Newspaper article News Sentinel

Some Lawmakers, Parents Upset over Teaching of Islam

Newspaper article News Sentinel

Some Lawmakers, Parents Upset over Teaching of Islam

Article excerpt

NASHVILLE -- Tennessee seventh-graders spend a portion of their time in a world history course studying "the world of Islam."

The amount of time spent on the topic, and what students are actually learning during that time, has some lawmakers and parents in an uproar.

"There is a big difference between education and indoctrination," U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said in a statement issued Thursday.

"It is reprehensible that our school system has exhibited this double-standard, more concerned with teaching the practices of Islam than the history of Christianity. Tennessee parents have a right to be outraged and I stand by them in this fight."

Blackburn's criticism joins the calls of state lawmakers and parents in several Tennessee counties upset over the middle school curriculum. Parents in Maury, Williamson and other counties have expressed concerns about the class. They say their children were required to memorize the five pillars of Islam and to write "Allah is the only God" as part of an assignment, according to several local and national media reports.

Both are basic tenets of the Islamic religion, and simply learning them or repeating them doesn't make anyone Muslim, said Paul Galloway, executive director of advocacy organization American Center for Outreach.

"To learn what the first pillar is has nothing to do with indoctrination. You can't trick someone into being a Muslim," said Galloway, who is Muslim.

There is a basic level of misunderstanding driving this fear and outrage, he said. In Arabic the word "Allah" means God. Christians who speak Arabic use the word Allah to talk about God all the time, Galloway said.

He noted there is a difference between teaching students about religion and proselytizing, and argued no one is in favor of public schools trying to convert children to any particular religion.

Elizabeth Fiveash, director of legislative affairs for the Tennessee Department of Education, sent an email to lawmakers Tuesday in response to concerns about the curriculum. In her email, obtained by The Tennessean, she acknowledges the "Islamic World" is covered in seventh grade. But she notes Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism and Shinto are also covered in various courses throughout middle school and high school.

Students have learned the same content included in the seventh- grade curriculum for years, Fiveash said. The information was mainly included in the sixth-grade curriculum until the state Board of Education adopted new content standards in July 2013, she said. …

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