Teaching About Islam in Schools

by Gabriela Venegas, age 13
Teaching About Islam in Schools Gabriela is going into 8th grade. She lives in Teaneck, NJ and attends the United Nations International School. Gabi is passionate about writing, reading, playing soccer and guitar, and human rights.

“Muslims, throughout the world and especially in the United States, are being oppressed and discriminated against by many people. This prejudice and xenophobia has always existed, but it has been exacerbated by extremism.”

Muslims, throughout the world and especially in the United States, are being oppressed and discriminated against by many people. This prejudice and xenophobia has always existed, but it has been exacerbated by extremism. This problem grew in 2001, when an extremist Muslim group attacked the Twin Towers in New York City. Because of this event, and others that were caused by extremist groups, Muslims are being attacked by fearful and ignorant people. In schools, Muslim children are excluded and bullied by their classmates, and many times, teachers offer no support. Police officers randomly stop and question Muslims on the streets, and in airports, TSA officers interrogate Muslims and search through their luggage and clothes. In the media, whether it’s films, social media, or magazines, Muslims are portrayed as violent and threatening. Our president, Donald Trump, recently issued an executive order to ban people from seven, mostly Muslim, countries the allowance into the United States. This executive order, formally known as “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry,” is more commonly known as the “Muslim Ban.”  Muslims are being treated this way because these people are frightened and ignorant. However, this fear and ignorance can be mitigated by education. Schools throughout the United States should teach students about Islam as a subject in the context of world history and religions, because it can create more empathy and understanding.

Many parents are against this statement. They are worried that Islam will be taught in schools as a religious practice and methodology, and that it may have an indoctrinating effect on their children. More than 70% of the United States identify as Christians, so they may not want the schools to teach their children to practice a different religion. Michelle Edmisten, a mother from Tennessee, complained that her 7th grade daughter was being penalised for not completing assignments about the five pillars of Islam. The daughter didn’t complete the assignments, because according to Edmisten, “she felt some of the assignments went against her beliefs as a Christian” and that her daughter’s “personal religious beliefs were violated.” Yet the assignments only asked for her to list Islam’s five pillars, which were in no way forcing her into becoming Muslim, or going against Christian beliefs. In fact, something both Christianity and Islam have in common is the message of love, peace, and forgiveness. Michelle Edmisten then continued to ask for a history textbook to be removed from her daughter’s social studies curriculum, saying that “it promotes Islamic propaganda.”  However, there is a distinction between propaganda and education. Propaganda promotes a specific bias or viewpoint. Education, on the other hand, is for the gain of knowledge. Michelle Edmisten might be worried that her daughter can be affected by this “Islamic propaganda,” which can, in turn, indoctrinate her into Islam. Edmisten is not the only one. Parents throughout the country are pulling their children out of schools because they are misinterpreting Islam being taught as methodology. This provokes the fear of their children practicing Islam. This fear is provoked by prejudice, which makes these irrationally fearful parents not want their children even learning about Islam in any context. A March 2015 Huffpost poll showed that nearly 55% of Americans viewed Muslims negatively.

However, the schools and teachers are by no means trying to indoctrinate the children into Islam. Worksheets, assignments, and textbooks about Islam are not forcing students to practice the religion, nor are they promoting it. The schools are merely educating the students about the history of humanity. The students are taught about how Islam began, what it means to the world, and its celebrations and customs. Islam began around the time of the Silk Road, and, therefore, influenced many other cultures and civilisations. This religion is also the world’s second most popular, with around 1.8 billion followers. If schools were to not teach about Islam, they would be erasing certain parts of history and humanity. “Parents are banning together to erase history and leave the next generations of children ignorant and unprepared for the real world,” stated Nakia Moore, a student from the University of Alabama. If children don’t learn about Islam, they might spend the rest of their lives believing anything about this religion, whether it’s true or not. For example, the media and Islam’s false public image might be believable to someone uneducated or ignorant about the religion. This uneducated or ignorant person might then grow to view Islam negatively, and this is how prejudice ensues. Schools are teaching students about other religions like Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Yet, some are failing to teach Islam.

Many parents don’t want their children learning about Islam because of their irrational and ignorant prejudice towards the religion. This leads to many schools pulling Islam out of their curriculum, in an effort to appeal to these parents. “There’s no indoctrination,” said Patricia Raynor, a South Carolina spokeswoman, about Islam being taught in schools. “It’s a course of study, just like an algebra class.” This is true, because learning about Islam and other religions is just as important as learning about Shakespeare or World War II. Knowing about the religions of the world is fundamental because if this knowledge is absent, it is nearly impossible to fully understand art, history, and politics. In 1963, Justice Thomas Clark from Texas wrote that “It might well be said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its advancement of civilisation.” Religion is so deeply rooted in the history of humanity, that not learning or teaching about the different types would be erasing a major part of our story as a whole. Educating children about Islam will also reduce the attacks on Muslims. The more people can learn about Islam, the more they will be able to understand Muslims and their religion, therefore diminishing fear and prejudice. The more we know about the world, the less afraid we will be of it. For example, a Pew study found that if a person was familiar with Muslims or knew one, there was a stronger likelihood that they would have a more positive attitude towards Islam, compared to someone who had never met or learned about Muslims.

It is important for children to learn about Islam because it has made such a big impact on our world throughout the centuries, influencing hundreds of cultures and civilizations. Religion has contributed to almost all aspects of human life: politics, literature, art, economics, and science. Refusing to learn about the world’s different religions would be like refusing to learn the history of humanity. In addition, the president of the United States has made Islamophobia wildly popular in the country, emphasizing that Muslims are violent and that they are terrorists. Many people support the president and believe what he says is true. This has lead to many more attacks on Muslims throughout the nation. But the main reason as to why this is happening is because there are many ignorant people in the country. Susan O’Brien, a New Jersey resident, said, “I believe that ignorance breeds fear and fear breeds hatred; the more we understand about other cultures and religions, the better we are equipped to deal with the issues we face in today’s world.” If more students are taught about Islam, they will not only be gaining crucial knowledge about humanity’s history, but they will also show more empathy towards Muslims. This will be able to greatly reduce attacks on Muslims and Islamophobia in general. The students can grow to be more open-minded, tolerant, and compassionate. A generation of smarter and kinder people can be formed, and they will not only learn to tolerate differences, but embrace them as well.

 

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