A group of high school textbooks in Florida are at the center of a debate on Islam. According to Patriots United and Citizens for National Security, the various textbooks depict Islam in a positive light while portraying Christianity and Judaism negatively. Patriots United formed a local “textbook action team” to challenge the fact that these books are being taught and “students are being taught false information.” Florida is not the first state to have its textbooks challenged. A similar campaign was carried out in Texas in September 2010.
In the case of Florida and Texas, the group highlighted various sections in the textbooks as examples of their claims and sent them to educators demanding that students be provided with a handout with all the “inaccurate excerpts.” Here are a few examples:
- “In the early A.D. 600s, Islam began winning converts outside of its native Arabia. By 711 Islam, whose followers are called Muslims, had spread all the way across northern Africa to the Atlantic Ocean. Through both armed conquest and the sense of religious solidarity that Islam promoted, this new creed won wide acceptance.” (The American Vision, Page 27)
- “Islam encourages people to live a life of tolerance and peace.”(World Cultures and Geography, Page 474)
- “Many important ideas taught in Europe in the Middle Ages came from scholars who followed a religion called Islam. Islam started in the Middle East and spread to parts of Europe, including Spain. People in the Islamic world had been exploring scientific ideas. Students in European universities began to study those ideas, too. They learned new things about medicine and the stars.” (Social Studies: Communities, Long Ago and Today, Page 388-389)
According to the group, the first quote implies that there were no other faiths before Islam. Patriots United claims the second quote is false because “There is a massive amount of historical and contemporary evidence that proves otherwise.” Finally, the response to the third quote is that it portrays Islam positively and Christianity negatively.
My concern with these claims is that none of the examples cited above are actually biased towards Islam.
In regards to the first quote, I do not see what is particularly biased about describing the spread of Islam that way. Perhaps the group would not have a problem if stereotypical language of Islam being spread by the sword was used. Moreover, saying that Islam spread in the region does not imply that other religions did not exist.
The second quote about Islam preaching tolerance and peace is fair. There are followers in every religious tradition who deviate from the message of the faith and use violence–Muslims are not the only ones.
As far as the third quote is concerned, the contributions of scholars under the Islamic empire to scientific and philosophical advancements are often overlooked and so including it in fact is the more responsible approach to that history.
Finally, it is important to keep in mind that negative images of Islam are prevalent in American mainstream culture. Thus, the claim that these textbooks indoctrinate students and that they will not learn the “ugly facts about Islam” is simply not true. All these textbooks do is provide more balanced information about Islam than perhaps this group would like to see. Teaching Islam the same way as Christianity, Judaism, or any other faith is the right thing to do. There is enough Islamophobia out there.
How was Islam taught in your high school? Do you think the textbooks are biased towards Islam? How do you think Islam should be taught in American schools? Do you think groups like Patriots United further Islamophobia? Please share your thoughts below.