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New York City
December 2001

Teachers College Talks About Islam
By Sybil Maimin

Following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, it became clear that knowledge in our society about the world of Islam is skimpy, at best. To address this problem, Columbiaís Teachers College drew upon several relevant departments in the university to present a one-day workshop for educators about the histories, cultures, and current status of Muslims in a wide range of countries. Discussion and an exchange of ideas about related curriculum development followed the presentations.

Muslims are as diverse as the countries they come from. States such as Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia, Sudan, and Iran have Muslim majorities. India, the United States, and France are nations with significant Muslim minorities. Several themes emerge as the end of the Cold War and globalization, which is seen as passing them by, affect the mood and outlook of many in the Muslim world. Feelings of hopelessness and defeat have often led, in both majority and minority communities, to a reactive mentality that is phobic about modernity and focuses on roots and strict interpretation of doctrine.

The Muslim communities in a New York City Project in Columbiaís School of International and Public Affairs reports that 600,000 Muslims reside in New York City. Of these, 42 percent are African-American, 24 percent South Asian, and 12 percent Arab. Thirty- seven nationalities are represented including 12 from Arab-speaking countries. New immigrants often compare New York City to the hajj, because like the pilgrimage to Mecca, many different groups of Muslims come together here. The city has 100 mosques, with most in Brooklyn and the Bronx, followed by Queens and Staten Island, but 95 percent of Muslims do not attend regularly.

It is no longer sufficient to just teach about the Five Pillars of Islam, agreed educators at the workshop. The curriculum must delve into history, culture, diversity, and living Islam. Concepts of imperialism, colonialism, nationalism and authoritarianism must be explored. Students must be helped to think critically about the all-important events taking place around them. They must consider whether one manís freedom fighter is another manís terrorist, the relativist approach, or whether there is such a thing as absolute evil.

Various organizations are developing materials to help teachers cope with the attack and its aftermath. Columbia Universityís Eastern Europe, Russian, and Eurasian Resource Center is dedicated to teacher training and outreach. Op-ed pieces in newspapers such as The New York Times present differing views. And, Educators for Social Responsibility offers a range of aids and activities. #

 

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All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of the publisher. © 2001.




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