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America’s Secret Madrassas By: Lowell Ponte
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, December 03, 2003


PONTEFICATIONS

"IN AN ATTEMPT TO PROMOTE A GREATER UNDERSTANDING and empathy towards the Muslim religion and toward other culture(s),” read the teacher note sent home in November to each student’s parents or guardian, “I am encouraging students to participate in an extra credit assignment.”

This assignment, wrote Seventh Grade history teacher Len Cesene, was to fast during daylight hours for one, two or three days as Muslims do during their holy month of Ramadan.

Such fasting during Ramadan, wrote this teacher at 1,600 student Royal Oak Intermediate School in Covina, California, 35 miles east of Los Angeles, is one of the “Five Pillars of Islam” fundamental to the Muslim faith.

A Madrassa is a school where Islam is taught.  We have come to think of them as dusty hovels in outback Pakistan or Somalia where American money exchanged for Saudi Arabian oil is used by the Saudis to subsidize Korans and the nurturing of hatred against the West. 

But by prompting his public school students to have “empathy towards” and to practice one of the religious rituals of Islam, Cesene in effect has turned Royal Oak Intermediate School into an American Madrassa.

As you are about to discover, in doing this Cesene was merely carrying out the statewide educational policy direction of the State of California. He was extending the pro-Islamic lessons in textbooks that have been used in California, Alabama, and many individual public school districts – perhaps including the one where your children attend school.

These California taxpayer-funded public school Madrassas have reportedly used educational materials supplied by Saudi Arabia – just as in similar schools in Pakistan.

Do these teachings produce hatred for the West? Such classes may already have produced at least one American Taliban terrorist. These teachings may also already have sown the seeds from which heaven only knows how many more radical Islamists might spring.

“Don’t Turn Schools into Mosques” and “Separate Mosque and State” read two of the signs carried outside this school by protestors on November 24.  A large share of the up to 450 peaceful protestors reportedly were Coptic immigrants who said their families had suffered discrimination and persecution because they were Christians in predominantly-Muslim Egypt.

“If they don’t want to talk about Christianity in school,” said one of the protestors with the group AMECA, the Hemet, Calif.-based American Middle-East Christian Association, “then they shouldn’t talk about any religions.” 

“America’s Christian children had better not even utter the name Jesus Christ in public schools,” an AMECA press release announcing the protest had said, “without persecution and prosecution by the ‘separation of church and state’ zealots.”

“As part of the state’s seventh-grade curriculum, students are taught about Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism in terms of how these religions shaped world history,” said an Editorial in the local San Gabriel Valley Tribune newspaper.

“The teaching of world religions makes for a well-rounded curriculum and is totally appropriate for our public schools,” the Editorial continued, “But inside the classroom, we support teaching students about these faiths, not asking them to practice them….”

“Asking students to practice religion as a part of a public school lesson,” the Editorial continued, “is a violation of the country’s separation of church and state laws.”

What teacher Cesene did, albeit without malice and with good intentions, the Editorial asserted, “is tantamount to an extra-credit assignment about Catholicism that involves asking a student to practice the Stations of the Cross. Or teaching about Protestantism by requiring a student to take Holy Communion or become baptized.” 

How would the American Civil Liberties Union respond to a public school teacher giving “extra credit” to Jewish and Muslim students if they accepted Christian baptism?  These Christian protestors see a public school assignment urging their children to participate in Muslim religious ritual, however “voluntary,” as the same kind of abuse of government power.

Where is the outrage of the ACLU, which in the past has argued that asking students to endure even a “moment of silence” at the start of the school day is coercive because it resembles Judeo-Christian prayer?

Contrary to widespread belief, it is not illegal to include elements of religion in public school classrooms.  A person unable to recognize references from the Bible would be culturally illiterate, so the Bible (or Koran or any other religious work) may be studied – but only as literature, not as theology or doctrine.  And as said Tom Adams, administrator for curriculum framework at the California Department of Education, “You can’t talk about and teach history without bumping into religion,” so religious activities may be studied – but only as history.

But these lines and distinctions are difficult to make and maintain.  As poet William Butler Yeats asked, “How can we know the dancer from the dance?”  Or how can we squeeze the religious aspects out of material events and symbols deeply associated with religions? 

This season, e.g., New York City lawyers have directed that during the religious holidays of late 2003 public school classrooms may display the crescent-and-star symbol of Islam during Ramadan and the Jewish menorah candlestick at Hanukkah. But these same schools may NOT display creches depicting the baby Jesus around Christmas, the Christian holiday celebrating Jesus’ birth.

The Islamic and Jewish symbols have historic and secular dimensions, the New York City school district lawyers argue, but the “suggestion that a creche is a historically accurate representation of an event with secular significance is wholly disingenuous.”

“What is history,” said Napoleon, “but a story agreed upon?”  Christians agree that the birth of Jesus is not only historic but is also among the greatest events in history, rivaled only by Christ’s resurrection. For the government to declare the traditional nativity scene of this event un-historic, and thereby to banish it from public school classrooms that on every pagan religious Halloween are allowed to put up images of ghosts, seems to Christians bizarre – and discriminatory.

