One story coming out of a school near Mobile, Alabama has caught my attention over the issue of equating the Arabic language with Islam and evilness.
Parents of students were recently interviewed to reflect upon a new Arabic language program at Daphne High School.
This response from one parent is particularly troubling:
“When you teach Arabic, you have to teach the culture along with it… The culture is intertwined with Islam… This is America, and English is our language, and while I understand the alleged premise of offering Arabic at our high school, I don’t agree with it… It is not just another language; it is a language of a religion of hate… It just concerns me that we’re headed down a path of further eroding our society to a Muslim-based society, or Sharia law, and I’m not willing to let that happen without …something to say about it… They’re trying to indoctrinate our children with this culture that has failed… Why should we want to teach our kids a failed culture when we have a culture that has been successful? All we have to do is follow our Christian culture, which has brought this nation to the pinnacle of success.… I don’t see why they would want to teach this.”
The most obvious problem here is that Islam is a “religion of hate.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus and his mother, Mary, have a special place in the Quran, the Islamic text which, in many instances, promotes love and peace. Muhammad sought to protect vulnerable religious communities, especially Christians, on the land he ruled. His “last sermon” emphasized equality among people of different skin colors. One of my favorite Muslim figures in history, Rumi, the Sufi poet, also revered Jesus and spoke about the oneness of humanity.
A second problem is that the Arabic language is equated with Islam. Arabic is spoken by millions of people, many of whom are not Muslim. Christians, Atheists, Agnostics, etc, all speak Arabic. One friend of mine who I studied with in London is an Orthodox Greek Christian, not a Muslim, and he speaks Arabic fluently.
I can also speak Arabic. I took it for three years at American University in Washington, DC. I am a Catholic. I never converted to Islam and I never wanted to. I do not partake regularly in Arab cultural events.
A third problem is the suggestion that English is the official language of Americans. There is nothing in the Constitution or any of the other founding US documents which explicitly states that English is the official language of the nation-state. Millions of Americans speak other languages, particularly Spanish.
Furthermore, linking the Arabic language with sharia is absurd. Sharia, or Islamic law, is not designed to safeguard or promote the use of Arabic. Arabic is not the official language of sharia, nor is Arabic the official language of Islam.
There are millions of Muslims around the world who do not even speak Arabic. Muslims in the US, Europe, Australia, Canada, Pakistan, Malaysia, India, and China may have no reason to speak or learn Arabic.
Suggesting that Arab culture is a “failed culture” is historically inaccurate. At the height of the European Dark Ages, Arabs produced the world’s most advanced civilization which made massive contributions to the sciences.
Moreover, Arab culture is not a monolith. There are Christian communities in Arab countries that have an “Arab culture” but do not practice Islam. By harshly criticizing Arab culture, the parents of students at Daphne High are also offending their fellow Christians.
Another parent of a Daphne student worried that teaching Arabic is “silencing the voice of Christianity.” She added: “We are not a Muslim nation, and yet they’re trying to bring this kind of nonsense into (schools). I’m absolutely against it… Arabic leads right into the Muslim teaching, and that is where the danger is and that is what I am absolutely against… Let them teach that in their mosques – but keep it out of our schools.”
America is not a Muslim nation, and it is also not a Christian nation with a Christian culture. It is common knowledge that many of the leading thinkers of the American Revolution were deists. One of the hallmarks of the American Constitution is the separation between church and state. It is also a fact that America has many sub-cultures within a larger American culture. There is also no such thing as a Christian culture. Which country in the world today has one?
Moreover, Arabic is not taught per se in all mosques. In fact, the mosques I frequent in Boston do not even have programs to teach the language. Most of the khutbas, or Friday sermons, that I attend in mosques are spoken in English, not Arabic.
The sentiments of these parents are part of a larger problem of misinformation and lack of education among many American citizens. Their ignorance of basic facts surrounding Arab culture and Islam only hurts the security of the US. To promote the “clash of civilizations” will only further isolate America from a world it knows little about.