U.S. President Donald Trump's May 2017 trip to Saudi Arabia and his address to leaders of Islamic nations may open a new era of cooperation between the United States and the world's leading conservative Sunni Muslim states. Trump's trip, along with reported warming relations between Israel and some Arab states, may suggest that the initial stages of an anti-Iran, anti-terrorist alliance is in the offing.
In Saudi Arabia, Trump forcefully denounced Iran's support for terrorism. This speech was welcomed especially by Arabian Peninsula Sunni state leaders, who could well be threatened by the aggressive policies of Shia Iran in the Persian Gulf and the Levant.
Unfortunately, however, the Saudi educational system's textbooks, at least as of a year ago, remain rife with anti-Christian and anti-Jewish statements, as well as criticism of other Muslim sects. Perhaps one of the real litmus tests of the viability of a new era in relations between the United States and conservative Sunni Arab states will be whether the latter totally purge their abusive denunciations of peoples of other religious faiths.
Recent analyses by experts on religious freedom cite the continued prejudicial declarations against Christians, Jews, and Western civilization in Saudi educational textbooks as evidence that Saudi Arabia still bears ill will against the "infidel" West. Moreover, religious liberty advocates also claim that the Saudis have not removed this material as promised.
In July 2017, Nina Shea, Director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, testified to a House Foreign Relations Subcommittee that much hateful language in Saudi religious texts remains, despite claims by officials that all intolerant religious references had been removed. Further, according to Thomas Farr, Georgetown University Professor and President of the Religious Freedom Institute (an NGO dedicated to the worldwide acceptance of religious liberty), Saudi Arabia has failed to meet agreed-upon deadlines to remove objectionable language from educational texts.
Further, the current Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir, seemed falsely to imply that hateful language appears only in past, discontinued textbooks and that current textbooks are being purged of any offensive language.
One current Saudi high-school textbook on religious jurisprudence calls for death by stoning or burning for homosexuals. The same text strongly recommends that 100 lashes be meted out to any person engaging in pre-marital sex. An elementary school text on religious law demands death for apostasy: leaving the Islamic faith. An eighth grade theological volume condemns the grave sin of "shirk" (polytheism, idol worship or worship to others which is due to Allah alone).
This condemnation appears to be leveled at Sufi and Shia Muslims who revere Islamic saints and scholars, a practice which especially forbidden by the Wahhabi School of Sunni Muslims, dominant in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. Christians also are accused of shirk for adoration of Jesus as divine, and for giving Allah a partner as son of God.
Sunni scholastic hatred of Jews and Christians does not seem to be limited to the Saudi educational system. Wahhabi hate-mongering is popular in mosque sermons as well, some apparently still being delivered in Saudi mosques during Friday prayers.
Saudi Imam Abdulwahab Al-Omari, in a recent Friday sermon, prayed for Allah to hasten the annihilation of Jews and the conversion of Christians to Islam. (Image source: MEMRI)
These findings seem to cast doubt on the viability of a Saudi-U.S.-Israeli alliance against Iran.
It can be argued that no amount of promises by Saudi or other ethnic Muslims of the Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam will bring about cleansing educational textbooks of hateful descriptions of Christians or Jews. Sunnis claim that every word of the Koran is divine, and that certain collections of the hadiths are infallible. One such hadith by Sahih Muslim posits:
"the last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 56, Number 791)
This language can serve as the theological justification for hating Jews. As for Christians, the Koran states that they will burn in hellfire.
As many believe the Koran to be the divine, immutable word of Allah, this rhetoric may persist. Its practitioners will likely remain resolute in their contempt for Christian and Jew. Any alliance or truce, even if it means suppressing the Shia challenge led by Iran, will likely be temporary. After all, Allah's words, believed to be dictated by the angel Gabriel to Muhammad, instruct Muslims to despise Jews and Christians alike.
Stuart Levey, former Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, keenly observed that a key goal of U.S. counterterrorism policy should include more persuasive efforts to pressure the Saudis to purge their educational system from teachings that might produce a new generation of terrorists. One expects that Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman's ongoing efforts and the Kingdom's move to review interpretations of Islamic literature may tend in that direction.
All 19 of the September 11, 2001 hijackers were Wahhabi Sunnis from the Arabian Peninsula, and 15 of the 19 were products of the extremist Wahhabi Sect of Sunni Islam espoused by Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Education. If the U.S. does not make this review a central priority in its counter-terrorism strategy, it will have learned little since 9/11.
Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve.
 The Noble Qur'an: Interpretations and Meanings, by Dr. Muhammad Taqi ud-Din al-Hilali and Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan, Darussalam: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. pp. 1253-1254.