A representative of a local Muslim organization said he was troubled by a North Huntingdon minister’s presentation at a recent school board meeting about the way Islam is represented in a district textbook.

Adam Hamed, office manager of the Muslim Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh in Monroeville, questioned the reasons behind the presentation given by Rev. Bruce Leonatti of Zion Lutheran Church in North Huntingdon.

Last month, Leonatti and about 30 residents approached the Norwin School District board, and said five textbooks used by the district present students with a slanted teaching of Islam, which “denigrates and demonizes Christianity.”

Leonatti said the textbooks maliciously frame Islam in a historically inaccurate light, and have unclear objectives. He and his supporters requested that district officials review how Islam is taught, and develop a defined curriculum and clear learning objectives.

“I’ve been told there were no previous objectives, but present objectives of the Islamic units are not clear, defined or measurable,” Leonatti said. “Teaching religions must not promote one over others, and, as my review points out, this textbook promotes Islam over Christianity and Judaism.”

Hamed said he thinks the presentation was about more than the educational process.

“The only thing this does is perpetuate a stereotype of our religion to the youth and community, and that is the most disturbing thing about it,” he said.

The Muslim Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh offers an outreach program and has met with several local churches, synagogues and temples to discuss and educate about Islamic culture and faith, Hamed said.

The 26-year-old center is also a mosque and provides religious education for children. It also offers social and recreational programming for Muslims.

“In the two years I’ve been involved, we haven’t received any complaints and have held an excellent dialogue with lots of organizations throughout the region,” Hamed said. “But this is the first time I’ve heard of someone in the area having a problem with Islam.”

Hamed said center representatives would be happy to sit down with Norwin School District officials and Leonatti to discuss any concerns.

“Part of our responsibility is to educate others about our religion and what we believe in,” Hamed said. “When people learn about us, they’re often surprised to see the difference between us and them is very, very small.”

Leonatti wrote a 19-page report, discussing the 30 pages dedicated to Islamic studies in the textbook. The report compared the textbook’s lessons on Islam to Islamic scriptures and history in the Quran and other Islamic writings.

After reading Leonatti’s report, which he gave to the school board, Hamed said the minister misconstrued the text quoted from the Quran.

“They’re taking this completely out of context,” Hamed said. “I could find the Bible and the Torah and misconstrue it to create anything.

“It’s all a matter of perspective.”

Some might associate radical Muslims in Afghanistan and the Middle East with the rest of the Islamic religion around the world, Hamed said. Most of the radical views and beliefs shared by Muslims in the Middle East are based not their faith, but on the culture of the individual country, he added.

“There is a difference between cultural nonsense and our religion,” Hamed said. “When you hear about things like people being stoned to death in Afghanistan, that is a cultural occurrence, not an Islamic occurrence.”

Hamed said it’s important for schools to teach the basics about all religions equally.

 

“No school should say one religion is bad, or better than another,” Hamed said. “I’m sure these textbooks in question talk about all the religions, but the fact it covers Islam in a positive light and people are complaining about that is surprising.”

 

Although Leonatti also examined “Modern World History: Patterns of Interaction,” “World Civilizations: The Global Experience,” and “Discovering the Global Past: A Look at the Evidence Vol. I,” and “Discovering the Global Past: A Look at the Evidence, Vol. II,” which are used in the high school, he had not prepared reports in time for the meeting.

 

Superintendent William Kerr said teachers must establish learning objectives as part of planning out their courses, which administrators review.

 

Administration plans to take Leonatti’s request under advisement, but Kerr declined to discuss the situation further.

 

Seeking a ban on textbooks because of its passages on Islam is not unprecedented. In 2010, the Texas Board of Education voted to discourage textbook publishers from presenting books that offered what was viewed as a biased view of Christianity and Islam

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