Fairfax County Approves "School for Terrorism"

Islamic Saudi Academy gets approval for mosque, school

By Matthew Stabley
|  Tuesday, Aug 4, 2009  |  Updated 3:01 PM EDT
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"Terrorism" School Gets OK to Expand

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The Saudi-funded academy finally gets its expansion, to the chagrin of many neighbors.

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"Terrorism" School Gets OK to Expand

Opponents of the expansion of the Islamic Saudi Academy are upset by Fairfax County's decision to allow it.
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FAIRFAX, Va. -- More future terrorists will receive training in Fairfax County now that the Board of Supervisors has approved a new school and mosque. At least that's what opponents would have you believe.

The Islamic Saudi Academy had a long-standing zoning request to allow it to build the school and mosque on a 34-acre property, but many county residents had strong objections, calling the academy a school for terrorism and citing a former valedictorian serving a life sentence for threatening the life of President George W. Bush, News4's Chris Gordon reported.

"We don't think it should exist, let alone expand," said James Lafferty, of the Virginia Anti-Shariah Task Force. "It teaches shariah law. It teaches terrorism. They're raising the next generation of homicide bombers right here in Virginia."

Neighbors along Popes Head Road said traffic congestion, safety and protecting the environment are the reasons they oppose the Islamic Saudi Academy expansion.

"Pope's Head is a two-lane road, it just cannot hold anymore traffic," Pope's Head Road resident Beth Parker said.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors acknowledged it was a hard decision, Gordon reported. The board emphasized that the zoning exemption was granted based on zoning issues, not what goes on in the ISA classrooms.

The supervisors took two votes, and in the end Supervisor Gerry Hyland's motion to approve the plan passed after he dispelled the notion that the school poses a danger.

"I have never in the 15 years had any misgivings about that school being in my community," he said.

The motion passed 6-4, allowing the ISA  to expand.

Some opponents said they will target the six supervisors who voted in favor of the school's plan.

"We're actively going to solicit candidates to run against them, and we are going to defeat them," Lafferty said.

The academy was founded in 1984 and has some 1,000 students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12. It is the only Saudi-funded school in the United States.

About 80 percent of its students are U.S. citizens from the area's Muslim communities. Most students attend classes at a second campus in the Alexandria section of Fairfax.

The plans granted approval on Monday permit construction of a building at a Popes Head Road site that would eventually accommodate 500 students.

The school has undergone a series of high-profile examinations of its religious curriculum, which has been revised repeatedly to remove passages that extolled militant jihad and martyrdom. In 2007, at least one textbook still said that the killing of adulterers and apostates was "justified."

Students, parents and teachers have said the school does not teach intolerance.

The school's curriculum was again revised at the start of the 2008-09 school year after the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom condemned its textbooks.

Critics of the academy said most of the offensive material has been taken out. But they said the textbooks clearly remain guided by Wahhabism, the fundamentalist school of Sunni Islam that is dominant in Saudi Arabia.

"The stuff about killing, it's not there anymore," said Ali Al-Ahmed, the head of the Institute for Gulf Affairs and a critic of the Saudi government, who got copies of the latest textbooks.

Al-Ahmed said references to jihad had been removed from the curriculum. He found that strange, because the idea -- which in the Quran is described as "striving in the path of God," and is not necessarily violent -- was essential to Islam.

In the past, textbooks referred to the militant form of jihad. Al-Ahmed said he would have felt better if moderate references to jihad had been kept.

Attorney Lynne Strobel, who represented the academy, said she was pleased with the vote and said the school has undertaken efforts to reduce some of the potential traffic. 

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