updated 8/3/2004 6:00:53 PM ET 2004-08-03T22:00:53

A Virginia school that caters to children of Saudi diplomats is teaching first-graders that Judaism and Christianity are false religions, according to a Muslim group concerned that such teachings breed hatred.

The Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism called on the Islamic Saudi Academy to remove the textbook used to teach first-graders. The teachers’ edition of the textbook outlines several points of emphasis, including the statement, “All religions other than Islam are false religions.”

The coalition’s director, Kamal Nawash, a Muslim, said it would be acceptable to teach that Islam was the only correct religion. But to explicitly tell first-graders that Jews and Christians practiced a false religion could breed extremism, he said.

The school “must be sure to instruct students to have the utmost respect for other religions,” Nawash said.

Nawash’s criticism follows a report last month by a nonprofit group called the Saudi Institute, also denouncing the school’s curriculum. The institute advocates extensive reforms in Saudi Arabia.

Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations, said he did not believe it is a good idea to explicitly criticize other religions to young children.

“Followers of most major faiths believe they have the correct religious teachings, but an affirmative belief in the truth of one’s own faith should not lead to the disparagement of all others,” Hooper said.

Still, Hooper said, if only a small part of a lesson plan needed to be changed, it “hardly justifies sweeping charges of extremism.”

The school, which teaches more than 1,000 students at campuses in Alexandria and Fairfax, which are suburbs of Washington, did not return calls seeking comment. The school’s Web site says the academy “promotes respect and mutual understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims, Arabs and Americans while keeping within the Muslim faith.”

Nail al-Jubeir, a spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, also did not return calls. He told The Washington Times that critics of the textbook “are making a big thing out of nothing.” The Saudi government provides funds to the school.

The school’s teachings have come under scrutiny since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Federal court documents in a case against an academy graduate indicate that student discussions after the attacks took an anti-U.S. bent and that some students considered the attacks “payback” for what they saw as U.S. mistreatment of the Muslim world.

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