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Published: July 4, 2011


The world’s largest religion, with about 1.3 billion adherents, 97% of whom are in Asia and Africa. Islam was founded in Arabia in the early seventh century A.D. by Muhammed (c.570–632), when he heard a voice tell him, “You are the messenger of God.” As he received subsequent revelations, he and his followers collected them into what became known as the Qur’an (or Koran), or sacred scriptures of Islam, which Muslims believe to be the revelations and words of God and, therefore, infallible. An uncompromisingly monotheistic faith that rejects the divinity of Christ, Islam demands individual “surrender to the will of Allah (God),” with strict adherence to certain religious practices that often conflict with accepted dress, behavior and political norms in American and other Western cultures—especially in public schools. The fiercely secular public school system in France, for example, bans all religious displays, including the five daily public prayers required by the Muslim religion and the wearing of head scarves and veils by Muslim girls and women. Previously of little consequence in the United States, Islam increased in importance suddenly in the 1950s, with the burgeoning black civil rights movement. Infuriated by the opposition of white-dominated Christian churches to racial integration, many black leaders turned to Islam, and, by 1965, the BLACK MUSLIM religious movement counted about 250,000 adherents—all of them Americans.
In subsequent decades, Muslim immigrants from Africa and Asia doubled the number of adherents to Islam by 1990 and doubled it again by 2000. There were an estimated 1.5 million Muslims in the United States in 2006, the vast majority of whom were foreign-born or first-generation American-born and had no affiliation to the African-American Black Muslim movement. The immigrant-based Muslim religion had spawned 1,200 mosques and hundreds of affiliated religious schools, and one university was in the planning stages. Of concern to many educators is the deeply ingrained opposition of Muslim fundamentalists to popular, democratic rule, which, they argue, is a formula for anarchy and moral decay. Emancipation of women, the fundamentalists also contend, is responsible for the breakdown of the family and the spread of permissive morality in the Western world.