An entire Virginia school district was ordered to remain closed on Friday after a calligraphy homework sparked allegations of Islamic indoctrination and furor from concerned parents.
The now-controversial assignment was given by Riverheads High School teacher Cheryl LaPorte, who asked her students to practice writing a statement in Arabic which translates to: “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”
While Augusta County School District officials said there was no specific threat of harm to students, they were concerned about the “tone and content of these communications.”
“We regret having to take this action, but we are doing so based on the recommendations of law enforcement and the Augusta County School Board out of an abundance of caution,” the statement says.
While there’s certainly nothing more important than the safety of students and staff, there are two major reasons why the paranoia — and ignorance — behind closing of the schools borders on Islamophobia.
First, neither the (mere) recitation of, nor jotting down the Islamic verse makes anyone Muslim. Sure, it's the first step toward the acceptance of Islam, but there's a lot more to it when it comes to conversion.
Secondly, considering the students were learning about world religions and culture, it shouldn’t have been a problem to begin with. They had studied Christianity and Judaism, and according to USA Today, will learn about Hinduism and Buddhism.
Instead of giving in to the fear-induced apprehensions of the parents, school authorities should have dealt with it by clearing out confusions — with dialogue.
Shutting down schools across the entire district over an innocuous assignment would only fuel misconceptions about a religion already misunderstood in the West.