Teaching Islam is an impressive review of religious studies, history, and civics books used in schools in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, the Palestinian territories, Turkey, and Iran. The multi-authored volume contains important new reporting on the content of textbooks in the Middle East.
The book's stated purpose is to respond to and disqualify "concerns that the content and character of official Middle Eastern programs are a danger both to local children and to international peace and security." Unfortunately, the editors—Doumato, a visiting scholar at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies, and Starrett, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina—fail to address findings about Saudi Arabian textbooks raised in the 2005 report from Freedom House, Saudi Publications on Hate Ideology Invade American Mosques.
The professors of anthropology, political science, and Middle Eastern Studies who have contributed to the volume do not make it clear what translations and instructional materials they have examined, and it is sometimes unclear whether they are working from original texts or relying on previous studies.
The editors stress significant differences among the books. As one might expect, textbooks in Turkey, Kuwait, and Oman present a different view of the world than those of Syria and Iran. The textbooks generally emphasize obedience, we learn, and they conceive of jihad as defense against Islam's enemies. A master narrative of victimization is pervasive. Saudi Arabia "stands alone" in its strict belligerence, Doumato and Starrett assure us, and textbooks used in Islamic countries generally do not incite to violence.
Teaching Islam documents worrisome findings and then blithely dismisses them. Chapter titles such as "Iran: A Shiite Curriculum to Serve the Islamic State," might give pause, as might overt anti-Jewish instruction found in Saudi, Jordanian, Syrian, and Egyptian texts. But Teaching Islam exudes ecumenicism. The volume's foregone purpose seems to be to minimize any xenophobic and anti-liberal features of Islam apparent in social studies textbooks. Coeditor Starrett finds similar themes of good citizenship between what Arab children read in Islamic textbooks and what his son reads in the Weekly Reader. Yes, perhaps, but not exactly. Unlike the editors, this reviewer is alarmed by the book's findings and equally alarmed that the authors do not reach the same conclusion.