Statements by a Saudi preacher, Mohamed al-Areefi, about the consumption of alcohol and drugs by international students and his calls that they be subjected to tests at the airport upon returning home stirred much controversy, especially among academics, who rejected what they regarded as a sweeping statement with no scientific basis. All those who level such accusations at Saudi international students are after sensational news and are not basing their hypotheses on any scientific facts, said Nasser al-Oud, professor of Social Services at Imam Mohamed bin Saud Islamic University. “With all due respect to Areefi, there are no accurate statistics that prove what he is saying,” he told Al Arabiya. Oud added that Areefi, who posted his statements on his Facebook page and Twitter account, is a man of religion, but he cannot issue judgments on matters related to statistics and medical tests. “He is not supposed to interfere in drug tests and propose that they be done in airports, since this is not only a medical issue, but also one related to security measures.” Saudi international students, Oud pointed out, are known for their distinction and are always awarded important scholarships and engage in a variety of academic activities. “We will never accept the image of our international students to be tarnished on social networking websites. It is on them that we count on for achieving progress in the country.” Hamza al-Salem, professor of economics at the Prince Sultan University in Riyadh, strongly objected to performing blood tests on international students at airports, yet admitted that some students do fail in keeping up a good educational standard when they are sent to study abroad. “I believe this is more related to the university than to the student,” he told Al Arabiya. Salem explained that some universities are very strict with their academic standards and that it becomes almost impossible for students to “fool around” when they are enrolled in them. “That is why it is very important to send our students, especially undergraduates, to such universities to make sure they will remain committed to education.” For Salem, if the university is not among the top 30 worldwide, then there is a very big chance that the student might engage in other activities like drinking or smoking. “Several students failed because they gave in to the many temptations they were exposed to abroad.” Areefi’s statements, mainly based on the testimonies of Saudi international students, came a few months after another preacher, Hassan al-Kaaoud, said in a television interview that about 80 percent of Saudi undergraduate students in the UK drink alcohol and stop praying. “I made sure of this myself when I visited Saudi students in the UK,” he said.
By Khaled Al-Shaei