Written by Malcolm A. Kline, AIM.org
Under some pressure from parents, California's Education Department is reviewing its guidelines for teaching Islamic Studies to seventh-graders in its public schools. We wrote about this trend six years ago when we discovered that, though the California standards require the study of all religions, Islam is examined disproportionately.
Moreover, the more extreme elements of the more radically Islamic societies, though they represent a minority of a religion whose adherents are overwhelmingly peaceful, are ignored, no matter how visible their acts are. The latest attempt to revamp the California rules adds a new wrinkle to this approach
In an earlier academic research article, Malcolm A. Kline, wrote for Accuracy In Academia:
College Prep: Islamic Studies, California style
What do you do when your seventh grader tells you that he has to dress up like a Bedouin nomad to get an A in his Islamic Studies class? If you are Alicia Rodriguez, you just say no.
"From the beginning, you and your classmates will become Muslims," the simulation directions that went with the course promised. "During your journey, you will travel in caravans, enact generosity and hospitality, engage in trade, dress up as a desert nomad or Bedouin, eat authentic food from the Islamic world, build Islamic structures, produce poetry, create works of art, and race to be the first caravan to reach Makkah."
Actually, this is virtually the only course required in the California public school system that uses the name of God with any degree of reverence. At the same time, it is about the only religion that the California Department of Education requires for study in public schools.
"Dressing as a Muslim and trying to be involved will increase your learning and enjoyment," Sergio's Islamic Studies curriculum read. "Finally, trying your best in all tasks will guarantee you an excellent grade and a more enjoyable time."
Rodriguez, Sergio's mother, asked school administrators whether any of the Judeo Christian faiths, including her own, were offered for study. Her questions left administrators tongue-tied. Other religions were not offered for study, at least in that local school.
Rodriguez, a devout Catholic in the San Francisco bay area, found the syllabus troubling and the accompanying recital of Muslim accomplishments bizarre. While the course discusses the charity, piety, modesty and industry that many Americans have encountered in Muslims, the syllabus goes way over the top in describing the culture that grew out of societies that claim the religion.
"It was they who introduced rhythmic music, rhyming poetry, different courses at meals, and table manners," the Islam history read." [ed. This is, of course, misleading and incomplete (at best) and out right lies (at worst). Each of these "claims" to have "originated" these aspects of civilization is simply not so. These contributions to civilization were actually to be found in more advanced societies than Islam. Cultures/civilizations which, more often than not, were simply taken up, assimilated by Islam after they invaded or conquered the original country. Often however, these more civilized elements of the conquered society would be eliminated as being incompatible with Islam. Many of the Islamic sects today, for example, outlaw music of any sort, imposing severe beatings or the death penalty for being caught performing music.
"Table manners" were hardly "introduced" by a nomadic peoples who rarely even ate "at table" but were most often sitting on the ground, rugs or under makeshift tents. The Jews and Egyptians were more likely to have had "table manners" than Islam, as both those civilizations were in existence for several hundreds of years before Mohammed was even a twinkle in his mother's owner's eye.
To pass this sort of drivel off as "academic study" of Islam is laughable, and reminescent of the old Star Trek TV series where Ensign Checkov always claimed every discovery "originated in Russia". . .]
After Ms. Rodriguez met with the principal, she sat down with Sergio to discuss the class. Shortly thereafter, in that same class, the teacher asked the students to volunteer information on what they knew about Islam.
Sergio raised his hand and ticked off what some might regard as negative aspects associated with some Muslim countries, such as the circumcision of women. The teacher told Sergio to bring in information on those issues the next day so that they could read it in class.
The teacher took Sergio's material and read to his seventh grade class the gory details of the aforementioned operation. At the close of the reading, the teacher told the class, "Now, remember, this only happens in some Muslim countries." Ms. Rodriguez was appalled. "That it happens anywhere is shocking," she said.
Wendy Kelly, the vice-principal of Northstar, chose the curriculum, designed by Interaction Publishers of Lakeside, CA. When asked why the curricula contained no mention of the slavery that continues in Muslim countries such as Sudan to this day, Ms. Kelly replied, "Unfortunately, the state tells us what to teach."
An accomplished social studies teacher, Kelly chose the curriculum to comply with a state requirement that middle schools teach Islamic Studies to seventh graders. The standards, developed by the California Department of Education, expect 7th grade students to "analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the civilizations of Islam in the Middle Ages."