(By contrast, even the Leftist teachers’ union NEA, the National Education Association, offered recent guidelines that “teachers may wear modest jewelry, such as a cross or Star of David” or yarmulke and that religious objects can have a proper place in the public school classroom.)

The Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has filed for a temporary restraining order against the City of New York, arguing that New York’s policy “promotes the Jewish and Islamic faiths while conveying the impermissible message of disapproval of Christianity in violation of the U.S. Constitution.”

While New York City was officially banning Christian creches, the headquarters of the New York City Police Department put on display in its lobby at the start of Ramadan a copy of Islam’s holy book The Koran, despite objection from the ACLU. 

(When Muhammad was asked what miracle proved that he was God’s messenger, he replied: “This Koran. This is the miracle.” And most of those fluent in Arabic agree that the beauty and poetry of this book are light years beyond the ken of an illiterate camel driver like Muhammad. So to display a Koran is to display symbolically the central miracle of Islam…in that sense not unlike displaying a Christian creche, symbolic of God’s word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.)

Urging this display of friendship to Muslims was NYPD chaplain Imam Izak-El Mu’eed, who told Newsday that religion is essential in the lives of policemen. “By the nature of the job they have to have some faith,” he told the newspaper. “There’s no way to do it without having faith.” 

In the wake of 9-11’s Islamist terror attacks on New York City, who would disagree? But why have city lawyers rewarded these terrorists by elevating Islamic symbols while attacking the faith of Christian police officers by tearing the creches out of the schools of their children? 

Knowledge of history produces understanding, and for that reason California developed an extensive curriculum that includes teaching how four major religions have influenced humankind.  In Seventh Grade, at just the age when Jewish and Christian children traditionally are about to be confirmed by ritual in their faith, in California public schools they are exposed to Islam.

The nature of that exposure caused huge controversy in 2002. Parents began to awaken to evidence that this government curriculum and the statewide-adopted history text written to fit it titled Across the Centuries seemed to tilt in favor of Islam and against Christianity. (Alabama, according to USA Today, also adopted this book as its statewide history text.)  Such teaching had been in place for about a decade with few parents aware of what and how their children were being taught.

As came to light at two schools in the Oakland suburb of Byron, California, students were being taught the history of Islam by adopting Muslim names, dressing as Muslims, learning the Five Pillars of Islam, and memorizing an Islamic prayer that extols the greatness of Allah.

Class learning included students building the model of a Mosque (place of worship) and imagining themselves on a pilgrimage to Mecca, that pilgrimage called the Haj being one of the five Pillars of the faith.

At a public high school in Elk Grove, California, one day the front grounds of the school featured a banner that read “There is one God, Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.”

“What if we put up a sign that says ‘Jesus is Lord’ for 30 minutes? Oh, no. You can’t do that – separation of church and state,” said the mother of a daughter underwent what she calls indoctrination in the Muslim religion in that school’s seventh-grade history class.

“We can’t even mention the name of Jesus in the public schools,” said one teacher and parent of a seventh-grade student, but “they teach Islam as the true religion, and students are taught about Islam and how to pray to Allah.”

The textbook accompanying such teaching, Across the Centuries, as outraged parent Jen Schroeder wrote in a ten-page critique (pdf format), describes Muhammad receiving the Koran via the Angel Gabriel as a fact, not qualified as something believed by Muslims. The same is true for assertions that Muhammad ascended to heaven from Jerusalem and spoke to God – presented as fact, not faith.  Her critique gives many examples of what seems more like proselytizing than pedagogy.

Speaking of this city that is holy to three religions, this textbook tells students that “Jerusalem is where Jesus was crucified and buried, and it was where Muhammad rose to heaven.”  The parent-defending Pacific Justice Institute responded sardonically to this biased textbook sentence: “Is the word ‘resurrection’ too difficult to spell?” 

“Muhammad’s success in spreading Islam was due in large part to his strong character,” says this textbook for seventh-graders. “His followers were attracted to his morality, courage, and compassion, perhaps as much as they were attracted to his teaching.”

“Are we painting Muhammad as a hero here or what?” writes critic Schroeder. “Compassion? He wrote to kill all infidels in the Quran!”

Even Leftist Rev. Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, found the pro-Islamic tilt – and what seems like the addition of Muslim religious recruitment to the other three “R”s – too hard to stomach. 

“Public schools are required by law to maintain strict neutrality on religious matters,” said Lynn. “This project appears to have fallen well short of neutrality.”

What Lynn and other critics mean is that this textbook and curriculum have students memorizing and mimicking Islamic prayers and theology. But when it comes to learning about Judaism, no comparable engagement with its traditions or literature is taught. Christianity is given short shrift, treated as a mere sub-topic under Judaism and history of the Roman Empire.

Oh, with one exception: when examples of religious atrocities and crimes are given, every single evil deed is an act committed by Christians.  Not a single atrocity or evil deed is anywhere ascribed to Islam.

Despite the controversy, in cash-strapped school districts in California, 10 Commandments-purged Alabama and elsewhere this provocative $60+ textbook is still in wide use.

