Growth of Islam across the world, and especially in the United States (U.S.), has become increasingly evident over the past decade. Islam is not only the second largest practiced religion in the world, but also the fastest growing religion in the world, with over 1. I billion followers (National Council of Churches, 2005). In the U.S. Islam is the fastest growing religion in terms of followers, growing at a rate of over 400% per year (U.S. Information Agency, 1997). Table 1 shows Islam as the fastest growing religion in the U.S.--almost doubling in the last decade (U. S. Census Bureau, 2006).
As the number of individuals in the U.S. who practice Islam grows, so too does the likelihood of an increase in the number of children who follow" Islam. As a result, there are an increasing number of students who follow Islam in public school systems. A recent survey estimated there were approximately 650,000 children practicing Islam in the U.S. (Adherents.com, 2005). This number is expected to increase in the next several years. As the number of students who practice Islam in the U.S. grows, the number of Islamic students who receive special education (including adapted physical education) should also increase. Unfortunately, determining an actual number of Islamic students who receive special education services is impossible, because of the sensitive nature often associated with surveying religious preference. As noted, data in Table 1 were provided on a voluntary basis, because federal law prohibits the Census Bureau from requiring people to respond to questions about religious affiliation (Adherents. corn, 2005). Regardless of how numbers are calculated, the number of Islamic children who receive adapted physical education services is increasing. This may cause many in the adapted physical education field to ask the question: Are there characteristics of the Islamic faith that adapted physical education specialists should be made aware of so as to appropriately plan and implement quality adapted physical education programs for students of the Islamic faith?
Why Determine Views of Islamic Clerics?
To determine possible characteristics of the Islam faith an adapted physical education specialist should be made aware, opinions of clerics should be elicited. Although views of many, including parents and teachers (also elicited in this study), are important, the main reason for determining views of Islamic clerics is related to the complex role Islamic clerics often play in the lives of families practicing the Islamic faith.
Islamic Clerics and Their Roles
In the U.S., Islamic clerics often take on a variety of roles and responsibilities very similar to roles undertaken by other religious leaders, such as ministers, priests, and rabbis. These religious roles include managing houses of worship, teaching to congregations, performing rituals, and most importantly in terms of this study, providing counseling services to individuals and families on a variety of topics, including child rearing (Zoll, 2003). Because of the fact that Islamic clerics are often involved in many roles, such as the previously mentioned role of providing counseling, the views of clerics in terms of adapted physical education were elicited. Opinions of clerics are often transmitted to Islamic congregations, including parents. These views potentially assist in forming many of the opinions and attitudes in terms of special education and, more specifically, adapted physical education for these parents. Adapted physical education teachers need to recognize this fact in order to serve these students in the most appropriate manner. As stated, the authors also wanted to compare these views with views of both parents and teachers to gain a more complete understanding of the views of the Islamic clerics.