Islamophobia shut down schools in Central Virginia after a teacher incorporated Arabic calligraphy into her lesson plan.

According to NBC4, Augusta County Public Schools were closed last Thursday after receiving complaints and threats because teacher Cheryl LaPorte had students copy an Islamic statement of faith for their World Geography lesson on world religions, Islam included.

“The students were presented with the statement to demonstrate the complex artistry of the written language used in the Middle East, and were asked to attempt to copy it in order to give the students an idea of the artistic complexity of the calligraphy,” superintendent Eric Bond said to local paper The News Leader.

The statement students were asked to write: “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”

However, rather than a lesson in the religion itself, parents saw the activity as one of “indoctrination,” accusing LaPorte of jeopardizing students’ first amendment right to freedom of religious expression.

“If my truth can not be spoken in schools, I don’t want false doctrine spoken in schools,” Kimberly Horndon, a local parent, told The News Leader, after convening a forum the Friday following, expressing her concerns.

“She [LaPorte] gave up the Lord’s time. She gave it up and gave it to Mohammed.”

Superintendent Bond, however, issued a statement noting that LaPorte’s lesson neither violated the curriculum standards nor forced students to renounce their already existing faith.

Parents have a right to know what their children are learning in schools, but Herndon’s concern speaks more to fears of Islam that have been stoked by the contemporary political climate.

Following the Paris attack and San Bernadino shooting, politicians, including Republican Presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, have gone so far as to deny Syrian refugees entry into the country, and declare the possibility of instantiating a ban on Muslims.

In response, Muslims, including famed boxing champion Muhammad Ali, have issued statements calling for understanding over ignorance:

“I am a Muslim, and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernadino, or anywhere else in the world. True Muslims know the ruthless violence of so-called Islamic Jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion…We, as Muslims, have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda. They have alienated many from learning about Islam. True Muslims know or should know that it goes against our religion to try and force Islam on anybody.”

Islam is a religion that is practiced by 1.6 billion people or 23 percent of the world’s population, but global reactions to terrorist attacks by Islamist extremists in the post-9/11 world have rendered the religion has been wrongfully stereotyped to the extremist ideas of a few.

Instead, then, of reading extremism into the religion, maybe it’s time us all to take time learn about the religion without blind bias.

Photo credit: Creative commons

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