World History Text Mentions Islam—Florida’s Christian Right Freaks Out

So, I see the headline, “Brevard School Board wants 10-member panel to compile textbook supplement,” and as I read just a little further, I believe I smell a religious rat. I want to be objective going in, but the accusation (including the level of response) that Prentice Hall would be selling a textbook with “pro-Islamic bias,” makes me suspect. It isn’t as though they hire Imam’s as their history subject matter experts (SME) or authors. Their authors and SMEs (usually pronounced “smeez”) are qualified, educated, reputable, and generally experienced suppliers of educational content in their areas of expertise. So, I was very interested in what sort of “pro-Muslim bias” they were being accused of selling.

Of course, the entire time, I’m thinking of the Texas School Board’s push for Christian bias, and how they might react to anything about Islam in a history text that isn’t entirely negative. I read further, trying to keep an open mind, but just waiting to hear these “concerns” (which spurred a review panel, a need to produce supplementary material, and legislator complaints) in more detail—because part of me just already knows this has “Christian Right having a tantrum over something idiotic” slathered all over it. And finally, here it is. Here is more detail about one of their “big concerns”:

“One of the big concerns that we’ve heard is that it talks about the five tenants of Islam, and it doesn’t talk about the 10 Commandments, because that was something that was covered in sixth grade,” Brevard schools spokeswoman Michelle Irwin said. “So they may have a copy online of the 10 Commandments.”

So, the world history textbook, for use in U.S. schools, apparently gives a very basic description of the fundamental foundations of Islam. It tells, not sells, the students about the five tenets of Islam. And that’s a “big concern” about “pro-Islamic bias.” Here, let me paraphrase author Katherine Stewart, who once said of the Christian Right, in a lecture I attended, “If they can’t own it, they’ll break it.” In essence, if you mention Islam, Christianity must have equal time. It doesn’t matter that Christianity was already covered in an earlier grade.

The problem here is that Christianity, from a historic perspective, is relevant. But that does not mean it’s relevant all the time just as much as other inputs in every historic situation. If the U.S. becomes involved in trade or military action with, or against, nations that are theocratic, that may make understanding those nations’ perspectives more historically relevant during the study of particular times and events. If the nations covered in the content are theocratic, then there is absolutely nothing problematic about describing their political and religious principles or leanings to students. That’s what education is all about: Informing people about the inputs that impact the situations, about which they are learning. So, in some cases, the founding principles of Islam can be highly relevant, where the founding principles of Christianity, may be not as much.

But the Christian Right will not have it! You cannot talk about Islam, unless Jesus is right there, too, just as prominently, regardless of the point to be made. If information about Islam is clearly more relevant to the lesson, and information about Christianity clearly less so, that makes no difference. They must own the floor, every time, in all things, or else they have a “big concern.”

From a historic perspective, there are reasons Islamic nations have featured more prominently on the world stage in the last century, even the last few decades. Since we’re a culture saturated by Christianity—it’s far more necessary to teach U.S. children about Islam—this other religious-political environment we have been interacting with more aggressively the last few decades—than it is to teach them about the religion they’re soaked with in their day-to-day lives. Despite the fears of the Christian Right, U.S. children actually have heard quite a lot about Jesus, even without trying. They have, on the other hand, heard much less about Mohammed. Kids in the U.S. have actually heard of the 10 Commandments. There’s a movie on every Easter that tells us all about it, and monuments at some of our courthouses, and a Bible in most homes, and a church on nearly every corner with a sign telling us about Our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. And if those get past them somehow, there are the always the cross jewelry, the bumper-stickers, and the t-shirts letting us all know The Good News. And let’s not forget the block of television networks and radio stations devoted to proclaiming god’s Christian love for us all. So, the 10 Commandments—they get. Explaining five points to the students about Islam—the basic founding concepts at the very least—in a modern world history class—is not “bias” toward Islam.

Seriously—the Christian Persecution Complex is pure ridiculousness. It’s absolutely, unfathomably absurd.


  1. aziraphale says

    I’m tempted to say we should not pay too much attention to someone who thinks religions have “tenants”.

    But that would be elitist, so I won’t.

  2. Claire says

    I read a review on a “concerned Christian parent” who went on a rant about how pro-Islam this textbook was, because there were only 4 pages on Judaism, 6 pages on Christianity, but there were THIRTY-TWO pages on Islam! THE HORROR.

    She didn’t mention if Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism (surely of importance in explaining the Japanese attitude toward their emperor in WW2) got a look-in or not.

  3. says

    Yeah, would be interesting to hear the page count where pages mentioned Christianity, when it was part of the Grade 6 course content, compared to number of pages that mention Islam. Also, let’s see how many pages are devoted to free-thought and atheism…cry me a river!

  4. JT Rager says

    Indeed! We’re probably never going to have “atheism” anytime in the near future of K-12 history books, and none of us are freaking out. Why do so many Christians have difficulty understanding religious neutrality? Why don’t they understand that not mentioning Christianity or its god is not “anti christian” in any sense?