How did such a textbook get written and approved?  It was launched in accord with California policy in 1991, which wanted such a book to advance the state’s multi-culturalist, inclusive agenda.

(America by some accounts is now home to more Muslims than Presbyterians and is adjusting its culture and politics accordingly. But it’s worth noting that of the world population of 1.2 billion Muslims – one in five human beings – the majority is non-Arab.  The five nations with the largest Muslim populations, according to the CIA World Factbook, are Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan), and Turkey – with a combined Muslim population above 650 million.  The next five with the most Muslims include Nigeria, Ethiopia and Persian Iran, with only Egypt and Morocco as nominally “Arabic” nations in the top ten. And yet the pro-Muslim multiculturalist agenda would lead people to believe that Islam is a predominately Arab faith, perhaps because of its origin in Saudi Arabia.)

In 1990 a new man was named its Chairman and Chief Executive Office at this textbook’s publisher Houghton Mifflin, and in 1991 he was also given the title President at the company.  He was Nader F. Darehshori, who before coming to the United States in “the early 1960s,” as his short biography tells, was for a year a teacher “in a one-room elementary school in his native Iran.” 

Iran, of course, is an overwhelmingly-Islamic country.

The textbook was published with approval by the Council on Islamic Education (CIE), formed in 1988 to promote a better treatment of the subject of Islam in such texts. But, reportedly, according to one Houghton Mifflin executive CIE not only reviewed the book for errors and insensitivities after it was written, but also supplied information about the crusades that was incorporated into the textbook itself.

This 558-page history textbook, notes Rod Dreher in National Review, includes 55 pages about Islam, all of them positive. By contrast, the entire Middle Ages in Europe get only seven pages, and Christianity is discussed therein “not in terms of moral and theological belief, but almost entirely as a matter of power relations and social organization.”  

The whole eastern half of the Roman Empire known as the Byzantine Empire that survived until 1453 (when Muslim Ottoman Turks toppled Constantinople) gets only six pages.  A chapter about “Village Society in West Africa,” notes Dreher, rates eight pages. 

But praiseful writing about Islam takes up 10 percent of this entire history book written for American students to study in their American Madrassas. It is what scholar Daniel Pipes calls an example of “the privileging of Islam in the United States.”

One seventh-grade history teacher from the California Bay Area is troubled not only by the superior presentation of Islam in the textbook Across the Centuries but also by the teaching materials used alongside it in California classrooms.

“The Saudis have contributed well-written, lavishly illustrated free materials that are popular with students.”  These materials, of course, are pro-Islamic propaganda of the extreme Wahabbist sect dominant in Saudi Arabia, paid for with the dollars of oil-buyers, now washing back into the brains of young American schoolchildren in a concerted effort to persuade our kids to, in Pipes’ phrase, “Think like a Muslim.” 

Islamic oil money also funded and shaped television programs such as “Islam: Empire of Faith” on the Public Broadcasting Service, a Muslim-friendly documentary now used as a teaching tool in America’s public school madrassa classrooms. 

Lest we forget, this is a one-way street. In dogmatic Islamic lands such as Saudi Arabia not a single pro-Christian or pro-Jewish word or image is permitted in their classrooms, textbooks, or television programming. No Jewish or Christian equivalent of the CIE is permitted to shape or influence how other faiths are depicted. They assert the right to convert the United States to Islam, but nobody of another faith is given any chance to convert anyone in Saudi Arabia. Indeed, to convert a Muslim away from Islam is in Saudi Arabia a crime under Sharia law punishable by death.

But does it matter when a handout supplement to the pro-Muslim Across the Centuries textbook hypnotically tells students that, as an exercise, “You and your classmates will become Muslims”?  Or when students are required to memorize a prayer that includes the line “Praise be to Allah, Lord of Creation”?

At FrontPage Magazine nearly two years ago Jamie Glazov envisioned the possibility that some of our children, converted to Islam because of what they were taught in public schools, turned into Islamist terrorists.

This may already have happened, speculates Jennifer Schroeder. The young American caught with Taliban terrorists in Afghanistan, John Walker Lindh, had become a fanatical convert to Islam. He was educated in fashionably-multiculturalist Bay Area schools during the early 1990s when the pro-Islamic Across the Centuries, she writes, “was the ONLY approved textbook.” 

John Walker Lindh, who may have been involved in the killing of a CIA agent, might be the first of many whose life path was radically bent in Islam’s direction by the tilt of such teaching and textbooks.  As the late Richard Weaver recognized, ideas have consequences….and so does the turning of our public schools into de facto Madrassas.

Instead of trying to remedy this by separating church and state, perhaps the time has come to separate school and state so that parents can choose schools for their children that teach values and faith compatible with their own.


Mr. Ponte co-hosts a national radio talk show Monday through Friday 6-8 PM Eastern Time (3-5 PM Pacific Time) on the Genesis Communications Network. Internet Audio worldwide is at GCNlive .com. The show's live call-in number is 1-800-259-9231. A professional speaker, he is a former Roving Editor for Reader's Digest.


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