Middle East studies in the News
Parents' Outrage After Virginia High School Students Are Asked to Practice Calligraphy by Writing 'There is no god but Allah'
by Snejana Farberov
A lesson in calligraphy has caused an uproar among some parents at a Virginia high school when students were instructed to write a Muslim statement of faith that read: 'There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.'
The incident took place on Friday during a world geography class at Riverheads High School in Staunton.
The lesson of the day focused on world religions, among them Islam. As part of the assignment, social studies teacher Cheryl LaPorte had her ninth-grade students copy a piece of Arabic text known as the shahada, which is the most common Islamic creed.
Recitation of the shahada in public is the first formal step in conversion to Islam. However, according to school officials, the ninth-graders were not asked to translate the statement or read it aloud.
Students were also shown copies of the Koran, and female students were invited to try on a scarf as part of a lesson about the Islamic concept of modest dress.
Parent Kimberly Herndon was infuriated when her son came home with the assignment sheet from Mrs LaPorte's world geography class.
'When I saw the language, the Arabic language, immediately I had a bad feeling come over me,' the mother of six told NBC29.
Herndon, who is a devout Christian, accused the teacher of indoctrinating unsuspecting students into the Islamic faith. The mother has not sent her son back to school since the incident and said she would be willing to take this case all the way to the US Supreme Court if she must.
'She [LaPorte] gave up the Lord's time,' Herndon said of the religious lesson when speaking to the Staunton News Leader. 'She gave it up and gave it to Mohammed.'
The Augusta County parent on Tuesday organized a meeting attended by more than 100 people at Good New Ministries to discuss the controversial calligraphy lesson.
Debbie Ballew, a former English teacher who was present up at the public forum, said had she asked her students to copy a passage from the Bible, she would have lost her job.
Several people who came out for the meeting called for Cheryl LaPorte's termination in the wake of the incident.
'I will not have my children sit under a woman who indoctrinates them with the Islam religion when I am a Christian, and I'm going to stand behind Christ,' said Herndon
'Neither these lessons, nor any other lesson in the world geography course, are an attempt at indoctrination to Islam or any other religion, or a request for students to renounce their own faith or profess any belief,' the press release read.Augusta County School Superintendent Dr. Eric Bond released a statement saying the point of the lesson was to introduce children to various world religions in an interactive way, not to have them convert to Islam.
Riverheads ninth-grader Laurel Truxell told the station WHSV she did not feel comfortable copying the Arabic text or putting on the scarf meant to mimic the Islamic Hijab.
Bond said in his statement that Ms LaPorte's lesson was consistent with the Standards of Learning in Virginia. As part of the school curriculum, when students are taught about a geographic region, they are also introduced to its dominant religion and written language.
Friday's lesson, according to the statement, focused on the Middle East and Islam.
'The students were presented with the statement to demonstrate the complex artistry of the written language used in the Middle East, and were asked to attempt to copy it in order to give the students an idea of the artistic complexity of the calligraphy,' Dr Bond stated.
Bond added that students at Riverheads will be given similar assignments when they study about China and Africa.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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