Thursday, April 03, 2008

Revisiting Sympathy

About a month ago I made a post about the decision of the local Islamic school to exclude the Diary of Anne Frank from their curriculum. I had been told that the school administrators did not want to encourage sympathy--that is, sympathy for Jews. I thought it a problem, exacerbating already strained relations and emotions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Just last week I became aware of the fruits of that decision. A class at Duke University has been visiting our mosque a few times over the last couple months in a partnership to tutor some of the students at the Islamic school, and also learn some themselves about Islam and Muslims. Last Friday was the last session at the mosque, and it involved a panel with some members of the community. I was there on behalf of the da'wah committee only to facilitate the event, and found that the beginning topic was not what had been scheduled, but a fierce condemnation of some 'behavior' of some student at the school during a tutoring session.

The Duke students asked about the curriculum, and the brother on the panel just simply condemned the act and insisted it had nothing to do with the school. One sister on the panel described the importance of justice in the world and why the class needed to be sure to vote.

What was the behavior that had so upset the class?

Written in the student's workbook, "Kill the Jews."

The tutor who found it was Jewish. So was the teacher of this class at Duke. Isn't that embarrassing?

And the brother insisted that it had nothing to do with the curriculum, and that nothing needed to be added to the curriculum to encourage tolerance and respect. I beg to differ! And I can't help but relate the issue to the fact that the school deliberately wants to avoid sympathy for the Jewish people because of Israel today. I see that as a systemic attitude of the school administration which has crept into the classroom.

Sure, it has probably been helped by the attitudes of parents and reactions to friends and family who might be suffering in the Middle East. But I don't think that is a fair excuse. I think the community is deliberately trying to foster a hatred of Jewish people, and I don't think it's fair.

I'm not even talking about being politically correct, here, but being fair, being just, being upright. Some things are wrong, plainly wrong--and this is one of those things. I was very upset that the panelists could not simply say so, and that they tried to excuse it, that they tried to wipe over it, and refused the idea of any changes for improvement.

The shame is on us.


Jamilah said...

Salam Sister

Wow... that is so bad... are they going to do anything about it???

Amy said...

Wa alaikum as-salaam

Frankly, I don't think that they plan to do anything. They clearly don't see it as a systemic problem, just an isolated incident. But truthfully I think it is systemic, as demonstrated. There are so many things which could be done--considering it's an Islamic school, they could for example have pairings with a Jewish school (I'm sure they have schools here for teaching Jewish scriptures and traditions, Hebrew, etc.) for some kind of humanitarian or service project, so the kids interact.

Unfortunately, some higher-ups that I've talked to are adamantly against all kinds of interfaith activities for children.

Anonymous said...

Assalamo Alaikom Sister

Muslims have nothing against Jews, in fact we have a lot in common, as we believe in the same God, and Muslims believe in all of God's prophets sent to earlier nations, especially to the sons of Israel

Sympathy with people of other faiths, especially those who share with us a lot in common, is important for bridge building

How do Jewish schools in your area perceive inteaction with Muslims?


Amy said...

Wa alaikum as-salaam br Tarek

I don't know about any Jewish schools in the area. I can tell you though that I have only had good and positive experiences with Jews in the community here. They are active in interfaith activities locally, and frequently join Muslims at local protests against the occupation (of Palestine.)

I don't have anything negative to say about them, and pray that Allah swt guides them to Islam.

It is only the Muslims, I see, who object to the sympathy and mutual understanding, and they do so almost as a grudge against all Jewish people. I agree with you, that Muslims have nothing against Jews--but that is a sticky statement. Of course they /shouldn't/ have a gripe against Jews, but in fact many Muslims *do* because they mistakenly blame all Jewish people for the crimes of the state of Israel against Palestinians. It is a very emotional response, and we can't ignore it or tolerate it, I think, because it's clearly causing problems and making a reconciliation even more difficult.

Anonymous said...

Salaam Alaykom Sister Amy,

I go to the same masjid you do, and I am most often turned away by the hateful comments of Muslims against Americans and Jews. When I first became Muslim, I was talking to a woman about one of my Jewish mentors, and she said, "oh you didn't know, we hate the Jew". Next came my discovery that low and behold Osama bin Laden is actually a true hero to many Muslims in other parts of the world as I discovered after research following pro-Osama comments and emails. These are only examples, and the realization has made it difficult for me to identify with being Muslim because as I once believed that the accusations against Muslims were misunderstandings propagated by the media, my personal experiences lead me to realize a far darker reality. When people ask me questions now, I can only defend Islam, I don't defend Muslims when there majority view is sick and corrupt. Sadly, in your case, the majority view is such that you can't rectify a terrible situation. May Allah (SWT) give you the strength to do what is right, alhamdullilah that you already know what that is.

Amy said...

Wa alaikum as-salaam Heather,

Thanks for reading my blog. :-)

There has been a recent poll I think by Gallup, and maybe another by Pew, that the vast majority of Muslims don't have any support for bin Laden, and those who do usually only cite political (not religious) reasons.

As far as the school, I honestly doubt that the administration was even informed of the event. I suspect only the participants in the activity (pairing the Duke class with the masjid) were made aware. Not to mention this was not a Dawah committee event either.

Moreover, I also think that the majority of the community would side with me, and it only happens to be a few people in powerful positions who disagree and therefore are able to influence the community. Maybe just a few people among the school administration have this anti-Jewish sentiment, strong enough to prevent a proper reform to the curriculum. I'll keep hoping for the best.

If you recall, last week two little boys were killed in a car accident, running out into the road. Thursday night the masjid was hosting an interfaith event and the Jewish members present made a point of expressing their condolences, which they wanted mentioned after the salaat. I found that show of solidarity to be very moving.