Textbook Failure Preludes Flawed Portrayal of Muslims
When I was in elementary school, I remember reading about Martin Luther King Jr. being an American Baptist Minister. I remember Christopher Columbus being a Christian, and I remember Jewish people being the wealthiest in the nation. I remember the one sentence in the textbook that mentioned my religion. I remember my history teacher saying, “the Muslims behind 9/11,” and raising my hand to question why Mohammed Ali’s boxing, Malcolm X’s contribution to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and Muhammad al-Khwarizmi's creation of algebra were nowhere in the book. She told me to put my hand down: if I had a problem, I could call the publishing company. That was the same year I was called “Naazy Mohamed Modan” — despite not having a middle name — and was chased down my own street by other children. Nine years later, it seems my history book was only a prelude to today’s media coverage, and my history teacher was only a trailer for the real theatrical stigma surrounding the success of Muslims in the West.
Raised in an Indian household with a Qur’an sitting on my nightstand, I admittedly found it difficult to reconcile the peacefulness and intelligence of my Asian-Muslim parents with the images that flashed across my screen on CNN and Fox. The colored people with long white dresses looked like my father on Eid and the women with scarves looked like my mother when she went to the Mosque. The people in the footage looked like us, they talked like us, but were they really like us? What our history books, the New York Times and other information outlets fail to tell our children is exactly that: less than 6 percent of the terror attacks on U.S. soil between 1985 and 2005 were committed by Muslims. A 2014 study conducted by the University of North Carolina shows that the Muslim-linked terrorism has killed 37 Americans since 9/11, while murder has claimed the lives of 190,000. They don’t tell us that Muslims conquered and bloomed as one of the earliest civilizations on Earth, that we are the volunteers in Elijah’s Soup Kitchen, the cooks behind the gyro carts and the inhabitants of the wealthiest nation in the world. We are told that Kim Kardashian broke the Internet, but not that Saheela Ibrahim, a 19-year old Harvard graduate, is one of the top 50 smartest teenagers in the world. We are repeatedly reminded that the Boston Bomber was Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a Muslim, while we forget that Malala is Muslim, or that the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize two years before her was named Tawakkul Karman. Our history books don’t tell us that the word "Islam" comes from the root “sa-la-ma,” the same root that creates the word “peace” in Arabic, and the name “Solomon,” or man of peace, in English.
As a result, the ten-year-old me forgot what it meant to be a successful Muslim and only remembered that CNN told me what it meant to be a violent one. In our effort to propagate the Western construct of democracy, we deconstructed the successes of different nations and their people in ways that dehumanizes “the other” and highlights violence as more important and sensational than achievement.
Had I not chosen to attend Islamic school after years of being known as “Naazy Mohamed,” I may have never realized the beauty and accomplishments within my own religion. I struggle as much as anyone else to preserve what I was taught as a child, but the fact that I had to attend a private religious school to learn that Islam is nestled in what was the cradle of civilization, or that the first theorems in geometry were formulated by followers of Islam and not only by Euclid, speaks volumes about what we are — or aren’t — being fed by the media and other industries.
Nearly ten years later, I remember the look on Ms. Springstein’s face when I asked her why the only Islamic name in the textbook was Osama Bin Laden. I remember what it felt like to be a shamed Muslim sitting in the back of a class told to put her hand down because she dared to waste time over inclusivity and representation. I remember what it felt like to have my shoulders fall a little lower, my head sink a little deeper with every headline that flashed across the news screen. But after four years outside of the public school curriculum, I also know what it feels like to acknowledge and celebrate the success of Muslims in a Western world — something no one should have to call a publishing company to learn.
Originally published at The Daily Targum