Standing against Islamophobia in California School Curricula

By Thange, Musaddique | Islamic Horizons, November 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Standing against Islamophobia in California School Curricula


Thange, Musaddique, Islamic Horizons


IF YOU THOUGHT THAT THESE TWO sample sentences are from some Islamophobic literature peddling its own benighted version of history, you would be right.

"Arabs, who were nomadic tribesmen from Arabia, converted to a new religion, and inspired by that religion, fought wars against other cultures."

"Muslims often did not force Christians or Jews, "people of the book," to convert, but people of other religions were more often forced to convert."

They come from edits proposed to the California state curriculum framework that is used by textbook publishers there and beyond. Moreover, they represent only a small portion of the Islamophobia being proposed for inclusion in the curriculum by groups ranging from avowed Islam-haters to U.S.-based Hindu nationalist groups. The edits covered a broad spectrum of Islamophobic ideas from depicting Muslims as enslavers of non-Muslims to projecting Muslim rulers as tyrants and bigots routinely engaging in forced conversions.

The state's open review process and the Indian American Muslim Council's (IAMC) persistent efforts alerted the Muslim American community; and timely engagement helped contain much of the damage. However, the struggle to keep Islamophobia out of textbooks is far from over, as publishers use this framework to develop content and school districts customize how history and social sciences are taught. This engagement has important lessons for the community and its shared concern over Islamophobia in the public square.

Before being finalized, the California curriculum goes through a fairly involved review process every six years. The openness of the review process to public input inevitably results in a public debate between opposing views of history, often between groups seeking to push an ideological narrative and scholars or activists seeking to improve integrity of the content.

IAMC leads the effort to ensure the accurate portrayal of Islam and Muslims at the California Department of Education. Working as part of the multi-faith coalition South Asian Histories for All (SAHFA), IAMC took up debate with Hindu nationalist organizations on various aspects of history covered by the middle school curriculum, and in advocating for Islam and Muslims before the Board.

Leading the Hindu charge were the Hindu American Foundation, the Hindu Education Foundation and the Uberoi Foundation. While claiming to seek a "fair" portrayal of Hinduism, the changes they sought included projecting Muslims as "invaders" and Islam as an inherently war-mongering religion while also delinking the caste system - a rigid system of social stratification - from its origins in Hinduism - an idea that is not universally accepted in India.

They also sought to appropriate the shared heritage of several countries in Asia, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, Myanmar and Sri Lanka through use of the term "ancient India." Notably Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), the only Hindu in the U.S. Congress as well as California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom (D) were pulled into the fray, and somehow convinced that the proposed changes were about the "accurate and fair" representation of Hinduism.

To further the supremacist Hindutva narrative - an ideology seeking to establish the hegemony of Hindus and the Hindu way of life in India -, these organizations introduced edits referring to the "hegemony and persecution of the Mughal rulers." An op-ed penned by the SAHFA coalition correctly called out this historical fallacy, flying as it does in the face of several well-known facts (Indian Express, July 10, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, Abdullah Momin, Harjit Kaur and Anasuya Sengupta: California textbooks: The next stage of the battle). For instance, the Muslim Emperor Aurangzeb's army that faced the Hindu king Shivaji's Maratha warriors in the seventeenth century comprised mainly of Rajput Hindus. The emperor's greatest ally against Shivaji was Mirza Raja Jai Singh, the Hindu ruler of the kingdom of Amber. …

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