As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 attacks approaches, schools in western Pennsylvania are planning to include studies about Islam in their school curriculum to give students a better view of the faith.
"If we want our students to solve future problems, they must have a strong understanding of world religions," Doug Kirchner, social studies curriculum leader at Upper St. Clair High School, told Pittsburgh Tribune on Saturday, August 13.
Introducing the new subjects in the coming spring term, to start in a few weeks, students at Upper St. Clair will be offered a detailed analysis of Islam in a class called Asian and Middle Eastern studies.
"The course is run almost like a current events class," Kirchner said.
"Students begin to see how politics, economics and culture can be intertwined."
At Greensburg Salem High School, students would be introduced to Islam starting from grade six in their study about the Crusades as part of an international studies unit.
They will have a second course on Islam in their 11th grade, focusing on the world's five largest religions; Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism.
"It's brand new to them," said Bob Lehman, social studies teacher at Greensburg Salem.
"They have a foundation with Christianity and Judaism, but we don't really have a Muslim population here to the extent that they would know."
Since 9/11, US Muslims, estimated between six to seven million, have become sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights, with a prevailing belief that America was stigmatizing their faith.
A US survey has revealed that the majority of Americans know very little about Muslims and their faith.
A recent Gallup poll, however, found 43 percent of Americans Nationwide admitted to feeling at least "a little" prejudice against Muslims.
Facing many questions about the way the courses would look to Islam, education officials say the study would focus on its history without relating it to violence.
"We give kids an accurate portrayal of the many different belief systems around the world," said Claudia Gallant, assistant head of school for academic affairs.
However, education officials made it clear that 9/11 attacks were a main factor that led to including studies about Islam in school curricula.
"Curriculum decisions are made at the local level," said Tim Eller, spokesman for the state Department of Education.
"However, with the impact that Sept. 11 had on our nation, school districts across Pennsylvania have incorporated it into their lessons."
The 9/11 attacks would also be included for the first time in US curriculum in courses taught in some upper-level elective classes that will focus on the events leading up to the attacks and the effects.
The lessons will not focus on the terrorists who are not limited to one religion, said Michael Dreger, social studies curriculum coordinator.
"There are radical groups within Islam, there are radical groups within Christianity," he said.
"We don't want to focus on the negative aspects of one religion."
Yet, some Muslims were still worried about the inclusion of 9/11 attacks in courses talking about Islam, fearing it would stigmatize the vast majority of moderate Muslims who denounced the attacks.
"An in-depth discussion of him during a basic lesson on Christianity would be inappropriate," Moein Khawaja, executive director of the Philadelphia branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said referring to the terrorist attacks in Norway executed by Anders Behring Breivik, who identifies himself as a Christian.
"They should learn about it in the proper context."