A Virginia school district is defending an class assignment that asked high schoolers to practice calligraphy by writing the shahada, a crucial step in the conversion to Islam.
Cheryl LaPorte, a teacher at Riverheads High School in Staunton, Virginia, instructed students to write, "There is no god but Allah. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah," in calligraphy as part of a world geography lesson. Female students were also invited to wear a scarf during a lesson on the Islamic concept of modest dress, The News Leader reported.
The school district, which met Dec. 11 to discuss the assignment with parents, insisted that the shahada was not translated into English for the students, so they didn't know what it was they were writing, Fox News reported.
Augusta County Superintendent Eric Bond sent a press release saying geography students are taught the religion and written language of each geographic region, so they have also had lessons on Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism and Hinduism, among others.
"The students were presented with the statement to demonstrate the complex artistry of the written language used in the Middle East, and were asked to attempt to copy it in order to give the students an idea of the artistic complexity of the calligraphy," the release stated, The News Leader reported. "The statement presented as an example of the calligraphy was not translated for students, nor were students asked to translate it, recite it or otherwise adopt or pronounce it as a personal belief."
"Neither these lessons, nor any other lesson in the world geography course, are an attempt at indoctrination to Islam or any other religion, or a request for students to renounce their own faith or profess any belief. Each of the lessons attempts objectively to present world religions in a way that is interesting and interactive for students," the release said.
The scarf used in the activity was also not an actual Islamic religious hijab, the district said.
Communication with the Virginia Department of Education said Ms. LaPorte's lessons were in line with "Standards of Learning and the requirements for content instruction on world monotheistic religions," The News Leader reported.