The burgeoning Muslim school movement in the U.S. is facing new challenges about its teachings and curriculum, especially concerning negative portrayals of America and non-Muslims, since Sept. 11, reports the Washington Post (Feb. 25).
The growth of the Muslim population in the U.S. has generated a mushrooming of Islamic day schools, numbering anywhere from 200 to 600 institutions, with at least 30,000 students. Reporters Valerie Strauss and Emily Wax write that the Sept. 11 “attacks could serve as the catalyst in determining whether these schools and their students focus on the culture and politics of faraway Muslim lands or find within the Islamic tradition those ideas consistent with U.S. democracy and religious liberty.”
To this end, some Muslim educators are writing new curricula that incorporate tenets of Islam with a “broad minded worldview.” Textbooks from overseas that are often marked by their anti-American rhetoric are being replaced or re-edited. One school photocopies the pages needed for teaching while deleting those attacking Jews and Christians. The reporters note that these attitudes are also present among many teachers and administrators. On maps displayed in classes, Israel may be missing or crossed out, or teachers — many of whom are low-paid — will slip militant or anti-American comments into their lessons.
Another concern is that some schools are funded by overseas groups, such as the Saudi government, that stipulate a militant Islamic curriculum. Outside agencies, such as regional association of schools of colleges, have not confronted Islamic schools on such issues, which is why the growth of Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) in these schools may be significant.
A second article in the Post notes that Muslim schools have traditionally had little or no parental involvement. These new PTAs at Muslim schools are likely to be change agents, representing the diverse range of nationalities (African-American, Middle Eastern and Asian) and Islamic perspectives of their students. The increasing parental voice in these schools often stresses traditional values (the main reason many parents choose these schools) while taking a more global approach taking the best from American and their own cultures.