For nearly a year some Tennessee parents have been up arms about the teaching of Islam to seventh graders in their public schools. They are disturbed that more attention has been given to “studying” Islam than to Christianity or Judaism. And they especially were upset that the students were asked to recite and write out the Shehada, in a unit on the Five Pillars of Islam: “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.” Some called it “indoctrination.” And the Tennessee State Board of Education, in response, has decided to omit the section “Islamic World, 400 AD/CE-1500s” from the seventh-grade social studies curriculum. Instead, the schools will, in a “streamlined” form, still teach 7th graders about Islam, but now in a history section titled “Southwest Asia and North Africa: 400-1500s,” and omitting subjects previously taught, such as “the origins of Islam” and “the life of its founder Muhammad.”
It is easy to imagine how this played out in the mainstream press. Tennessee, the buckle on the Bible Belt, where less than a century ago a certain Mr. Scopes was put on trial for teaching evolution, is at it again. A bunch of narrow-minded parents in Maury County, rubes right out of central casting, pitchforks at the ready, have managed to show just what prejudice and Islamophobia can do, and have forced an end to seventh-graders in Tennessee from learning all about the “religion of 1.6 [sic] billion people.” One of the photographs accompanying an article about the parents’ protest shows the hand of a student pointing to a page in an open Qur’an; the caption underneath reads “Parents fear their kids will know too much about this book.”
But was this really a victory for the Know-Nothings, the haters of diversity, the right-wing Christian fundamentalists who don’t want their children to learn anything about the faith of more than a billion people? Or did those parents have a point? And if they had a point, might there be another way of making it?
The teaching of Islam, if done rightly, would not eliminate but, rather, reinforce, any sensible Infidel’s deep doubts about the “religion of peace.” What the students were taught was comically superficial, but they no doubt came away thinking that they had learned something about Islam, and discovered there was nothing to worry about. After all, these are 7th graders.
They learned that Muslims are monotheists, just like Christians and Jews. A comforting thought. But they did not learn that Muslims are taught to regard those fellow monotheists as the “vilest of creatures,”and Muslims as the “best of peoples.” They did not learn that Islam divides the world uncompromisingly between Muslims and non-Muslims, and that a permanent state of war exists between them, and will continue to exist, until Islam everywhere dominates, and Muslims rule, everywhere. They learned that, as one of the fill-in-the-blank questions given to them asked, “the Muslim word for God is Allah.” But they did not learn that the Muslim God is different in almost every respect from the Christian one. They did not learn that the expression “Allahu akbar” does not mean that “God is great,” but that “Our Muslim God is greater than yours,” and that it is a war-cry.
They did learn to write down the Five Pillars of Islam: Shehada, Salat, Zakat, Sawm, Hajj, but what did they find out about what those words mean?
They not only wrote out but recited the Shehada, the declaration of the Oneness of God: “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” They learned that the Shehada is what non-Muslims recite in order to become Muslims, to join the faith, the community, the umma of Islam. But they were not told that once you become a Muslim, you can’t get out, that the punishment in Islam for apostasy is death. So these American kids recite and write out the Shehada in class, you can imagine with what naïve solemnity (or on the playground, as they talk about it later, hilarity), and begin to think that “Wow, I could be a Muslim now if I wanted” or at home, reciting it to annoy their parents, “See Ma, I said it and nothing happened. I didn’t turn into a terrorist, I didn’t start throwing bombs. Chillax.” The parents are annoyed, of course, but do not think to ask their children if they realize why anyone can become a Muslim merely by reciting the Shehada, when to become a Christian or a Jew requires extensive study. The reason, they could tell their children if they knew it themselves, is that Muslims want to make it easy for non-Muslims to convert, for these converts are seen not so much as individuals learning about, and wrestling with, theological matters of moment, but regarded more like recruits to an army – just recite here — the Army of Islam.
When the students were taught about the Second Pillar of Islam, Salat, they learned that it is the ritual prayer said five times a day by all Muslims. They may have been impressed with how devoted Muslims must be. But they did not learn the contents of those prayers. How many Americans know that every Muslim, in saying his daily prayers, is denouncing the Kuffar – Christians and Jews — seventeen times a day? Do you think the teachers in Tennessee knew this? Do you think, if they learned it, they would dare to mention it to their classes? Wouldn’t that get them in trouble with a cheerfully denying local member of CAIR (“who told you this nonsense”?), or with some self-righteous journalist who insists that this cannot possibly be true, it’s one more Islamophobic canard? Of course it would.
Of what conceivable value is memorizing the word “Salat” and learning “Muslims pray five times a day” unless students find out what those prayers contain, and especially what they say about Infidels? As with the Shehada, something very important has been left out.
Robert Spencer explains what is in the five canonical prayers:
In the course of praying the requisite five prayers a day, an observant Muslim will recite the Fatihah, the first surah of the Qur’an and the most common prayer in Islam, seventeen times. The final two verses of the Fatihah ask Allah: “Show us the straight path, the path of those whom Thou hast favoured; not the (path) of those who earn Thine anger nor of those who go astray.” The traditional Islamic understanding of this is that the “straight path” is Islam — cf. Islamic apologist John Esposito’s book Islam: The Straight Path. The path of those who have earned Allah’s anger are the Jews, and those who have gone astray are the Christians.
