A school district superintendent in semi-rural Southern California has completely outlawed all drawings of all religious leaders on campus because a history teacher assigned a vocabulary worksheet that asked students to draw images of Muhammad.
Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District superintendent Brent Woodard implemented the far-reaching ban after a single parent complained, reports the Los Angeles Daily News.
The seventh-grade history assignment at High Desert School in Acton, Calif. was a worksheet called “Vocabulary Pictures: The Rise of Islam.” It featured several words including Quran, Mecca, Bedouins and Muhammad. There was space for students to sketch their own images representing the various words.
The parent who found the assignment offensive is Melinda Van Stone, a chiropractor in nearby Palmdale.
After her 12-year-old son brought home the assignment a couple weeks ago, Van Stone was “very upset,” she said.
“It’s not appropriate to have our children go to school and learn how to insult a religious group,” she told the Daily News.
Van Stone refused to indicate her own religion or her son’s religion.
Woodard, the superintendent, has taken swift action based on the single complaint.
“I have directed all staff to permanently suspend the practice of drawing or depiction of any religious leader,” Woodard told the Los Angeles newspaper on Wednesday. “I am certain this teacher did not intend to offend anyone and in fact was simply teaching respect and tolerance for all cultures.”
The superintendent also said he plans to investigate the situation personally by calling an unidentified Islam expert to find out if the worksheet was insensitive.
High Desert School principal Lynn David noted that the worksheet is not part of any textbook and she isn’t sure how the unidentified teacher obtained it.
Van Stone’s son did not have to complete the worksheet and did not participate in any further coursework concerning Islam. He went to the office and did something else while the teacher and the other 30 or so students continued on with him.
Van Stone said she feels like this was akin to a punishment for her son.
Local school district president Ed Porter described the teacher who assigned the worksheet as “very tolerant,” according to the Daily News.
As University of Southern California comparative Islamic law professor Berj Boyajian explained, Muhammad, the founder of Islam, prohibited all images of all human beings. He was worried about idolatry.
Islamic scholars have long held that Muslims aren’t supposed to draw Muhammad. Images of Jesus, Moses and other Abrahamic heavyweights are also considered verboten.
Muslims around the world today tend to abide by the imagery ban on Muhammad.
“Muslims do not draw the image of the prophet Muhammad out of respect for him,” Muzammil Siddiqi of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California told the Daily News.
Siddiqi also urged teachers to “be sensitive to this Muslim position that young Muslim students would be reluctant to do it.”
Council on American-Islamic Relations spokesman Fatima Dadabhoy told the Los Angeles broadsheet that schools should avoid “offensive material.”
The Guardian has observed that Islamic art depicting Muhammad has been created — by Muslims — as far back as the 13th century. This imagery illustrating all the major events in Muhammad’s life is commonplace in major library collections and museums.