATTENTION!!

Many Muslims consider Qutb’s writings  to be the bastion of Islam without care or worry. They encourage young impressionable minds to read certain books without regard to the content and the context. Banning his books (or any book for that matter) is not the solution; however Qutb’s books need to be read with a full understanding of the context and life circumstances of the author (which is true for all authors).

Some works are particularly insidious in today’s world. Written by authors who hate the “West” and broadly stereotype everything and everyone, persecuted in their own countries, these bitter individuals are/were trying to bring about change through the only means they had available, revolution. Their writings embed the seed of revolt and encourage action, even (especially) if violent. In today’s increasingly divided world, with “us vs them” mantras, disenfranchised masses, and easy access to improvised tools of destruction, violence is becoming the first option rather than the last.

Several years ago I spoke at a gathering of 700-800 people about the need to revise Islamic school curriculums in the US. I mentioned that we have to be aware when an author is writing for political objectives, regardless of how familiar we are with his writings. Some authors teach “hate the West” philosophies which are very problematic for our youth because they too are the West! We should not be encouraging self-hate. If we want our youth to learn about social activism we need to point them towards  Malcolm X, not Qutb. They need to accept who they are and work towards changing systems- not hate who they are and lash out against the world. Instead of always allocating blame we need to take responsibility for the places where we are deliberately or inadvertently part of the problem.

Not surprisingly I was the most controversial speaker on that panel. The responses and questions fell along a generational divide. Roughly speaking, immigrants forty and older disagreed with my critique of their favorite authors; first generation youth thirty and younger agreed with what I said.

Just don’t get me started on Ibn Tahmiyah 😀