THINK LIKE A MUSLIM
By DANIEL PIPES, Ph.D.
Islam Induction in
our Public School Textbooks
|February 11, 2002 -- COULD it be that an important textbook is
proselytizing American 12-year-olds to convert to Islam? The book in
question is "Across the Centuries" (Houghton Mifflin, 2nd edition,
1999), a 558-page history that covers the millennium and a half between
the fall of Rome and the French Revolution. In the multicultural spirit,
about half of its eight sections are devoted to the West, and the other
four deal with Islam, Africa, Asian empires, and pre-Columbian America.
"Across the Centuries" is a handsome artifact, well written, packed with
original graphics, and generally achieving the publisher's goal that
"students learn best when they are fascinated by what they are
learning." At the same time, there is much in it one can argue with,
such as its idiosyncratic coverage of subjects (sub-Saharan Africa gets
four times more space than India?). But the really serious problem
concerns the covert propagation of Islam, which takes four forms: *
Apologetics: Everything Islamic is praised; every problem is swept under
the rug. Students learn about Islam's "great cultural flowering," but
nothing about the later centuries of statis and decline. They read
repeatedly about the Muslims' broadmindedness (they "were extremely
tolerant of those they conquered") but not a word about their violence
(such as the massacres carried out by Muhammad's troops against the Jews
of Banu Qurayza). * Distortion: Jihad, which means "sacred war," turns
into a struggle mainly "to do one's best to resist temptation and
overcome evil." Islam gives women "clear rights" not available in some
other societies, such as the right to an education? This ignores the
self-evident fact that Muslim women enjoy fewer rights than perhaps any
other in the world. ("Across the Centuries" implicitly acknowledges this
reality by blaming "oppressive local traditions" for their
circumstances.) * Identification as Muslims: Homework assignments
repeatedly involve mock-Muslim exercises. "Form small groups of students
to build a miniature mosque." Or: "You leave your home in Alexandria for
the pilgrimage to Mecca. . . . write a letter describing your route, the
landscapes and peoples you see as you travel and any incidents that
happen along the way. Describe what you see in Mecca." And then there is
this shocker: "Assume you are a Muslim soldier on your way to conquer
Syria in the year A.D. 635. Write three journal entries that reveal your
thoughts about Islam, fighting in battle, or life in the desert." *
Piety: The textbook endorses key articles of Islamic faith. It informs
students as a historical fact that Ramadan is holy "because in this
month Muhammad received his first message from Allah." It asserts that
"the very first word the angel Gabriel spoke to Muhammad was 'Recite.' "
It explains that Arabic lettering "was used to write down God's words as
they had been given to Muhammad." And it declares that the architecture
of a mosque in Spain allows Muslims "to feel Allah's invisible
presence." Similarly, the founder of Islam is called "the prophet
Muhammad," implying acceptance of his mission. (School textbooks
scrupulously avoid the term Jesus Christ in favor of Jesus of Nazareth.)
Learning about Islam is a wonderful thing; I personally have spent more
than thirty years studying this rich subject. But students, especially
in public schools, should approach Islam in a critical fashion -
learning the bad as well as the good, the archaic as well as the modern.
They should approach it from the outside, not as believers, precisely as
they do with every other religion. Some parents have woken up to the
textbook's problems. Jennifer Shroder of San Luis Obispo, Calif.,
publicly protested its "distinct bias toward Islam." But when she tried
to remove her son Eric from the classroom using this book, the school
refused her permission and she filed suit in protest a few weeks ago
(with help from the Pacific Justice Institute). "Across the Centuries"
involves a larger issue as well - the privileging of Islam in the United
States. Is Islam to be treated like every other religion or does it
enjoy a special status? The stakes go well beyond 7th-grade textbooks.
The next edition of "Across the Centuries" should give a hint of what's
in store. Readers may wish to send their opinions to Houghton Mifflin's
editorial director for school social studies, Abigail Jungreis (Abigail_Jungreis@hmco.com).
Daniel Pipes (www.DanielPipes.org) is director of the Philadelphia-based
Middle East Forum.
Don't miss "Corruption in our children's textbooks."