Teaching Islam: Schools must be proactive in bringing religious tolerance to classrooms

NATIONAL ISSUES: Educational spaces need to be more open to talking about Islam in order to tackle religious prejudice


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Come December, many schools across the United States ring in the holiday season with a classroom Secret Santa. They learn to play with a dreidel while parents bring in menorahs to teach students about Hanukkah. But even though Islam is the third-largest religion in the United States, many schools shy away from talking about celebrations such as Eid al-Adha or Eid al-Fitr.

In the past several decades, Islamophobia has undeniably permeated the American landscape. Dismantling this kind of institutionalized racism will take decades, but education is the first step toward instilling tolerance and acceptance in our generation and the next. Schools in Berkeley have taken many commendable actions to create a safer space for the education of students on Islamic issues — but more can still be done in the community.

UC Berkeley’s American Cultures requirement encourages undergraduate students to explore the junction of race, culture and society in this nation — two such classes are even centered explicitly around the Muslim experience in America. But only the slim fraction of students who choose to take those two are even exposed to the subject material in this academic setting.

Furthermore, university cannot be the first or only point at which students learn about Islam and how it exists in the modern day. Raising a more tolerant population begins at the high school and even elementary level. It’s great to see Berkeley High School providing a platform for its Muslim Student Association to educate students on topics such as gender in Islam and Islamophobia. This should be the standard for high schools across the country.

But in addition to inviting guest speakers and creating these platforms, Islamic intersectionality is something that can and should be interwoven into the everyday lives of students. In world history, remember that 1492 isn’t just the year Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic — it’s also the year the 700-year Islamic rule of Spain ended. In math, note that the algebra you use to solve the Pythagorean theorem was developed in part by Persian and Islamic mathematician Muhammad Al-Khwarizmi in the 800s. Even in philosophy, mention Al-Farabi, a man whose works are held next to those of Aristotle.

American schools need to move toward this kind of holistic teaching if they want to begin breaking down the stigma and prejudices that surround the Muslim community.

At the end of the day, Americans are scared about crossing the line between preaching and teaching in the classroom. But at a time when many students still recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which calls the United States “one nation under God,” it’s ridiculous to use the separation of church and state as an excuse to shy away from talking about religion in schools. In order to begin pushing Islamophobia out of the United States, we must first normalize the presence of Islam in the classroom.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

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