By Badria al-Bishr
7 May 2014
I woke up this morning with the intention to avoid talking about the bacteria of extremism which some news outlets publish. I had decided to take a break and write about a light and fun subject. However, I unfortunately found myself filled with disappointment after reading a news piece about travelling abroad.
Read the story: Fatwa prohibiting travelling abroad causes controversy in Saudi Arabia
Saudi preacher Sheikh Abdullah al-Suwailem, who is part of the Saudi “Munasaha” program that reportedly aims to rehabilitate former al-Qaeda extremists held in prison, has warned Saudis of travelling abroad saying it's forbidden and that he who dies in a “land of infidelity” could go to hell and that Islam calls for migrating from these lands.
Allow me to note that the number of Saudi tourists around the world reaches millions each year. Some spend their vacations in London, Spain, Australia or Korea. Many officials and preachers travel for tourism or business purposes and their photos while visiting other countries are all over the media. This is in addition to tourism offices advertisements of low-cost trips across the world. So why has this talk on travelling abroad increased in the past two years?
An Attack on Education
It's simply a systematic attack on King Abdullah's scholarship program that includes around 150,000 female and male students - some of whom travel abroad with their families. There are other scholarship programs like those in the oil and engineering sectors. This is in addition to those who participate at their own expense and travel to study medicine, engineering, navigation, applied medicine, business administration, accounting and law at modern and developed universities. It's not only that but these students get the opportunity to deal with institutions that got rid of bureaucracy and that respect law. They also get to drive their cars or use public transportation and thus witness the experiences of developed nations. So why does this developed program, which our welcoming religion of Islam urged for when it said "seek knowledge even if you have to go as far as China," worry and anger some so much?
The answer can be found in an article by Dr. Saad al-Moussa, a faithful advisor of education minister Khaled al-Faisal.
In his article titled "The Education Policy Document: the 20th century Jahiliya," published in Al-Watan, Moussa says he reviewed the education document in Saudi Arabia and realized that "it resembles Mohamed Qutub's famous book 'Jahiliya in the 20th century.'" He continues to say: "After four hours spent reading the book, I realized that we apply the book's recommendations with all its details."
He concludes by saying: "This scandalous document talks about frankly training out children on the idea of jihad - an idea framed in the four stages of education all the way from elementary school to college. I am willing to take responsibility and I am prepared for a confrontation as I say: They who wrote the education document in my country are individuals who have absolutely nothing to do with this country. They don't recognize the country's existence as an independent state. This document makes us an exact image of the 20th century Jahiliya with all its aims and recommendations."
Do you understand now why the scholarship program worries some preachers? It's because it disrupts and corrupts their plans.
I could've avoided talking about this issue if these ideas were personal beliefs discussed among friends and at home. However these ideas have become like a bacteria, growing through our education system.
Dr. Badria al-Bishr is a multi-award-winning Saudi columnist and novelist. A PhD graduate from the American University of Beirut, and an alumnus of the U.S. State Department International Visitor program. Her columns put emphasis on women and social issues in Saudi Arabia. She currently lectures at King Saud University's Department of Social Studies.