What other religious tradition gets this kind of treatment in American public schools? Discussing “accommodations that schools can make to enable Muslim students to observe the holiday?” If they were discussing ways that the schools could help their Catholic students observe Lent, do you think it would take longer than a nanosecond for them to hear from the ACLU? From the Religion News Service, with thanks to LGF:
During the next few weeks, multicultural trainer Afeefa Syeed will bring third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students from a Muslim academy in Herndon, Va., to nearby public schools to share the practices and beliefs of their holiest month, Ramadan.
Syeed and the children will present the call to prayer in Arabic, display prayer rugs and offer tastes of dates. In countless other classrooms across the country, similar efforts will be made to educate students about the time of fasting and spiritual reflection for adherents of the world’s second-largest religion.
Ramadan, which likely will begin Oct. 15, depending on the sighting of the new moon, is making more appearances in public school classrooms, thanks to a series of new teacher training initiatives, an increased fascination with Islam and the assurance that schools, if careful, can educate impressionable children about religion without crossing a constitutional line.
The Council on Islamic Education, a nonprofit organization based in California, plans to release an updated version of its booklet “Muslim Holidays,” which was first published in 1997, for the more than 4,000 teachers nationwide who have used it.
The booklet, which contains lesson plan ideas and historical and cultural background on Ramadan and other Muslim holidays, also outlines the various state regulations governing instruction about religion in public schools and discusses accommodations that schools can make to enable Muslim students to observe the holiday.
Muslim educators note tremendous progress in education about Ramadan and Islam in general in public schools, particularly since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 “” perpetrated by extremist Muslims “” brought Islam into the national spotlight.
Another reason for this success, some say, is an increased general awareness in public education circles of what is constitutionally appropriate to teach about religion.
In 1995, President Clinton released “Religious Expression in Public Schools: A Statement of Principles,” guidelines on promoting the free exercise of religion in schools without endorsing a particular faith. The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va., subsequently launched a series of training initiatives to remind public school officials nationwide of the regulations concerning religion in schools.
Unlike the political situation, which has become divisive in some ways, “the educational arena came out unscathed” by increased attention on Islam since Sept. 11, said Shabbir Mansuri, founding director of the Council on Islamic Education.
Whereas Ramadan used to garner only cursory attention from public school teachers, Muslim education consultants say, interest in deeper understanding of the holiday has spiked.
“They want to know accurate information,” said Sharifa Alkhateeb, president of the Washington-based Muslim Education Council.
For teachers and administrators, as well as fellow students, explaining Ramadan helps the school accommodate the religious requirements of the holiday.
For example, at puberty, children begin to participate in the daily fast, which lasts from sunrise to sundown each day of the month. Many schools arrange for Muslim students to sit in the library during lunchtime so that they are not surrounded by food as they fast.
Educators cite Ramadan as a good opportunity to teach students about Islam and its practice. But teaching Ramadan in public schools has not been without controversy. Last year a federal judge said that the Byron Union School District in California could continue a three-week curriculum that emphasized role-playing exercises requiring, among other things, seventh-grade students to recite Muslim prayers.
Despite the ruling in the district’s favor, the school suspended the program because of the outcry the lawsuit spawned.
Crucial to avoiding these kinds of problems, say educators, is understanding the difference between “teaching” and “teaching about” religion.
Role-playing exercises that require students to recite sacred words or imitate Muslim prayer practices simply are not appropriate.
That’s for sure. I was an expert witness in the Byron case, and it seemed to me to be fairly clear there that the line was crossed, particularly in the workbook that was used, which asked students true/false questions that required them to affirm tenets of the Islamic faith as objective fact. But from the looks of the judge’s ruling in that case and this present story, even though that program was suspended, evidently it was just the beginning.