from The Textbook Letter, July-August 2000

Examining the treatment of religion in schoolbooks

Houghton Mifflin's Islamic Connection

William J. Bennetta

In a recent review, I showed that Prentice Hall's high-school book World Cultures: A Global Mosaic serves as a vehicle for Muslim propaganda. Long passages in World Cultures are devoted to promoting Islam, to making American students embrace Islamic religious beliefs, and to winning converts for Allah. In these passages, Muslim myths are disguised as historical information, Muslim superstitions are disguised as facts, and both the origin and the content of Islam are cloaked in seductive lies [see note 1, below].

Prentice Hall clearly is disseminating religious-indoctrination material produced by some Muslim pressure group, but nowhere in World Cultures has Prentice Hall provided any clue to the pressure group's identity.

Houghton Mifflin, the publisher of a 7th-grade textbook called Across the Centuries, has been less discreet. Across the Centuries is freighted with Muslim religious propaganda, much like the stuff in World Cultures -- but in the case of Across the Centuries, we can infer where the propaganda originated. When we look at the list of "Consultants" shown on the book's copyright page, we find "Shabbir Mansuri, Founding Director, Council on Islamic Education, Fountain Valley, California." And when we look at the lesson titled "Muhammad and Islam," in the book's third chapter, we discover what the word "Education" apparently means to Mansuri and his Council.

The "Muhammad and Islam" lesson begins, on pages 58 and 59, with a lengthy bout of Koran-thumping. Islamic woo-woo is peddled as history, and claims such as these are peddled as facts:

On page 60 students read a paragraph about the Ka'bah, the big Muslim shrine at Mecca:

One of the first things Muhammad did [after he captured Mecca] was to forgive all those who had opposed Muslims for so long. He also removed the idols from the Ka'bah. Thus the Ka'bah was again dedicated to the one God, as it had been in the time of Abraham. The area around the Ka'bah became the first mosque, or Muslim house of worship.

Again, Houghton Mifflin and the Council on Islamic Education are deluding students and are parading religious myths in the garb of history. Abraham is a mythical character who appears in many stories in the Hebrew Bible's Book of Genesis. Although those stories in Genesis do not suggest any connection between Abraham and Mecca, the Muslims have worked Abraham into one of their own myths about the origins of the Ka'bah -- myths in which the Ka'bah is built and rebuilt, at Mecca, by a succession of legendary figures [note 2]. In the passage that I've quoted from Across the Centuries, the phrase "in the time of Abraham" is a pseudohistorical absurdity, and so is the linking of Abraham with "the one God." The Hebrew Bible's first suggestions of monotheism appear not in stories about Abraham but in stories about a later character, Moses, who is the hero of the Book of Exodus.

On page 61, students read about the Koran:

Muhammad's revelations occurred from 610 until his death in 632. Although he was not literate himself, Muhammad had his revelations written down by his companions. Many of them memorized the whole Qur'an [Koran] and recited it in his presence. By the time of his death, all the revelations had been compiled into one collection, the Qur'an.

That is another Islamic myth: Muslims claim that the text of the Koran was checked and verified by Muhammad himself, and that it therefore must be an inerrant record of the "revelations" that Muhammad received, through Gabriel, from Allah. In truth, however, the origins of the Koran are unknown. As I noted in my review of Prentice Hall's World Cultures, scholars haven't been able to determine when the Koran's various parts were written, or who wrote them, or how many versions were written and rewritten before the final, canonized version was assembled.

Later in Houghton Mifflin's "Muhammad and Islam" lesson, the notion that Islam is compatible with Judaism and Christianity is bolstered by the deceptive claim that "Many prophets and holy people who are important figures in the Bible are also described [sic] in the Qur'an" and by the statement that "Christians and Jews are respected as 'people of the book' by Muslims, and all their prophets are revered." (Muslim propagandists in America often publicize the claim that Muhammad called Jews and Christians "people of the book" and awarded them special protection, but the propagandists never describe how Muhammad "protected" Jewish and Christian communities during his conquests: If he didn't destroy them outright, he robbed them, put them under Muslim governance, and compelled them to make regular payments of tribute to Muslim collectors. Nor do the propagandists tell about the Koran's declaration that Muslims must not accept Jews or Christians as allies or friends [note 3] -- "O believers, do not hold Jews and Christians as your allies. They are allies of one another; and anyone who makes them his friends is surely one of them; and God does not guide the unjust.")

Near the end of the "Muhammad and Islam" lesson, a coat of whitewash is applied to a notorious Islamic expression:

An Islamic term that is often misunderstood is jihad (jee HUHD). The term means "to struggle," to do one's best to resist temptation and to overcome evil. [page 64]

By whom is jihad "often misunderstood"? Historically, the word jihad has been associated with Muslim wars against infidels, and anybody who can read a newspaper knows that some of today's most conspicuous Muslims use jihad, quite unambiguously, to signify the business of destroying disbelievers and destroying the disbelievers' institutions. These Muslims understand what they mean by jihad, and so do we. Resisting temptation isn't what they have in mind.

I have shown, I believe, that what Houghton Mifflin seeks to pass off as a history lesson is an exercise in deception, religious preaching, myth-mongering, and religious indoctrination. I now assert that Across the Centuries is unfit for use in any public school in this country, because the Supreme Court of the United States has declared that it is illegal for a public school to deliver instruction "tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma" [note 4]. The "Muhammad and Islam" lesson in Across the Centuries fits that description to perfection.

Postscript       Across the Centuries has been adopted for use in the public schools of California -- so we again have seen how the California State Board of Education, during its textbook-adoption proceedings, protects the interests of big schoolbook companies while it scorns the interests of students and (if need be) spurns the law of the land. Houghton Mifflin and the Council on Islamic Education have friends in Sacramento, and those friends are as corrupt as they can be.


  1. See "Promoting Islam in American Schoolrooms" in The Textbook Letter, March-April 2000. [return to text]

  2. See "Appendix II. -- The Bayt Ullah" in Volume 2 of Richard F. Burton's renowned Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah, originally published in 1855. A paperback edition has been issued by Dover Publications and can be obtained easily. Teachers who must compose lessons about Islam should be sure to read Burton's superb memoir, which includes accounts of many Islamic superstitions that Burton encountered when he went to Arabia in 1853, adopted the role of a Muslim pilgrim, and visited such attractions as the Ka'bah, the tomb of Muhammad, and the tomb of "no less a personage than Sittna Hawwa, the Mother of mankind." [return to text]

  3. See the Koran 5:51 (i.e., sura 5, verse 51). [return to text]

  4. See the Supreme Court's decision in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987). [return to text]

William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes often about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.


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