World

Islamic calligraphy assignment leads to Virginia school cancellations

Tensions mounted after a teacher at Riverheads High School in Augusta County asked her students to complete an assignment last week that involved practicing calligraphy and writing a statement in Arabic.
The Arabic message students were asked to transcribe, "There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah," is known as the Shahada and is a common phrase in the Arab world. Saudi runner Yousef Ahmed Masrahi is seen here with his country's flag, which is inscribed with the Shahada, following a 2014 race. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

Schools in a Shenandoah Valley county in Virginia were closed Friday, and several weekend extracurricular events were cancelled, after a school lesson involving the Islamic faith caused an angry backlash.

Tensions mounted after a teacher at Riverheads High School in Augusta County asked her students to complete an assignment last week that involved practicing calligraphy and writing a statement in Arabic.

The statement translated to: "There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah."

At a forum Tuesday, one parent said the assignment promoted a false religious doctrine, while other parents expressed outrage. Some demanded that the teacher be fired.

Augusta County school officials said they had not received any specific threats but were alarmed by the volume and tone of the complaints, including some from outside Virginia, according to news reports. In response, additional police were stationed at county schools Thursday.

In a statement, school officials said: "We regret having to take this action, but we are doing so based on the recommendations of law enforcement and the Augusta County School Board, out of an abundance of caution."

Teacher also assigned Judeo-Christian work

Besides the cancellation of classes, school administrators also called off a fundraiser to benefit a local family and all athletic events.

A different, non-religious sample of Arabic calligraphy will be used in the future.- Doug Shifflett, Augusta County assistant superintendent

The teacher's lesson was drawn from instructional material that also includes Judeo-Christian assignments.

School officials said the aim of the lesson was to illustrate the complexity of the written Arabic language, not to promote any religious system.

In a statement, district officials said they will use a different example of Arabic in future classes.

"Although students will continue to learn about world religions as required by the state Board of Education and the Commonwealth's Standards of Learning, a different, non-religious sample of Arabic calligraphy will be used in the future," Doug Shifflett, Augusta County's assistant superintendent for administration, said in a statement.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?

now