  5. says

    Also, it apparently takes a 10-person panel to post an online link to the 10 Commandments to “supplement” this pro-Islamic bias of explaining Islam to the students…I guess one member per commandment?

  6. says

    The Thaw. IndoctriNATION. Now this! Will the religious right not take any opportunity to martyr itself? They are becoming quite shameless and it angers me to the core that the sheeple will blindly fall into righteous indignation without even thinking about the whole of this issue.

  7. Claire says

    Well … You pretty much want to study religions in a history course to discover how much DAMAGE religions do to human society. Hinduism with the caste system. Shintoism with the emperor worship that made Japanese troops believe they had to fight to the death for their god-emperor. Christianity and the Crusades, the Reformation, the Inquisition and the Holocaust, which had DEEP Christian roots. Islam with its jihads and repression of women and terrorism. Judaism with genital mutilation of male babies. etc., etc., etc.

    Atheism hasn’t done a lot of harm in the world (unless you’re going to trot out the trope of “godless communism, etc.). History studies the soaring achievements of humans, and also humans at their worst — which sums up religion’s effect on history. For every cathedral at Chartres, or a Mozart Mass, how many pograms or crusades do you have to put up with?

  8. Narf (the abdicator) says

    The Catholic church has tenants all the time. They offer sanctuary to some people, in their churches.

  9. timberwoof says

    Christians need constant reminders to be faithful in their beliefs: churches in every town, free parking Sunday mornings (and in certain San Francisco neighborhoods, double parking without a fine), “In God we Trust” on all the money, “Under God” in the national prayer, National Prayers, and so on and so on. And, as you pointed out, every time another religion is mentioned, even in passing, Christianity must get equal time to it. (Like that cartoon in which a pirate captain doled out the money amongst his friends. “One for you and one for me; one for you and one for me; one for you and one for me; one for you and one for me;” and so on around the table.)

    One wonders why they need all that reinforcement all the time. We atheists don’t need it. We survive in our conclusion despite this constant barrage of Christian propaganda and belief enforcement. Indeed, listening to the Christians talk about it, it doesn’t take very much convincing to change someone’s mind away from Christianity. So the reason for insisting on equal time all the time is obvious: Christianity is a weak set of beliefs.

  10. L.Long says

    And Claire if you change the word ‘religion’ to ‘dogmatic BS’ then the last paragraph is correct as ‘Atheism hasn’t done a lot of harm in the world.’ the rest of the paragraph is also dogmatism, which is ALWAYS wrong.

  11. aziraphale says

    Christians may have some reason to fear that their children might (intellectually speaking) prefer Islam. From the various arguments for the existence of God we get a God who is:

    The most perfect being (OK so far)
    The explanation for the existence of the world (OK)
    The source of morality (maybe)
    Then Christianity adds “He is 3 persons in 1”
    Wait, what?

    At this point Islam looks pleasingly simple.

  12. mond says

    The only thing worse than being talked about is NOT being talked about.

    I am sure my consumption of brand x carbonated beverage was me just being anti brand y carbonated beverage. Or was it just that I was aware of an alternative brand and I decided to choose that.

  13. says

    Explaining five points to the students about Islam—the basic founding concepts at the very least—in a modern world history class—is not “bias” toward Islam.

    How would it even be possible to teach anything about Islam without touching on at least some of those? The first one, the Shahada, is absolutely essential. It’s as basic to Islam as “Jesus died for your sins” is to Christianity. You just can’t understand the religion without it.

    I honestly wonder if the people objecting really know what they’re objecting to or if it’s simply a knee-jerk reaction. Maybe the school board should be forced to take the course also.

  14. says

    Indeed, Islam and Christianity are actually very similar. If it wasn’t for the language barrier and the perception of being foreign, most Christians would probably be right at home with Islam.

    I’ll grant that Christianity has more of the personal, Jesus loves you, emotional content, and Islam takes more of a community approach, but those are really more differences of style and emphasis than anything else. You can find sub-sects of Islam that emphasize the personal relationship and you can find denominations of Christianity that goes more communitarian, so it’s not really a big leap.

    Problem is, Christianity has had centuries to perfect the art of getting violently angry with people over minute details. Think you can go to heaven without baptism? Wrong, heretic! You were baptized, but you weren’t fully immersed? Begone, Satan! You were immersed, but it wasn’t done by someone who was ordained by someone who was ordained by someone who…? Doesn’t count, wretched sinner!

    And we expect those people to play nice with someone who reads a completely different book? In a foreign language? These people are children. In a sane world, we’d just take away their TV privileges until they learned how to behave.

  15. BinJabreel says

    Holy hell, I didn’t even realize how intellectually bankrupt the idea of looking for bias by counting pages even was.

    That blows my mind, how easily I accepted that premise without thinking about it.

  16. sumdum says

    I suspect they simply don’t want kids to learn anything about other religions at all. It’s much easier to other people who you don’t know anything about, and if they learn about other religions that’ll just plant seeds of doubt in their minds.

