Teachers get lessons on Islam and Arab world


(Original publication: March 20, 2005)

PURCHASE — The teachers were gathered at round tables, answering a quiz about the Jewish scripture, the New Testament and the Quran. They were asked to match the holy book with the quotations, which included references to Adam in the garden, Moses parting the sea and the immaculate conception of Mary. To the surprise of some, the correct match for all of the above was the Quran, the Islamic holy book.
“For most people, this quiz serves as a wake-up call,” said Audrey Shabbas, who led the workshop, “Teaching about the Arab World and Islam,” at Manhattanville College in Purchase yesterday. “When talking about Judaism, Christianity and Islam, we’re talking about connections, not just similarities.”

Shabbas’ organization, the Arab World and Islamic Resources, conducts workshops nationwide to help educators understand Arab culture and history, as well as Islamic faith, and to bring that knowledge into the classroom.

The workshop included discussions about geography, the different populations of Muslims, and the connections between Arabs and Muslims and the United States.

Many of the 21 teachers who participated were history teachers, but others taught elementary school or art and came to the workshop to learn more about the traditions of the Muslim and Arab students in their schools.

Theresa Kubasak, who teaches second grade at a Manhattan school, said she wanted to learn more about her students’ backgrounds.

“It validates the kids’ cultures who are sitting in my classroom,” she said. “I have all kinds of kids who have experienced war and racism. They deserve to have a teacher who understands their culture.”

Louise Kuklis, an economics and global studies teacher at Edgemont High School, wanted to tackle her own assumptions and misconceptions.

“Ever since Sept. 11,” she said, “kids have had so many questions. They’re always wondering what is this religion that terrorism comes from. I’m trying to give them awareness of Muslim society.”

The American Muslim Women’s Association, based in Briarcliff Manor, sponsored the second annual workshop because members felt Islamic and Arab studies were missing from their own children’s education in Westchester schools.

Association President Zena Mikdadi said her son was often asked to speak about the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to fellow students at Dobbs Ferry High School.

Ola Nosseir, a native of Egypt, had the same feeling in her sons’ classrooms.

“We hope they (the teachers) go back and impart the knowledge to their students and feel more confident about teaching,” she said. “You can’t teach if you don’t know.”