Saudi Arabia fires thousands of foreign Koran teachers

A Saudi bid to bar foreign Koran teachers is either a move to get jobs for citizens or quash extremism.

Madrassa 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
Madrassa 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
Saudi Arabia has moved to block foreigners from teaching Koran in a step aimed at boosting jobs for unemployed citizens, but some say the decree was an attempt to quell Islamic extremism taught by the foreigners.  
The Chairman of the Charitable Society for Holy Koran Memorization, the organization in charge of Koran teaching in grades one through twelve in the Kingdom, has announced that classes across the country would continue as planned. But from now on, only Saudi citizens would be allowed to be teachers.
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Because of the new stipulation that they be citizens, thousands of non-Saudi Koran teachers will essentially lose their jobs.
The decision was made without any elaboration, which sparked speculation that it was a sly move to help get jobs for unemployed Saudi teachers. But others believe there may be a deeper motive.
“It has to do with fighting extremism and terrorism,” Dr Khalil Al-Khalil a former Saudi parliamentarian who sat on the committee of Islamic and Humanity Affairs, told The Media Line. “We do not want to create a Taliban in Saudi Arabia.”
Dr. Fawzia Al-Bakr, Professor of Education at King Saud University, said the move was more of an economic nature.
“Firing the expats is one way for the government to provide more jobs,” Bakr told The Media Line. “We have so many universities and colleges for religious studies and thousands and thousands of Saudis are graduating without a job.”
“The unemployment is more than 10% for men and 35% for women,” Bakr added. “Lots of jobs don’t pay well and Saudis have to take them anyways, they don’t have a choice.”
But Khali did not believe that the decision had anything to with unemployment. He explained that many of the expat teachers were pious, yet ill-trained. Furthermore, he said they were importing radical Islamic ideology into the classrooms.
“Their ‘orientation’ is not sufficient enough to be able to teach the Koran in the right way, in terms of meaning and interpretations. They know how to teach memorizing but not how to teach the principles and the meaning of the Koran. The teachers are not very educated, many of them are superficially educated in Koran interpretation and they will teach what they know,” Khalil said.
He pointed out that many of the expat teachers often enter the country as pilgrims, mostly from Pakistan, India and Egypt but never leave, choosing to stay illegally. The organization hired these individuals to teach because they were more willing to accept the low wages that accompanies a teacher’s salary. Lacking in formal education, they were able to rise to levels of prominence because of the eloquence and passion in which they recite the Koran.
“It has been noticed that because society respects them as Koranic individuals they start being able to teach in their own way,” Khali said, adding that this was where the trouble started.
Teaching highly impressionable youngsters their version of Islam makes pupils “easy targets for extremist.”
“Many experts in Islam, in Islamic knowledge have come to the conclusions that these circles laid the groundwork and have been a part of psychologically preparing students to accept superficial interpretations that may lead them to be easy targets for jihadists,” Khali said.
YetBakr argued that the reasoning was much less opaque.
“The King said no non-Saudis will be teaching in these circles, it is not about Saudi [nationalism/employment] but a provision to really stop influencing these students. The decree was used as a mechanism to reduce the influence and accessibility to students by the extremist and fanatics,” Bakr said.
The Charitable Society for Holy Koran Memorization was initiated by a group of Koranic experts from India in 1964. The society was established with the dual goals of instructing proper memorization techniques while providing correct interpretation of the books teachings.