  17. Narf (the abdicator) says

    Heh, yeah, that’s why it helps to read other people’s opinions on subjects, even if you don’t agree with them. I’ve had that happen plenty of times, when reading some ultra-conservatively-biased article, certain things just didn’t occur to me. I came down on the opposite side, but I hadn’t even thought of that dynamic of the issue.

    “You’re wrong, but good point. That is something I should be paying attention to and opposing you on.”

  18. says

    I think that is at the heart of it. Any human with half a brian will one day ask “Gee, what makes my religion the right one?” That was the question I asked, and I eventually hopped aroung from religion to relglion until I recognized they were all bullshit.

  19. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    Not exactly on one point: Christianity had the Enlightenment… It didn’t exactly “perfect the art” off it’s own bat, so to speak, it was forced into it. And we see how it continually tries to get the clout back!

  20. chris lowe says

    Is Texas the West’s Iran? Are Perry’s minions issuing fatwas against Islamic informational articles? Who is the new Salman Rushdie?

  21. chris lowe says

    Daniel Dennett hit precisely on this point. He proposed religion should be a mandatory subject in school. All religions! He wants a non judgemental, non prosthelysizing, neutral description of all major religions be taught to children just to point out there are many viewpoints and cultures out there. This might provide at least a partial immunization against the hysterical, anti-intellectual, and yes; abusive indoctrination that so many “good” Christians put their children through.

  22. says

    Which goes to show you just how insecure they and their god really are. Constant reassurance so that doubt doesn’t settle in is a tactic used in brain-washing which is something that theists need to maintain their mindset, which explains why atheist do not need any of this crap. When I was a Christian I was almost always in doubt, but now as an atheist; I’m certain which is why I believe theism is like an addiction which is almost always in need of a fix.

  23. says

    And that’s at the heart of everything isn’t it? Believers are constantly told that doubt is tantamount to sin, so an atheist is a constant reminder of that type of “sin”. Therefore we should be bullied and vilified lest we tempt them away from their monstrous god.

  24. says

    A con-artist wants to gain one’s trust or confidence and they certainly don’t want someone to doubt them or get suspisious as to what their real intentions are, but like an addiction people need some kind of reassurance and comfort even if deep down inside they really know the truth they are too ashamed too admit it and that is something I’ve learned from experience. That was me when I was a Christian as it was when I was ending my addiction to alcohol. I realized that there were striking simularities between the two and noticed how as both I was making up excuses and living in denial. It would seem to me that there really isn’t any significant difference between theism and any other type of an addiction.

  25. rocket says

    Just as there is Islamophobia , Homophobia , and other forms of bigotry …there is Christophobia . if you dont think that it is real , live in my shoes for a while . i am not part of the stupid relgiuos right , and yet i am judged by many atheists , agnostics , etc.. becuase of being a christian . i dont carry around a persecution complex , but let us make no mistake about it … it is real. i ought to know i did it to others before my conversion 39 years ago.

    it is called judging a person becuase of sex , race , creed , or color . it stinks to high heaven .

  26. Atheist Bunneh says

    It’s like they’re copying straight from Dan Patrick’s playbook in his crusade of “anti-Christian, pro-Islam bis” in CSCOPE.

  27. says

    Yes, you and the rest of the xtian 85% of the US population, have it so rough…..get over yourself.

    Religion is an idea. Sexual orientation and the color of your skin, are not. Trying to argue that criticizing the faith (an idea) of others is equivalent to judging by natural born traits, makes you come off as an idiot.

  28. Bolan says

    H.C., Christianity didn’t have “the Enlightenment”, European society did. Perhaps you are confusing “the Enlightenment” with “the Reformation”. Even the latter was limited to only part of Christianity.

    “… it was forced into it.” ? Forced into getting violent over doctrine? How can that be?

  29. Bolan says

    Rocket, I’m not sorry for judging you, but I don’t *condemn* you. I think you have a negative connotation to the former action due to your religious upbringing that preaches so hard to not judge others, even while those who preach that do so, and follow that up with actual condemnation.

    The judgement I make of you for being a Christian is merely that you have adopted a system of belief without good evidence, or without critical examination of what was claimed to be evidence. The judgement I make of you due to the content of your post is that you confuse issues.

    A phobia is an irrational fear. Charges of Islamophobia are often made against those who make rational claims of the dangers of Islam, by those who want to make some personal attack. I suspect that this idea of Christophobia is similar, just a pejorative.

    There is no judging due to sex, race, or color in this. Why are you confusing these categories with creed? Why should judging due to creed be bad? (Note: this is not the same as discrimination in the public sphere due to creed, which is wrong)

  30. says

    Christopher Hitchens said it best when he muttered, and I paraphrase, “Humans get thier morality from within and every once in a while religion manages to catch up…”

  31. JAK2013 says

    “If they can’t own it, they’ll break it.”

    Excellent description of the Christian Right – they are exactly like spoiled obnoxious children, except that children grow up eventually. Also applies to Jewish and Islamic fundamentalists, and (judging by the deadlock in Congress) the Republican Party too.