Three high school district parents contend textbook ‘romanticizes’ history of Islam
By Joe Tash
Three North County residents contend a textbook used to teach seventh-graders about the Islamic religion in the San Dieguito Union High School District “romanticizes” the history of the religion, and they want the district to use supplemental information to provide what they say would be a more balanced view.
Michael Hayutin and Linda Sax, both of Carmel Valley, and James Freedman of Rancho Peñasquitos presented their findings in a 21-page report to the school district’s board of trustees at a meeting last Thursday, Feb. 3. They have also met with school administrators and teachers, including
Rick Schmitt, associate superintendent of educational services.
Hayutin, whose daughter is a senior at Torrey Pines High School and son is a college student who also attended district schools, said he, Sax and Freedman take issue with two chapters about Islam in a textbook called “World History: Medieval to Early Modern Times.” The chapters are used for a two-week unit of study about Islam.
In a summary heading the report, the trio wrote: “The text romanticizes Islamic history with respect to religion, government, conquest and culture. The positive aspects or achievements attributable to Islam are exaggerated and the negative downplayed or ignored. The errors are of both inclusion and omission. Critical facts that demonstrate the less admirable religious and cultural episodes and practices in Islamic history are absent or understated.”
“If we teach them a glossed over, pretty version of history that isn’t accurate, they won’t be able to evaluate what’s going on today,” Hayutin said after the meeting.
As examples, the report cites references to the Prophet Mohammed, slavery, the spread of Islam, polygamy and other subjects contained in the two textbook chapters.
Under the heading “The ‘Spread of Islam,’” the report cites numerous places in the text where the phrases “Islam spread” or “spread Islam” are used. “More accurate words to describe what occurred might include ‘conquer,’ ‘defeat,’ ‘invade,’ ‘capture,’ or ‘destroy,’” said the report.
Tehseen Lazzouni, a parent in the San Dieguito district, member of the Muslim Community Center of Greater San Diego and director of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of San Diego, said the references in the report are taken out of context and “inflammatory.”
“The sources that they used here are anti-Islamic books. It’s no surprise they came up with so much material against Islam. The authors of these books have made it their mission to defame Islam,” Lazzouni said.
The Koran, Islam’s holy book, states that no one can be forced to become Muslim, Lazzouni said. It also states that Muslims are allowed to fight only in self-defense and against oppression, and that innocent civilians or places of worship are not to be targeted.
“My understanding of how Islam spread is that people came into contact with Muslims and saw from their way of life that Islam was a religion they wanted for themselves,” Lazzouni said.
The report was not on the school board’s agenda, and the presentation was made during a segment of the meeting reserved for public comment. A reporter contacted all five members of the school board seeking comment, but none of the trustees responded by press-time.
The district’s 10 middle and high schools serve students from five elementary school districts in North County: Encinitas, Rancho Santa Fe, Cardiff, Solana Beach and Del Mar.
Schmitt said he and other school officials have been meeting with Hayutin, Sax and Freedman for nearly a year. He said district officials listen whenever a member of the public has concerns about material taught in the district’s schools, which is what happened in this case.
Schmitt said his opinion of the report’s contentions — which he declined to state — is not relevant because, “Only the state of California gets to determine what we teach and how we teach it.”
Schmitt said the district can choose from a “very short list” of textbooks approved by the state on any subject, including history, and that all textbooks go through an exhaustive, four- to six-year review process involving people from all segments of society, from university professors and teachers to clergy and elected officials.
“We get a book that’s been checked out,” said Schmitt.
As to whether the report prepared by Hayutin, Sax and Freedman might be somehow incorporated into the seventh-grade history unit on Islam, Schmitt said, “In this district, we don’t have homemade curriculum. We teach to the state standards.”
He also said he does not know what the district’s response to the report will ultimately be, or if any changes will be made. “No decisions have been made at all around that. We’ll work toward some mutually acceptable resolution.”
Lazzouni said one of the leaders of the Muslim Community Center of Greater San Diego, Imam Taha Hassane, would welcome the opportunity to have a community meeting to discuss the points made in the report. The community center is in Santaluz.
Hayutin said he, Sax and Freedman are Jewish, but their religion has no bearing on the findings of their report. The three did not conduct a similar analysis of the chapters on Christianity and Judaism, he said, because they didn’t find errors in those chapters. He said the negative aspects of Christianity such as the Crusades are treated in “clear and brutal terms.”
Hayutin said it is important for students to have a balanced picture of the origins of Islam to understand the dynamics of today’s world, including acts of terrorism committed by Muslim extremists such as the Sept. 11 attacks.
“They (the hijackers) were praising Allah as they vaporized themselves and 3,000 people. The vast majority of Muslims would never do anything like that or aren’t like that, but there is a cancer that is metastasizing in Islam. If Muslims don’t recognize that, it will consume them,” Hayutin said.
Lazzouni said the Sept. 11 attacks violated the precepts of Islam, which are illustrated in Chapter 5, Verse 32 of the Koran: “If anyone unjustly killed a person it would be as if he killed all of humanity. And if anyone saved a life it would be as if he had saved all of humanity.”
“This shows how precious human life is in Islam. So I think it’s important for people to go back to what the Koran says, which Muslims believe to be the word of God, and also to how the Prophet Mohammed lived his life. That’s the true Islam. So when we see acts of terrorism committed in the name of Islam, it’s a complete misuse of Islam and a twisting of its ideology,” Lazzouni said.
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