Middle school parents in Tennessee are up in arms on learning that their children were instructed to recite and write, “Allah is the only god,” as part of a world history project.
In the Maury County School District, students were assigned a Five Pillars of Islam project that included the translation of the pillar of “Shahada” as being, “There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is his prophet.”
Joy Ellis, the mother of a seventh-grader at Spring Hill Middle School, said that Christian children should not be instructed to write the Shahada.
“This is a seventh grade state standard, and will be on the TCAP,” Ellis said. “I didn’t have a problem with the history of Islam being taught, but to go so far as to make my child write the Shahada, is unacceptable.”
Another mother of a seventh-grade girl, Brandee Porterfield, complained to officials at Spring Hill Middle School because of its overemphasis on Islam to the exclusion of Christianity and Judaism.
Porterfield said she has no objections to her daughter learning details of the Islamic religion, but she objects to the fact that the history unit didn’t devote similar time to Christianity or Judaism.
“It really did bother me that they skipped the whole chapter on the rise of Christianity and they spent three weeks just studying Islam,” she said.
Porterfield and other parents were also concerned with the school’s decision to have children write and recite the Islamic creed.
“But what really did bother me,” Porterfield said, “was that they did this assignment where they wrote out the Five Pillars of Islam, including having the children learn and write the Shahada, which is the Islamic conversion creed.”
“I spoke with the teacher and the principal,” she said. “They are not going to learn any other religion, doctrines or creeds and they are not going back over this chapter. Even though they discuss Christianity a little bit during the Middle Ages, they are not ever going to have this basis for Judaism or Christianity later.”
Porterfield said the class skipped Christianity because it’s not required by the state’s standards. Those standards, TN Core, are very similar to the national Common Core standards, though in May Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill eliminating Common Core.
In Tennessee, 85 percent of the residents identify as Christian, according to a comprehensive U.S. Religious Landscape Survey conducted by the Pew Center in 2008. Only one percent of state residents identify as Muslim.
Jan Hanvey, Maury County Public Schools’ middle school supervisor, said that most of the three-week unit discussed things like government, culture, geography, and economics, rather than theology. She also said that the chapters on Christianity and Judaism are scheduled to be taught at the end of the year with the “Age of Exploration” unit.
Maury County Director of Schools, Chris Marczak, defended the curriculum in a statement, saying that the school system is in no way endorsing Islam over other religions or trying to “indoctrinate” students.
“It is our job as a public school system to educate our students on world history in order to be ready to compete in a global society, not to endorse one religion over another or indoctrinate,” Marczak said.
Porterfield, however, finds Marczak’s assurances unconvincing.
“They are not going over anything else. So for the students to have to memorize this prayer, it does seem like it is indoctrination,” she said.
A meeting between parents and school teachers and administrators has been scheduled for Sept. 17 to allow Porterfield and other concerned Springhill parents to voice their concerns about the state’s history curriculum.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome