by Mohamed Elmasry
Mohamed Elmasry is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo and national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. He contributed this article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Ontario, Canada.
Media Monitors Network (Monday, September 22, 2008)
“The net result is an education system that is failing every student, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Generations of students are being graduated who know very little about their fellow citizens of other faiths; and if they gain any information at all about Islam as a world religion, or about its history, civilization and culture during the entire course of their formal education — that information is most likely to be false.”
The dust cover on the book introduced author Geraldine Brooks as “a native of Australia and graduate of Sydney University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism” and “currently the Wall Street Journal’s United Nations correspondent.”
Brooks’ 1995 book, Nine Parts of Desire, describes the author’s experiences as a correspondent in the Muslim Middle East.
Among the challenges she describes is the difficulty she had checking into a hotel as a single woman. Immediately, she blames a societal issue on Islam: “I couldn’t check myself into a hotel room in the 1990s,” she complained, “because thirteen hundred years earlier, a Meccan named Muhammad had trouble with his wives.”
Wow! Such an ignorant statement coming from a highly educated western professional is a shocker, to say the least. How could an experienced international journalist like Brooks, a graduate of two prestigious universities, jump to such a bizarre conclusion?
Unfortunately, she is not alone. The indignant and ignorant hostility she expresses regarding the hotel incident is widespread product of prejudice – a very specific prejudice called Islamophobia. And it is taught in Western classrooms. Geraldine Brooks, for all her native talent and articulate skill, is just one example among millions who have graduated from an entrenched Western system of miseducation about Islam.
In the West, where Muslims comprise a sizable minority in some of the world’s most affluent and “advanced” countries, institutional Islamophobia in education manifests itself in several ways:
- by the omission of key knowledge about Islamic civilization in text books and curricula from kindergarten through university;
- by silently condoning attacks on educators and academics who urge that students become more familiar with Islam as a moral and progressive force that shaped European history over a millennium of Islamic civilization;
- by advancing negative images of Islam and Muslims either through dis-information, or by focusing on selective events without reference to historical context;
- by denying funding for university research in the study of contemporary religious and social issues related to today’s Muslims;
- by cutting back or eliminating teacher training in the areas of multiculturalism and social integration;
- by downplaying in-school incidents of slurs, bullying, or verbal and physical abuse motivated by the victims’ religion; and
- by refusing or denying the need to confront and address the issue of Islamophobia in the classroom.
The net result is an education system that is failing every student, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Generations of students are being graduated who know very little about their fellow citizens of other faiths; and if they gain any information at all about Islam as a world religion, or about its history, civilization and culture during the entire course of their formal education — that information is most likely to be false.
From 710 to 1492, Muslim Spain brought Europe a quantum leap ahead in the sciences, medicine, arts, literature, engineering, architecture, culture, music, philosophy, theology, and languages. Prof. Maria Rosa Menocal called Muslim Spain “the Ornament of the World” and wrote a fascinating book under that name; it is subtitled, “How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain.”
Prof. Menocal explains what she means by the often-misused word, “tolerance.” She writes: “… for several hundreds of years – that’s a very long time for a good thing to last! – [tolerance was] a liberal and productive understanding of what is called the dhimma in Arabic, the ‘covenant’ that is part of Islamic religious law that mandates the protection of the two other ‘People of the Book,’ or dhimmi, as Christians and Jews are called, when they live under Muslim sovereignty. The dhimma was interpreted in a particularly benign and generous way by the first rulers of Islamic Spain. Most important, however, is that Muslims, Christians, and Jews did not have separate cultures based on religious differences but rather were part of a broad and expansive culture that had incorporated elements of all their tradition, a culture that all could and did participate in regardless of their religion. Wri ting poetry in Arabic was what educated people did, not just Muslims …”
Prof. Haroon Kharem rightly calls the omission of teaching about Muslim Spain in Western universities “The Great European Denial.” In his book chapter by the same name, subtitled “The Misrepresentation of the Moors in Western Education,” he says:
“Many Eurocentric historians portray the Dark Ages as an exceptionally barbaric period of human existence. This notion, however, is an ethnocentric one that arises from historians who claim that Europe was the only civilized part of the world. The Dark Ages were dark for Europe, but not all human civilization was thrown into this period of turmoil and savage brutality … In fact, at the time when European rulers were preoccupied with religious tyranny, wars among themselves, keeping the masses in utter poverty, burning witches, and disemboweling heretics, the Moors brought Islamic civilization and culture to Europe and essentially ended the Dark Ages. Thus it can be argued that the Muslims actually helped civilize the barbaric ways of Christian Europe.
“It is important to note that paying tribute to Islamic scientific achievements during European Dark Ages is entirely a twentieth-century phenomenon. One does not find anything resembling this in the literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries because until the West gained military and economic world supremacy, Islam in the Christian mind represented the principal military and moral threat to Christianity.
The Church could not tolerate losing thousands of people, its land, and the wealth it was still accumulating to more liberal religions like Islam.
Therefore, Christian theologians in order to explain the spread of Islam developed a self-protective theoretical framework designed to demonstrate that Islamic success was the product of violence, lasciviousness, and ungodly deceit.
“This was a useful framework at the time when European racism, protocapitalist imperialism, and colonialism were asserting themselves. In this context, not only did the ‘white man’s burden’ become easier to bear, but also military conquest could assume the form of a moral imperative. Conquered peoples could be portrayed as barbarians in need of civilization who were ignorant of scientific and artistic understanding. Hence a prohibition emerged against scholarship that might lay such assumptions open to question.”
In the prestigious scientific journal, Nature, Francis Ghiles writes;”At its peak about one thousand years ago, the Muslim world made a remarkable contribution to science, notably mathematics and medicine. Baghdad in its heyday and southern Spain built universities to which thousands flocked. [Muslim] rulers surrounded themselves with scientists and artists. A spirit of freedom allowed Jews, Christians, and Muslims to work side by side. Today all this is but a memory.”