As a close observer of the educational process in Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) for several years, I have witnessed a worrisome upsurge in anti-Jewish sentiments.
Derisive laughter and ignorant comments frequently erupt from one or two students whenever the subject of Jews is raised. The anti-Jewish feeling is not limited to students. In the break room of one school, a teacher recently complained to an administrator about the number of Jews in New York, derisively averring that “New York is the home of the Jews.” The administrator, it turned out, shared the hostility to Jews. "Boy, those Jews sure know how to bitch!” he said.
The latest in a spate of troubling incidents is the emergence on the shelf of the school library of a book titled The Meaning of the Holy Qur'an, by Yusuf Abdullah Ali. It came to my attention when I noticed groups of young students eagerly passing it around and reading it. The Meaning of the Holy Qur'an is not a reference book. Rather, as the title suggests, it is an interpretive work on the Koran. It contains the text and interpretations of the 114 Suras, or chapters, of the Koran. And it is brimming with anti-Jewish comments and negative references to Christians and Christianity.
For instance, there are many anti-Jewish and some anti-Christian references in the explanations of Suras. One such explanation states: "Israel's story is then told according to their own records and traditions--what privileges they received and how they abused them (2:40-86), thus illustrating again as by a parable the general story of man." The use of false and degrading examples of Jewish behavior to portray the general story of humanity is a theme repeated throughout the work. The very next sentence states: "In particular, reference is made to Moses and Jesus and their struggles with an unruly people: how people of the book played false their own lights and in their pride rejected Muhammad, who came in the true line of prophets." It then states: "They falsely laid claim to the virtues of Father Abraham...."
As the text continues, there are various references to "the treacherous Jews," and a footnote states: "The Jews, who pretended to be so superior to the people without Faith--the Gentiles--should have been the first to recognize the new truth-or the Truth renewed-which it was Muhammad's mission to bring because it was so similar...to what they had already received. But they had more arrogance than faith. It is this want of faith that brings on the curse ,i.e., deprives us of the blessings of Allah." In the very next footnote, it states: "Racial arrogance made the Jews adverse to the reception of the Truth when it came through a servant of Allah, not of their own race." Elsewhere the book claims that "The chief feature of Jewish worship is the bowing of the head." This is false. In the Jewish prayer, the “Alenu,” worshippers bend the knee, as directed by the text, not the head.
There are many other false claims about Judaism in the book. One is the assertion that "[n]ever will the Jews Or the Christians be satisfied With thee unless thou follow their form of religion...." While Christianity is to some degree a proselytizing religion, most Christians refrain from this practice. However, this is a blatantly false characterization of Judaism, a non-proselytizing religion for which prospective converts must surmount difficult obstacles while becoming Jews. However, there is perhaps no more proselytizing religion than Islam.
Here is another example. The line "Or do ye say that Abraham, Ismail, Issac, Jacob and the descendants were Christians and Jews?” is affixed with a footnote that disputes the Jewish claim to the inheritance of Abraham: "...Do you dispute with us although we worship the same God as you and claim that ours is the same religion as that of your ancestors? Or do you really assert that Abraham and his son and his son's sons, who founded the Tribes long before Moses, followed your Jewish religion as you know it? History of course proves that claim absurd. If the Christians claim that these Patriarchs knew of and followed the teachings of Jesus, the claim is still more absurd." While it is true that present-day Judaism is not the same Judaism as practiced by Abraham, neither is present-day Islam. Nor is present-day Christianity the quite the same religion that was practiced long ago. However, many Jews and Christians have considered the problems posed by the historical beginnings of their respective religions. But do children have the insight and awareness to do that? To impressionable young minds, the author's statements here make Judaism and Christianity appear fraudulent.
Reference books on any religion, including Islam, have a legitimate place on the shelves of libraries in American schools. But the purpose of a reference book is to inform and to educate. The Meaning of the Holy Qur'an goes well beyond informing and educating, crossing the line into indoctrination. What are children going to think about Jews, when they are repeatedly taught about "treacherous Jews,” see them upbraided for their "racial arrogance,” and hear them called "cursed"?
And there is yet another problem with the book: It’s presence in public schools is arguably unconstitutional. In the 2000 U.S. Supreme Court case of Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, suit was brought against a Texas school district. At issue was the district’s policy of allowing students to deliver sectarian and proselytizing prayers. By a 6-3 decision, the court found that the district was in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and ruled the school’s policy unconstitutional. Since The Meaning of the Holy Qur'an is a proselytizing book, its presence in an MCPS library demonstrates that the Maryland school district is not only endorsing religion, but endorsing a particular religion, namely Islam. It is therefore likely that the district is violating the Establishment Clause.
The Meaning of the Holy Qur'an seeks to promote Islam, and to impress a false, distorted and twisted view of Judaism and Christianity on a very vulnerable audience. By removing it from its libraries, the Montgomery district can send the message that it will not sanction bigotry and intolerance. At a time when anti-Jewish feeling appears to be on the rise, such a message is necessary as well as urgent.
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