New York Times Magazine: “Islam will presumably be taught…”

From the New York Times Magazine
“Universal Faith”
Published: August 26, 2007

“Another school year, another round of controversy about religion in public education. This fall, two new yet already divisive publicly financed schools are set to open: the Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn and the Ben Gamla Charter School in Hollywood, Fla. Both describe themselves as nonsectarian institutions that emphasize a particular language – Arabic and Hebrew, respectively – and both have been criticized on the assumption that they will be organized around the distinctive cultures (and thus religions) associated with those languages. Meanwhile, at the University of Michigan at Dearborn, a small firestorm has erupted over plans to install foot baths in school washrooms to help Muslim students perform the ablutions required for daily prayer.”

“In each of these cases, education officials seem to be making an effort to accommodate a religious community. And in each case, this perfectly understandable impulse has led to criticism that the concession oversteps the separation between church and state. The uproar over Khalil Gibran has reached a fever pitch, and the founding principal has already resigned…..”

“The public schools at the center of the other recent controversies, however, seem to represent accommodation of the single-use variety. Khalil Gibran, administered by the New York City Department of Education, is a watered-down, American version of the British and Canadian models of state-run religious schools catering to Muslims. The school’s name, borrowed from a noted Christian-born Lebanese-American writer of universalist sympathies, appears calculated to signal that the school is not narrowly Muslim. Yet Islam will presumably be taught – it would be educationally indefensible to teach Arab civilization without including it – and enrollment seems likely to include Muslim students in disproportionate numbers. It is difficult to imagine the city sponsoring such an institution without the impetus to maintain warm relations with its Muslim community in the wake of 9/11. “



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