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Fairfax County Renews Lease for Saudi Wahhabi School

Nina Shea

Last night, Virginia’s Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted to extend its lease of county property to the Embassy of Saudi Arabia for the Islamic Saudi Academy. It did so despite new evidence that this Wahhabi school is poised to lose its academic accreditation, according to the Atlanta-based international accrediting giant AdvancEd.

The vote took place after an hour and a half hearing (officially videotaped here) that aired citizens’ concerns about Wahhabism being taught at the school. Until two years ago, it had been documented that ISA texts taught that it is permissible or even required to kill those who leave Islam (which includes the majority of Muslims who reject Saudi Wahhabi doctrine), polytheists (which includes Shiite Muslims), Jews, homosexuals, and others, and that militant jihad to spread the faith is a sacred duty, as described here.

What it now teaches in Islamic Studies no independent observer knows for sure. I was one of the witnesses urging that the county not risk abetting Saudi Arabia’s well-known practice of exporting extremism by renewing the county lease, and I cited new information, namely a letter and an accompanying report I received from the agency that previously accredited ISA.

The letter from ISA’s accrediting agency states that it currently finds ISA “in violation” of five of the agency’ seven standards and that because of this it could not recommend ISA for accreditation status in its assessment earlier this year. It plans to review the school again next spring to see if its demands have been met.

AdvancED, the parent company of ISA’s accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement, sent a special review team to the school last December. On that occasion, unlike its prior visit almost five years ago, the review team included two fluent Arabic speakers, and one who has previously taught Islamic theology at the university level. This was critical, since the religious textbooks in question are written in Arabic.

In its letter of February 9, 2010, AdvancED’s general counsel wrote:

Upon review of material provided by the Islamic Saudi Academy and other agencies, SACS CASI, and its parent organization, AdvancEd, identified the following areas of concern about the school: course material, course curriculum in compliance with standards and non-discrimination policies, teacher qualifications, governance issues, and community and stakeholder involvement. Specifically, the institution appeared to be in violation of the following AdvancED Accreditation Standards:

Standard 1: Vision and Purpose
Standard 2: Governance and Leadership
Standard 3: Teaching and Learning
Standard 6: Stakeholder Communication and Relationships
Standard 7: Commitment to Continuous Improvement

The two standards it managed to meet relate to adequate resources — hardly surprising, since the school is supported by the Saudi government.

Specifically regarding the Islamic Studies curriculum, the review team required the academy to take the following action before next spring: “As with other program areas of the school, [Islamic Studies] curriculum should be in a written format and placed on a regular schedule for review and revision.” In other words, part of this curriculum was not provided, at least not in written, verifiable form, to the Special Review Team. This is in fact the modus operandi of the secretive Saudi academy’s Islamic Studies department.

Other relevant problems encountered by the Special Review Team included:

  • “During the Special Review Team’s [three day] visit, the Director General of the school was not available for interview and was not on campus. The Director General did not contact the Special Review team or provide information to them through written or other media.”
  • “While the Special Review Team requested interviews with the Director General and the complete Board of Directors, only those members who were also part of the school leadership were made available for interview.”
  • Of the requested information for the Special Review Team, “much of the data and information was not readily available or current.”
  • “School leadership employed legal counsel to be on site during the teacher interviews.”
  • “The Special Review Team requested samples of student writing, which were submitted after screening by the principal and Director of Education.”

In view of all this, the accrediting agency concluded that “they represent a lack of transparency in the operation and leadership of the school.”

AdvancED states: “This lack of transparency does little to quell external stakeholder criticism or suspicion of the school’s curriculum.” This suspicion, it should be noted, was heightened last year when one of the academy’s valedictorians was sentenced to life imprisonment by a U.S. Court of Appeals for supporting al-Qaeda and conspiring to assassinate the president of the United States.

The upshot is that the Fairfax County board of supervisors doesn’t know or care if the Royal Saudi Embassy doing business as the Islamic Saudi Academy, as the lease calls its tenant, is still teaching jihad on county-owned property.

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