Founded in 1984, the Virginia-based Islamic Saudi Academy (ISA) is part of a network of 19 international schools run by the Saudi Arabian government. A bilingual English-Arabic institution situated on two campuses — one (in the town of Fairfax) for pre-kindergarten through first grade, the other (in Alexandria) for grades two through twelve — ISA shares its Internal Revenue Service employer tax ID number with the Saudi Embassy, which owns one of the ISA properties and leases the other. The two ISA campuses have a combined enrollment of approximately 1,000 students, some 28 percent of whom are of Saudi heritage.
ISA offers courses in English language arts, Arabic language arts, science, math, religion, social studies, history, computer graphics, psychology, economics, fine arts, journalism, drama, and English as a Second Language. The school also features an Islamic Studies Program that “stresses Islamic culture, tradition, heritage, and identity.” According to ISA, “it is important for all students to learn Arabic … the language of the Holy Qur’an.” ISA describes itself as a school that “not only promotes respect and mutual understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims, Arabs and Americans while keeping within the Muslim faith, it strives for its staff and students to uphold tolerance, honesty, integrity and compassion …”
ISA is under the direction and influence of the Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam. As such, it adheres to the educational model followed in Saudi Arabia, whose government is ISA’s principal funder, and whose official government texts are central to ISA coursework. ISA’s religious curriculum was written by Sheik Saleh al-Fawzan, a senior member of the Saudi Religious Council and the author of numerous textbooks used in Saudi schools. According to Ali al-Ahmed, Executive Director of the Washington-based Saudi Institute (a leading Saudi opposition group), Al-Fawzan has “encouraged war against unbelievers.”
In October 2007 the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an organization established by Congress, issued a press release calling for ISA’s closure pending a thorough USCIRF examination of the school’s textbooks. The release stated that “significant past documented concerns remain about whether what is being taught at the ISA explicitly promotes hate, intolerance and human rights violations, in some cases violence.” But ISA did not comply with requests to make its texts available for review.
In 2007 and 2008, USCIRF was able to acquire, from third-party sources, seventeen ISA textbooks. A review of these publications revealed numerous passages that, according to USCIRF, “clearly exhort the readers to commit acts of violence” such as taking of the lives and property of apostates (converts from Islam), Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and members of Islam’s Shiite faction. Following are a few examples of such passages:
A twelfth-grade Tafsir (Koranic interpretation) textbook calls it permissible for a Muslim to kill an apostate, an adulterer, or someone who has murdered a Muslim intentionally.
A twelfth-grade Tawhid (monotheism) textbook states that Muslims can, with impunity, rob or kill polytheists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and Shi’a and Sufi Muslims.
Other statements in ISA textbooks, though they do not explicitly call for violence, promote Muslim intolerance of the Ahmadi, Baha’i, and Jewish faiths, as well as of Shia Islam. For example:
“Today, [Ahmadis] are one of the greatest strongholds for spreading aberration, deviation, and heresy in the name of religion, even from within Islamic countries. Thus, the [Ahmadi] movement has become a force of destruction and internal corruption today in the Islamic world…”
“It [Baha’ism] is one of the destructive esoteric sects in the modern age … It has become clear that Babism [the precursor to Baha’ism], Baha’ism, and Qadyanism [Ahmadism] represent wayward forces inside the Islamic world that seek to strike it from within and weaken it. They are colonial pillars in our Islamic countries and among the true obstacles to a renaissance.”
“The cause of the discord: The Jews conspired against Islam and its people. A sly, wicked person who sinfully and deceitfully professed Islam infiltrated [the Muslims]. He was [a Jew who] began spewing his malice and venom against the third of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs …”
Ninth- and twelfth-grade curricula place heavy emphasis on the concept of jihad, or holy war, and on Muslims’ religious obligation to kill infidels in the name of Allah. As one textbook states: “In these verses is a call for jihad, which is the pinnacle of Islam…. Only through force and victory over the enemies is there security and repose. Within martyrdom in the path of God … is a type of noble life-force that is not diminished by fear or poverty.”
As a general rule, ISA textbooks maintain that the Muslim world was vibrant and thriving when it was united under the rule of a single caliph, a single language (Arabic), and a single creed (Sunnism). As an extension of that premise, these publications trace the weakening of the Muslim world to the dissolution of the caliphate and the rise of foreign, particularly Western, influences. According to USCIRF, this perspective “is identical to some of the exclusionary ideological arguments used by extremists to justify acts of terror.”
In addition, ISA teaches that Jews and Christians are the descendants of apes and swine, respectively; that a Muslim should never establish a close friendship with a non-believer; and that even family members, if they are non-believers, should be abandoned or ignored.
At various times between 2000 and 2002, the ISA website, SaudiAcademy.net, provided links to IslamiCity.com, Islam-QA.com, and Al-Islam.org — websites that commonly issued calls for violent jihad against “non-believers,” especially Jews. As of August 2008, SaudiAcademy.net contained a link to Arab News.com, a site that lauds both the Islamic Association for Palestine (the former American propaganda wing of Hamas) and Radio Islam (which promotes Mein Kampf and Protocols of the Elders of Zion).
Some notable individuals affiliated with ISA include the following:
Turki Fasial al Saud: This ISA Board Chairman is also the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States.
Abdalla I. Al-Shabnan: This ISA Director was arrested in June 2008 because, after he had been informed of the possibility that one of his school’s five-year-old students was being sexually abused, he failed to report the allegation to child-protection authorities as required by law. Al-Shabnan pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of failure to report child abuse and obstruction of justice.
Susan L. Douglass: A former social studies teacher at ISA, Douglass has authored a number of social studies textbooks for the International Institute of Islamic Thought, which in 2002 was raided by the FBI because of its suspected links to terrorism. A practicing Muslim, Douglass has praised Pakistan’s madrassas (religious schools) as “proud symbols of learning,” even though the U.S. government has identified them as institutions that promote hateful extremism.
Ahmed Omar Abu Ali: ISA’s valedictorian in 1999, Ali was named “Most Likely to Be a Martyr” by his graduating class. After leaving ISA, he joined an al Qaeda cell in Saudi Arabia and plotted to assassinate President George W. Bush. In February 2005 he was indicted on terrorism charges and eventually was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Mohammed Osman Idris and Mohammed Hassan El-Yacoubi: According to an FBI criminal complaint, in December 2001 these two ISA graduates set off for Israel, apparently to carry out a suicide bombing mission. During a search conducted by El Al airport security personnel, El-Yacoubi was found to be in possession of a farewell letter from his younger brother, Abdalmuhssin, who himself had attended ISA. Written in Arabic, the letter contained language discussing an attack that was to be carried out against Israelis, possibly in alliance with Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad. In August 2002, Mr. Idris was sentenced to four months in jail for lying on a passport application.
Ismael Selim Elbarasse: Named as a co-conspirator in the 2007 Holy Land Foundation terrorism trial, this former ISA comptroller has been described by the U.S. government as a “high-ranking” Hamas operative who had financial dealings with Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook. In August 2004, Elbarasse was arrested after police had observed his wife videotaping sensitive parts of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Bridge from his vehicle.