Monday, December 21, 2015
Just last week, Augusta County, Virginia, a beautiful place in the Shenandoah Valley that I know well, closed its school system on Friday because parents were up in arms over one high school teacher's assignment, as part of a unit in world religions, of an example of Arabic calligraphy and asking the students to try to reproduce it. It happened to be the shahada, seemingly appropriate in a course attempting to explain (not proselytize) Islam. They were not asked to translate it, recite it, or affirm it. But many parents saw it as an attempt to convert their children, or brainwash them in Islam. Apparently the calligraphy alone is magical and can turn young minds into Muslims. (The area is overwhelmingly Christian, but I wonder if the unit on Judaism mentioned the Shema‘ and whether anyone objected.)
I suppose I can see how some religious folk might have qualms about how other religions are taught, but simply seeing the calligraphy of a creed, untranslated, seems unlikely to lead to a wave of conversions, Augusta County has been called the most Scotch-Irish county in the US, and those Ulster Presbyterians may be Baptists or Methodists today, but I wouldn't be afraid of some calligraphy.
Now, there's an arguably even sillier issue. The rightwing Islamophobic folks now are riding this horse:
Snopes.com has already taken this one apart pretty well, but let me pile on as well.
The Prophet Muhammad's birthday according to the Islamic Sira tradition of the Prophet's biography has been reported since the earliest Islamic traditions as the 12h day of the Islamic month of Rabi‘ al-Awwal. It is not a "new" holiday but instead has been celebrated since the early Islamic world.
As I mentioned in passing in my immediately previous post, the fact that the Prophet's Birthday, Mawlid al-Nabi, falls this week is a rare calendrical coincidence, not a plot. The Islamic calendar is purely lunar, with no intercalary days or months, and is thus 354 days long, while the solar Gregorian calendar is 365 (or 366) days long. So Muslim dates generally fall about 11 days earlier in each solar year and there are 103 Muslim years for each Gregorian century. Muslim holidays rotate backwards through the Western calendar. By pure chance, Mawlid al-Nabi this year falls on December 23 (not December 24 as claimed above).
Strictly speaking if "this year" means 2015, this will be the year's second Mawlid al-Nabi, since 12 Rabi‘ al-Awwal 1436 occurred on January 3, 2015, and 12 Rabi‘ al-Awwal 1437 falls Wednesday.
Christmas Eve is safe.