BRISTOL TOWNSHIP SCHOOLS – Every year, social studies teacher Lisa Volpe conducts an informal poll in her seventh-grade class in Lower Bucks.

What is Islam?

“Before Sept. 11, most kids didn’t know what Islam was. We would do brainstorms and most thought it was a place. Now, kids say 9/11 and terrorism. And honestly, when we watch the news, that’s what it appears to be all about,” said Volpe, a teacher in Bristol Township’s Benjamin Franklin Middle School.

But each year, the stereotype fades.

Volpe teaches an introductory unit on the Muslim faith, part of a curriculum that includes the teaching of the world’s major religions.

“I thought in the beginning that Muslims were just girls with mustaches and terrorists because I saw 9/11 [on TV],” said seventh-grader Steven Evens.

After the three-week course that ended this month, Steven said: “[Muslims] actually do a lot of stuff like we do. They like clothes, sports, high school. They’ve got friends.”

Another classmate, Jennifer Hinkie, said: “I thought Muslims were all terrorists … because of the news.” But after the class, she said, “They’re not all terrorists. Just because they live [in Iraq] doesn’t mean they’re terrorists.”

Volpe’s students were just learning the basics ”” such as who Muhammad was, the differences between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and the fact that most Muslims are not Arabs. . .

“Unfortunately, the way most Americans are introduced to Islam is through the lens of terrorism and the invasion of Iraq,” said Rabiah Ahmed, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“It’s very important that we educate our youth on what Islam is about and what the Islam community stands for in an objective manner,” she said.


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