LECTURES ABOUT WHAT Buddhists believe and how their faith spread to China, Burma, and beyond whizzed past my unlistening ears. A bad student, I dozed through discussions about what Martin Luther nailed to the door of All Saints’ Church and why he had a beef with the Catholic Church. My thirst for learning (and love of religious freedom) finally perked up during lessons about Nazi Germany and what it was that they never learned about the Jewish faith and people.
But there was never a whisper about Islam. No discussion of the Ottoman Empire, or the Golden Age of Islamic learning and discovery, not a Muhammad in sight.
That was high school back in the 90s. Back in those days chapters about Islam, the Muslims, and Islamic civilizations were put on the chopping block in world history.
In recent years since the tragedy of 9/11 and the scourge of ISIS, Islam and the Muslims are increasingly coming under the microscope in world news and politics. No longer can we, as a society, brush off chapters on such an apropos subject. And so, Islamic Civilization has started to make an appearance in school curriculum.
But some parents are enraged about this religion being a part of their children’s history text. Fueled by myth, fear, and anger, parents across the country are saying no to Islamic knowledge for their children. One example is that of a Florida mother who has vowed to stop her children from learning history if that history has anything to do with Muslims. (Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Znvj4piw_M )
This Florida mom, Christian Normandin, is like a growing number of parents. She is mad. And just a few seconds into her video about the “evils” of teaching students about Islam, you can understand why. It’s because she has been served a heaping helping of misinformation about Islam which understandably breeds fear.
It becomes clear a few minutes into the young mother’s video that she has fallen prey to media sensationalism and fear mongering. She cannot put her finger on anything in specific that she knows about Islam, but cites what she has heard, alluding to media reports of Muslim extremists’ misdeeds.
What she and most non-Muslims don’t realize is that Prophet Muhammad taught his followers to avoid extremism. The Prophet ﷺ said:
Religion is very easy and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists … (Bukhâri)
But unfortunately she, like many Americans and Westerners at large, fails to realize that the misdeeds of a few do not define the many.
Normandin gets so much wrong about Islam it is heart breaking. You almost want to jump into the video to hug her, make her a nice cup of coffee, and sit down and explain it all to her.
In her 15 minute video, this concerned parent holds up what she sees as the offending historical textbook that her son must learn from, and she misreads most of it. The most appalling reading comprehension misstep is that she confuses pre-Islamic burial of daughters and ill-treatment of women with Islam.
As Allah says in the Quran:
And when the girl [who was] buried alive is asked for what sin she was killed. [Sûrat Al-Takwîr, 81:8-9]
And the Prophet ﷺ said:
Whoever has three daughters or three sisters, or two daughters or two sisters, and he keeps good company with them and fears Allah regarding them, then Paradise is for him. (Tirmidhi)
The textbook is conveying that these pre-Islamic practices of female infanticide and bad treatment of women are grave sins in Islam. But it is almost as if the misconceptions she holds to be true are obscuring the vision of an otherwise competent individual.
Normandin even goes as far as to fear Arabic numerals. Pointing to a page that shows how the Arabic numerals are written, she says, “It even has the origin of ‘Ay-rabic’ numerals. […] And it shows you actually how to write ’em.” Arabic numerals are in fact our numerical system here in the U. S. of A. But it is truly sad that she fears her son learning numbers simply because they were developed through the Islamic Empire.
She continues her outrage because it seems that the textbook is not teaching some other history of Islam that she knows to be “more true.” But she can’t seem to bring any evidence to bear in her video. She says, “They don’t talk about the negative sides of, you know, Islam or Muslim.” Perhaps she is referring to what she has heard about the misdeeds of Muslims, an entirely different thing than what Islam is or what Islamic History is.
She is not alone in her protest, ignorance, and fear. The issue is an emotional one and growing in popularity. I get it. Parents are trying to protect their children from what they perceive as dangerous. But the irony is that maybe if this subject matter had been covered when these parents were in school, they wouldn’t be so scared of it being taught to their children.
What’s more is that these parents don’t seem to grasp the not so subtle distinction between teaching what other people believe and forcing religious indoctrination. We all learned about Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and so on in world history class. It is just the way the world works. Religion is a powerful force and moves people to do, and build, and fight and, well … make history. Islam and the Muslims have played a huge part in world history.
Teaching children about world religions in world history class is just a necessity. Imagine trying to teach a class about the Reformation and leaving out Henry VIII challenging papal authority and the Catholic Church. It would be eerily like 1984.
But we never hear one parent being outraged about how their Catholic children are learning about The Church of England. And why not? Well, there are two reasons. Firstly, because Islam is the new boogeyman, and fear of it is being fueled by the extremists, the Islamophobes, and the media’s soap opera-esque love affair with them both. And secondly, because learning about people, their beliefs, and the historical events that took place around them is not indoctrination. Parents understand this when it comes to any other faith but Islam.
To use a high school writing tool, the Merriam-Webster dictionary, we find that “to indoctrinate” is defined as “to teach (someone) to fully accept the ideas, opinions, and beliefs of a particular group and to not consider other ideas, opinions, and beliefs.”
Indoctrination is not what is happening in these public schools. Teachers are not teaching students to believe in Islam nor are they teaching them to follow the Prophet Muhammad. They are just teaching historical fact.
Indoctrination is not even a part of the Islamic approach of inviting people to understand the teachings of Islam. Allah says in the Quran:
But if they turn away, your duty is only to preach the clear Message. [Sûrat Al-Naḥl, 16:82]
More than learning how history works and the difference between learning something and being indoctrinated, these non-Muslims parents need to understand that learning about Islamic history, peoples, and practices will help the next generation of world leaders move toward a more peaceful world. The reality is that children will need an understanding of all peoples, cultures, and religions if they hope to successfully navigate the business world. The truth is that learning about other peoples and systems of belief teaches much needed open mindedness in this diverse world.
But non-Muslim parents aren’t the only ones who need to do a little growing. Muslims have a responsibility here as well. The media has shown these non-Muslim parents enough of the un-Islamic practices done by extremists to drive them to this point.
We have a duty to these parents, to their children, to reach out and show them that the majority of Muslims aren’t monsters, extremists, or even their enemy, and that Islam is not evil. Allah tells us in the Quran:
And speak to people good [words]. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:83]
We owe it to our fellow countrymen and women, to our fellow human beings, to show them what Islam is through good manners and kindness. It’s well past time to reach out and clear the air.