Local educators learn about Islam on trip to Egypt
By Bill Zlatos
Monday, September 3, 2007
"The idea is most Americans don't know much about Islam except what you see in the headlines, which is all violence and oppression of women," said Rebecca Denova, visiting lecturer in religious studies at the University of Pittsburgh. "The purpose of the program is we need to teach more about Islam, starting in high school and in colleges."
Denova was one of 12 teachers who went to Egypt from June 24 to July 22 as part of the Fulbright-Hays Program under the U.S. Department of Education. They eventually will hold workshops to train high school teachers about Islam, which has about 1.3 billion adherents, second behind Christianity, which has about 2 billion followers.
Others on the trip were Elaine Linn of Pitt; Christina Michelmore, Charlotte Lott and Deborah Rubin of Chatham University; Tracey-Ann Flynn of Hickory High School in Hermitage, Mercer County; Tony Gaskew of Pitt-Bradford; Fran Leap of Seton Hill University; Michale McKale of St. Francis University; Richard Saccone of St. Vincent College; Eric Tuten of Slippery Rock University; and Michael Yoder of Northside Urban Pathways Charter School, Downtown.
Leap said she came away from the trip with a deeper respect for Muslims and how fervently they practice their religion.
"To see, for instance, the young man at the Internet cafe pick up his prayer rug and quietly and unobtrusively slip out the door and attend to his midday prayer and return five (or) 10 minutes later was very inspiring," Leap said.
On the trip, the teachers saw a blend of religion, culture and politics. They visited a mosque of the mystical Sufi sect of Islam and a Coptic church at which Christians, like Muslims, leave their shoes outside.
Another highlight for participants was meeting members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the leading opposition group in Egypt to President Hosni Mubarak.
Yoder, a history and Spanish teacher, plans to use his experience to develop a class on world religions.
"We generally think of Muslims as radicals or extremists, and I would like to present a case of moderate Islam that has a deep desire to get along with Christians and Jews," he said. "Egypt is a good example of a place where Christians and Muslims have gotten along for centuries."
Tuten, an assistant professor of history at Slippery Rock, said many Muslims and Islamic scholars told him they oppose the radical view of their religion expounded by some.
"That complicates my role as a teacher in trying to help students understand that Islam is much more than the extremist interpretation that some are willing to put forward," he said.