Scholars concerned over reference to ‘forced conversions’ in California curriculum

July 13, 2016 07:32 pm | Updated 11:28 pm IST - Washington:

Ahead of the California Board of Education meeting on Thursday to consider the new school curriculum framework, a group 25 experts on Islam and Muslims societies have expressed concern over many references related to India, particularly the notion of forced conversions to Islam in the subcontinent.

The California Instructional Quality Commission (IQC) after considering submissions, including from many groups linked to India and South Asia, has proposed a draft for the consideration of the Board. The most contentious debates related to India and South Asia were on the questions referring to the entire South Asia as ‘India’ in some contexts and the treatment of caste in the curriculum. Some Hindu groups argued that caste was not linked to the Hindu religion. A group of scholars argued for the use of the word ‘South Asia’ to refer to the landmass currently called India in the curriculum in many contexts.

“We are concerned that conversations surrounding the historical identity, contributions and legacy of Muslims have taken place without due input from qualified scholars with expertise in history and religion relating to Islam and Muslim societies,” the scholars said. Among them are John L. Esposito, Professor of Religion and International Affairs and of Islamic Studies, Georgetown University, William Albert Graham, Jr., Albertson Professor of Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University, Dr. Hatem Bazian, co-founder and Professor of Islamic Law and Theology, Zaytuna College, Jonathan Brown, Professor and Chair of Islamic Civilization, Georgetown University.

The scholars said the statement in the proposed curriculum framework that “sometimes Turkish Muslim leaders forced Hindus to convert, but at other times rulers practiced religious toleration,” should be deleted.

“There seems an unusual propensity to attribute “forced conversion” to Islam in this curriculum vis-a-vis other religions, The primary evidence on the claim is lacking and/or controversial….This claim, often propagated by Hindu nationalist groups, originates from orientalist historians Elliot & Dawson in their work “The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians. These claims have long been discredited. A detailed treatment of the problems relating to these claims can be found in the historiography outlined by noted historians S.A.A Rizvi and A.L. Basham in their celebrated work “The Wonder That Was India: Volume 2’ that deals with Islamic rule in India,” they have written to the Board.

The scholars also object to the continued use India instead of South Asia “when referring to histories situated outside or transcending the political boundaries of the present Indian state.”

“It is simply untenable that histories spanning Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar all be referred to as ancient India. In one single decision based on input from a Hindu nationalist group, the Instruction Quality Commission (IQC) simply robbed the historical and cultural heritage of all these countries and reassigned it to India. Incidentally, this is one of the key political objectives of the Hindu nationalist movement. The Akhanda Bharat of Hindu nationalism envisions a “greater India” comprising of all of South Asia politically unified under Hindu rule. The point is further underscored by the insistence of Hindu nationalist groups, and the acceptance of their recommendations by the IQC, that India be distinguished from the Islamic world, even under the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal rule, which formed one of the centres of Islamic civilisation during their time,” the scholars said.

In a similar submission, 11 Muslims groups have also asked the Board to delete references that have the potential to fan Islamophobia.

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