Textbooks Biased towards Islam?

Campaign in Texas

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.

5 thoughts on “Textbooks Biased towards Islam?

  1. This is nothing compared to how muslims treat non-muslims in islamic countries. Non-muslims are of such high regards in muslim countries that most live in special enclaves, protected and given so much help that most don’t want to leave. Most who leave and complain are impostors. Their temples and churches are almost always protected with such care that they are usually broken apart with explosives. To allow for rebuilding, naturally. In Pakistan, for examples, ancient temples were reused as toilets and urinals, which is part of the benevolent islamic practice of conservation of resources. So much so, in some islamic countries, the non-muslims don’t even have the need to build their houses of worship! How truly wonderful islam is!

    I truly don’t understand why the US is doing this. We must fight this stifling oppression!

  2. MoLawn: There is a distinction between ideas and human action that you’re not taking into account. The ideas that Islam reintroduced are not synonymous to how self-identified Muslims act. It is, indeed, a grave misfortune when anyone is treated unjustly or with intolerance.

  3. MoLawn: I empathize with your situation in Malaysia. It is really challenging and disturbing when any religion is imposed in any aspect of society — the key word here being “imposed”. I’m sorry you’re having this experience. I have friends in other nations who cannot stand the sight of religious figures speaking about Islam nor politicians who use it as a tool to communicate with constituents. They, too, have plenty of websites that are banned by the government and also face daily struggles. What I am trying to communicate, though, is that there is a difference between the messages offered by religions and the people who practice them. Humans are usually flawed by default. One key message of Islam is that “There is no compulsion in religion.” Anyone who defaced those Bibles didn’t understand an elementary concept that this specific religion has to offer. And if someone is treating you badly, why stoop to their level?