This is not my interpretation; it comes from the classic Islamic commentaries on the Qur’an. The renowned Qur’anic commentator Ibn Kathir explains that “the two paths He described here are both misguided,” and that those “two paths are the paths of the Christians and Jews, a fact that the believer should beware of so that he avoids them. The path of the believers is knowledge of the truth and abiding by it. In comparison, the Jews abandoned practicing the religion, while the Christians lost the true knowledge. This is why ‘anger’ descended upon the Jews, while being described as ‘led astray’ is more appropriate of the Christians.”
Students learn that Zakat is the charitable giving required of Muslims. Admirable, they think, good for Muslims. But what is not said is that in the giving of Zakat, the recipients of that charity are only other Muslims. It would make no sense for Muslims to support those who have not accepted Islam. As Quran 8:55 puts it: “Surely the vilest of animals in Allah’s sight are those who disbelieve” And the Quran (28:86) adds: “Never be a helper to the unbelievers.” The Quran (48:29) also says: “Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. And those with him are hard (ruthless) against the disbelievers and merciful among themselves.”
How many of those students in Tennessee do you think were told that “Zakat” can only go to fellow Muslims? Or, even more unlikely, how many might have had that practice explained to them by reference to 8:55 and 28:86 and 48:29? Why none, of course. The students will learn, and their teachers too may well think, that Muslims are unusually generous because one of Islam’s Pillars is this required giving of alms. But the alms are only intended to support and promote Muslims, not to help humanity.
The last two pillars – Sawn and Hajj — are in themselves inoffensive. But piquant details connected to their observance could have been added.
Sawm is the dawn-to-dusk fasting, during the month of Ramadan. Some liken it to Lent, though it requires refraining, during the day, from food altogether, and not, as for Christians at Lent, giving up this or that pleasurable practice (e.g., drinking wine, smoking, eating a particular food). Do you think the students knew that Ramadan is associated with an upsurge in violence by Muslims? Or learned that Muslims have been known to attack, and even kill, Infidels for eating during Ramadan?
Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam. Muslims are required to make, at least once in their lives, the pilgrimage to Mecca, to circumambulate the Ka’aba seven times widdershins, and perform certain other rituals, such as the flinging of pebbles at the Devil, represented by three pillars in Mina. Muslims of every race and sect, make the hajj. But beneath the outward display of unity, sectarian strife continues, even in regard to the hajj. The Iranian government, for example, this year did not permit its own citizens to make the hajj, as a way of expressing displeasure with the Saudis. And the Saudis have always forbidden Ahmadis, whom they regard as not real Muslims, from making the hajj. Was any of this mentioned?
The objection to the teaching about Islam should not have been that students learn too much about Islam, but that they learn too little. The recital of the Shehada, as we noted above, is a quick and easy way to swell Muslim ranks. But having these American students recite the Shehada, and merely pretend to “be Muslims,” is not without consequences. They may have imprinted on their young brains an impression of a harmless Islam that later will be hard to dislodge. Some people think, for example, that Obama’s memories of being a child in Indonesia, where he was taken with the muezzin’s call to prayer (“the call to prayer is “one of the prettiest sounds on Earth at sunset”) may partly explain his consistently sympathetic – and wildly inaccurate – descriptions of Islam.
But what else has been left out? Why, in what is effectively an “Introduction to Islam” unit, was the duty of Jihad apparently not mentioned? Shouldn’t Islam be described properly as a “fighting faith”? How did Islam spread, so rapidly, across North Africa, and through the Middle East? What happened to the many non-Muslim peoples subjugated by conquering Muslims? And if Jihad was mentioned after all, was the word glossed as “an internal struggle to be a better Muslim” or as what it is, a real war for territory, to enlarge Dar al-Islam, and to subdue the Infidel? Of course not.
We are told that the “life of Muhammad” was taught to students in Tennessee. But what about his life was taught? That he raided camel caravans, and received messages from Allah through the angel Gabriel? Do you think the students were also told that he took part in dozens of military campaigns? That he observed with pleasure the decapitation of several hundred bound prisoners? That he led a raid, for women and loot, on the inoffensive Jewish farmers of the Khaybar Oasis? That he consummated his marriage to little Aisha when she was nine years old? That he was delighted when his followers killed Asma bint Marwan and Abu ‘Afak for mocking him? That – despite or because of this record — Muhammad is considered the Model of Conduct (“uswa hasana”) and Perfect Man (“al-insan al-kamil”) for all Muslims, and for all time? Parents should demand not that the life of Muhammad be omitted from the curriculum, but that it be taught in greater detail.
If you are not Muslim, what would you most want to know about Islam? Surely you would want to find out what is said about non-Muslims in the Qur’an and Hadith. Students should not be shielded from the many passages in the Qur’an that denounce the Unbelievers; they have a right to know, and teachers a duty to teach, this aspect of Islam, rather than have it remain unremarked, or deliberately hidden. It is not too late for the parents to draw up their own syllabus, one that they should make public, in order to force discussion of all of these unpleasant but indispensable matters. Instead of allowing themselves to be caricatured as the “parents who fear their kids will know too much about this book”— the Qur’an — the parents in Tennessee might consider demanding a fuller study of Islam in the schools, “because we want our children to be able to answer such questions as these”: Why is it so easy to convert to Islam by reciting the Shehada? And why is it so hard – and so dangerous — to leave Islam? Why is Zakat limited only to other Muslims? Why, in the five required daily prayers, is an imprecation against Jews and Christians repeated seventeen times? Why does Islam still permit slavery? Who are the “vilest of creatures”? Who are the “best of peoples”? Who was Aisha? Who was Asma bint Marwan? What is “Jihad”? What is a “dhimmi”? What is “jizyah”?
That’s a start.
What can CAIR and its willing collaborators respond?