There has been a wide range of efforts made to take anything remotely related to Christian holidays out of the public school system. School children no longer sing at Christmas concerts or take a Christmas vacation. They have been replaced with a Winter break, and for the most part, one would be hard-pressed to find any holiday symbol in a regular classroom. With this being said it seems strange that a school in Tennessee has included a field trip to the local mosque as a way to teach middle school kids about Islam.
Parents reacted in anger when they heard what the field trip entailed. There were complaints that the speaker at the religious center seemed to be selling the idea of a natural conversion to Muslim to a group of impressionable children. While it is legal to expose the students to lessons about religions as a way to compare cultures it is not appropriate to hold one belief out as being better than another. It was understandable that some parents reacted in anger as their students were “…filled with Islam.”
The speaker at the Islamic Center of Nashville (ICN), Dina Sirois, gave an intense speech to a group of kids from the Metro Nashville Meigs Middle Magnet School. This was not a classroom lesson about religions of the world, but instead, her account of being able to have the “best of both worlds” by becoming a Muslim. Much of her slideshow focused on the fact that her family started out as Christians, but she used higher levels of logic to find the better religion, becoming a Muslim of course.
According to the opening of the speech made by Sirois:
“We’re all on a learning journey and on a faith journey and today’s talk is to expand your critical thinking skills. We’re not trying to win you over. We’re trying to give you information so you can leave here today with yet another little piece of your brain that has some new little storage compartment that has been filled with Islam stuff and then you take that on with your life and your faith journey and then you keep adding more and more aspects from different faiths and different cultures until you make your final decision as to what kind of person you want to be when you grow up.”
Essentially Sirois is telling these kids that they are using more of their brain and higher logic exploring Islam. They are not settling for what they already know and somehow can influence the kind of person they turn into by converting to this higher religion.
Sirois speaks of growing up in a strict Catholic home, but fails to mention the stringent and sometimes dangerous requirements of the Muslim faith. Listening to her talk about the rigorous mass schedule as a Catholic makes it seem like becoming a Muslim is a more comfortable route.
She fails to mention the fact that many within the faith pray up to five times a day. During her comparisons of each religion, it is easy to see how converting to Islam may improve their lives. For one thing, they could abandon all the family traditions they did not like about being a Catholic or Christian.
While she was extremely critical of the misguided traditions of most other faiths, there is no mention of any downside to her faith. There is no discussion about the strict guidelines or the role of women in the church. This seems to be a fun and more carefree version of Islam than most are familiar with.
Another interesting part of the entire speech was the way that Sirois seemed to poke fun at very personal elements of the Christian faith, being baptized. According to Sirois, one just decides they are Muslim and:
“That’s it – that’s all you have to do to become a Muslim. Boom, you’re a Muslim. It’s very simple. There’s no baptism, no dunking under water which for me, I remember having to hold my nose and I looked weird.”
Within the speech, there were countless examples of jokes made about other faiths and even over critical language used to describe their daily practices. This was done in the name of “critical thinking.” This type of discussion was done for all of the faiths except for one, that being Islam. That belief was held out as a useful compromise for students who did not like things about the religion their parents made them practice.
Just as the students start to ponder a way out of their faith at home, they enjoy cookies and punch at the ICN. They were also given copies of the Quran to take home.