They are Just Seventh-Graders, Mr. Pipes

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Following article is in response to the article “Think like a Muslim” by Daniel Pipes, (New York Post, 02/11/2002).

I don’t understand how a textbook could convince young 12-year-olds to convert to Islam. First of all, converting to another faith, whatever it may be, seldom crosses the minds of innocent middle-schoolers. They don’t learn about Islam in order to forget about their beliefs, and seek refuge in a religion that they just spent two weeks on. They are just in seventh grade. To them, it’s just like covering any other religion or culture.

Here in the United States, the majority of the teachers aren’t even Muslim. They have no reason to endorse conversion, or even be biased for that matter. Their purpose, with the help of “Across the Centuries”, the textbook, is to give a background of basic beliefs, customs, and traditions. All it does is bring understanding of the whole spectrum of people in the United States.

I myself could protest that I was being brainwashed when my class was tested on the life of Jesus and his teachings, or when we had to make a poster with the Star of David, a yarmulke, and a menorah. As a reasonable person, who found this as an opportunity to learn more about the other monotheistic religions, I had no reason to complain. So, why is learning about Islam any different?

The textbook’s motive is in no way intended to attack a certain belief system. Its job is solely explain history, not to portray every horrendous occurrence, or anathema. Seventh graders are too young and credulous to be traumatized by one-sided text. Because of all this, certain things must be left out. In a February 12 press release Houghton Mifflin, the publishing company of “Across the Centuries” clearly stated, “Houghton Mifflin has always taken a neutral, fact-based approach to writing all of its educational publications, striving for a fair account of history.”

There is absolutely no point whatsoever in writing about Islam being all about terrorism. Those 12-year-olds already get that idea everyday when they turn on the television. It’s a given that unfortunately, many of the faces of terrorists we see on the front page of the newspaper or on CNN just happen to be of Muslims. Students need to be able to see beyond the obvious. They need to see the side of Islam that the media doesn’t always show. If I were still a seventh grader, I would rather learn about how a Muslim invented the concept of zero, the geometric designs in Islamic calligraphy, Moors, or the Ottoman Empire than worldwide terrorist networks and the oppression of women.

It also must be noted that learning in-depth about jihad and other issues such as women’s rights is something done at the high school level. It wasn’t until this year (even before 9/11), in eleventh grade, that we touched upon issues concerning Muslims. Seventh grade students do not need to be confused with the two definitions of an often-misused term such as jihad. My seventh grade teacher put it in the simplest paradigm. She wrote the word holy war on the blackboard and crossed it out. That’s all that needs be said and done. If they want to know more about the misuse of jihad, then that is something they can study on their own. It doesn’t have to be an in-depth analysis that they won’t even be able to comprehend.

Also, I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with being assigned to construct a miniature mosque. If we had to make miniature missions, and take a field trip to a mission in fourth grade, then there is no harm in having to make a structure that has a minaret instead of a giant cross on it. Students need to know that churches and synagogues aren’t the only places of worship.

There is no reason for “Across the Centuries” to change its text. Doing so will jeopardize the future of young seventh graders who wouldn’t know any better than to think that the existence of Muslims destroys their world.

Sana Saeed, 17, has written for The Pakistan Link and her school newspaper The Corydon at Millikan High School in Long Beach, California. She has interned at The Signal, a weekly local newspaper, is a member of Youth Leadership Long Beach, and volunteers as a Sunday School teacher at the Islamic Society of Orange County in Garden Grove, California.

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