This is not going to be pleasant, but the truth needs to be told.
I learned recently that a student at a local junior college was told by a history professor that Muslims were in North America long before Columbus arrived here. Where in the world did this professor get this impression? What evidence is there to substantiate such a wild claim? Is her statement backed by other historians?
A group identified as The Middle East Policy Council (MEPC), with the assistance of Arab World and Islamic Resources (AWAIR), published a manual in 1998, and revised it in 2002. The manual, called the Arab World Studies Notebook, and which I have a copy of, is a 540 page manual in a 3-ring binder geared specifically toward educators. It contains background material written by a number of authors, lesson plans for instructors, classroom activities, and lists of additional resources for each topic covered.
The MEPC hosted “educational seminars” on Islam throughout the U.S. to help school instructors better understand Islam and prepare them to teach this subject in classrooms. Teachers were given free or reduced-price copies of the workbook. The MEPC even pitched the workbook directly to school boards in an attempt to have it adopted into the local curriculum of various school districts. According to various sources, over 20,000 copies of the workbook found their way into the hands of educators.
With regards to the ideas surrounding Columbus and Muslims, what does the notebook have to say?
In a section titled, “Early Muslim Exploration Worldwide: Evidence of Muslims in the New World Before Columbus” we find wild and unsubstantiated claims such as this: “Columbus was well aware of the Manding presence and that the West African Muslims had not only spread throughout the Caribbean, Central and South America, but that they had reached Canada and were trading and intermarrying with the eastern woodland Iroquois and Algonquin nations. Much later, early English explorers were to meet Iroquois and Algonquin chiefs with names like Abdul-Rahim and Abdallah Ibn Malik.”
The author, Audrey Shabbas, has been called out by historians and other educators for her version of revisionist history. Peter DiGangi, Director of the Algonquin National Secretariat, called Shabbas’ claims “outlandish” and said nothing in the tribe’s oral or written tradition supports such a claim. It is as if Shabbas invented the claim out of thin air, with no basis in historical fact. DiGangi attempted to contact Shabbas to have her remove this inaccurate material from the notebook, and Shabbas was unresponsive for six months. When asked how she was going to have the material removed from the thousands of books distributed (over 20,000 as of this writing), Shabbas said she would “give careful and thoughtful attention” to the matter. Yet as of today, there has been no retraction of the material.
Sandra Stotsky, former director of a professional development institute for teachers at Harvard, and a former senior associate commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Education, notes that Shabbas has admitted to “deliberately favoring the Arab point of view.” She describes the notebook as “propaganda.” The bias of Shabbas shows in her revisionist history. Ms. Stotsky has written extensively about the campaign to rewrite history by groups pushing a pro-Islamic agenda. In an article written for George Mason University’s History News Network, Stotsky is highly critical of the notebook and states, “After September 11, it is clearly urgent to teach K-12 students about Islamic history and culture. It is also crucial for their teachers to have suitable instructional materials that do not inadvertently promote some person’s or group’s religious or political agenda.”
Hear Stotsky in this video discuss Islamic influence in our schools. The video also addresses the Arab World Studies Notebook.
In another article for the History News Network, history intern Rebecca Fachner discusses where the idea originated that Muslims were here long before Columbus. Fachner notes in a report that the authors of the notebook “simply created an Indian story to suit the purposes of the advocacy group, and published it in a school text manual as fact.” She goes on to say that it appears Shabbas and others were simply trying to gain acceptance for Arabs, further integrating them into American culture by making them ‘native.’
Revisionist history to suit a political agenda: Absolutely. Historical fact: Absolutely not. Educators have no business teaching this sort of revisionist history, yet this is exactly what is occurring, even right in my home town.