Khalid al-Awwad, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education Undersecretary, said Riyadh was revising its school curriculum to emphasise “peace and tolerance”, but accusations that its text books promote violence are unfounded.

“People who are accusing our education, especially our text books, took it out of context, took it irrationally,” he said.

“I can just as easily conclude that education in the United States teaches terrorism because of (Timothy) McVeigh and Oklahoma,” said al-Awwad, in reference to the American who blew up a federal building in Oklahoma, killing 168 people.

Western criticism

Western critics blame Saudi Arabia’s schools for fostering what they say is "extremism".

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers in the 11 September attacks against the United States were from Saudi Arabia, fuelling accusations that the kingdom’s schools were breeding grounds for “terrorism”.

Al-Awwad said the international definition of peace and tolerance had always been a part of classroom lessons but, “because of the new changes in the world we need to put more emphasis on it”.

But opponents say Riyadh needs to do more.

Academic Hamzah al-Mozainy recently wrote in a Saudi newspaper, criticising an exhibition at his son’s school about death which he claimed encouraged human bombings.

Al-Awwad said schools in Saudi Arabia should teach all of  Prophet Muhammad’s sayings.

“We teach it because it is our culture,” he said.