To comply with these regulations, the State of California expects seventh graders to "discuss the expansion of Muslim rule through military conquests and treaties, emphasizing the cultural blending within Muslim civilization and the spread and acceptance of Islam and the Arabic language." The state regulations do not acknowledge that this blending could result from enslavement.
That same set of standards require California students to "study the early strengths and lasting contributions of Rome and its ultimate internal weaknesses."
The specific Roman weaknesses the CA Department of Education lists for examination include the rise of autonomous military powers within the empire, undermining of citizenship by the growth of corruption and slavery, lack of education and distribution of news." The Islamic Studies criteria contain no mention of slavery.
Another example, the treatment of Shari'ah law in the framework for Islamic studies developed by the California Department of Education is, to say the least, problematic. "Students learn how the Qur'an and the Sunnah served as foundations for the Shari'ah, the religious laws governing moral social, and economic life," the suggested framework reads. "Islamic law, for example, rejected the older Arabian view of women as 'family property,' declaring that women and men are entitled to respect and moral self-governance."
"At the same time, students investigate the role of women in Islamic civilizations." One page later we get, "Muslim merchants came to operate from China to the Mediterranean, their trade facilitated by shared acceptance of Shari'ah law."
Yet all the available evidence indicates that Shari'ah law is hardly benign even in its present incarnation. "Major principles of shariah are a ban on interest, a ban on contractual uncertainty, adherence to risk-sharing and profitsharing, promotion of ethical investments that enhance society, and asset-backing," Shayerah Ilias reports in a February 9, 2009 report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). "The international market for Islamic finance has grown between 10% to 15% annually in recent years."
"Islamic finance historically has been concentrated in Persian Gulf and Southeast Asian countries, but has expanded globally to both Muslim and non-Muslim countries."
Ilias is an analyst in international trade and finance at the CRS. As its name suggests, the CRS is a research arm of the U. S. Congress.
"There is a small but growing market for Islamic finance in the United States," Ilias writes. "Through international and domestic regulatory bodies, there has been effort to standardize regulations in Islamic finance across different countries and financial institutions, although challenges remain."
"Critics of Islamic finance express concerns about possible ties between Islamic finance and political agendas or terrorist financing and the use of Islamic finance to circumvent U.S. economic sanctions."
Analysts at Shariah Finance Watch (SFW) , who track the application of the law in the world today, do not take quite so sanguine a view of it. A project of the Center for Security Policy, SFW examines how this body of law works in and out of the Middle East.
"Understanding Shariah law is integral to understanding the dangers of Shariah-compliant finance," the SFW website argues. "Shariah law is Islamic law dating back to the 7th century and is today the law of the land in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan and the law under which the Taliban operates."
"Shariah law authorities, some of whom are now being paid handsomely by Barclays, Dow Jones, Standard & Poors, HSBC, Citibank, Merrill Lynch, Deutschebank, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, UBS, Credit Suisse and others have the power to dictate Shariah compliance as deemed by 'scholarly consensus' on matters of finance, family, penal law, apostasy, and war."
"Shariah law, or Islamic law, officially went into effect in a region in Pakistan this week and will likely result in 'egregious' human rights violations," the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reported on April 16, 2009. The USCIRF went on to note that "Under Taliban-enforced shariah law in North West Frontier Province's (NWFP) Swat Valley, human rights and religious freedom - especially for women and members of religious minorities - are expected to suffer severely."
"The violent, Taliban-associated extremists based in NWFP's Swat Valley consistently demonstrate their disregard for fundamental human rights, and use public beheadings and beatings as a means of enforcing their control," Felice D. Gaer, USCIRF chair stated. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was created by an act of Congress and gives "independent policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and the Congress."
Those who have lived under Shariah offer even harsher assessments. "Sharia[h] laws are being used by terrorists to violate divine human rights," Shaukat Malik, a Muslim-American Certified Public Accountant, wrote on The Baltimore Sun web log.
"Sharia[h] is used to scare the average citizen into submission," he wrote. "This is done through publicly staged floggings, stoning and executions of men and women for committing adultery or other sexual acts."
The California Department of Education is taking testimony today and tomorrow on its course revisions but if you would like to let them know how you feel about it, you can do so in the 60-day comment period that begins this weekend:
California Department of Education
Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resources Division
1430 N Street
Room 3207 Sacramento, CA 95814
916-319-0881 or 319-0454