December 27, 2011

"Muslim author carries a universal message"

Intelligencer editorial, December 27, 2011:
Muslim author carries a universal message

Lisa Abdelsalam was born in Lansdale, graduated from North Penn High School and became an author. She was scheduled to talk about her writing and publishing experiences to several classes at A.M. Kulp Elementary School in Hatfield earlier this month. She’s made such visits to other schools in the North Penn School District.

Her latest visit was canceled, however, when a few parents objected to her program and threatened to bring in an outside group to protest.

The principal at the school, Erik Huebner, told Abdelsalam she was welcome just the same. But in order to spare the young students from what might have been an unpleasant scene, the two of them decided it would be better if she didn’t come.

And perhaps prejudice claimed yet another victim.

Abdelsalam, you see, is a Muslim, having converted to Islam when she married her husband, who is from Egypt. Even though she’s a longtime volunteer at the school, served as president of the Home and School Association and is now a member of the district’s diversity committee — “I was serving pizza with these people last year,” she said — some of those same people “did not want a Muslim or a Muslim book read in their classrooms.” That’s what Abdelsalam said she was told.

Christine Liberaski, a spokeswoman for the North Penn School District, hopes the program can be rescheduled in the spring but offered no explanation as to why some parents objected.
We have a couple of ideas. Maybe they didn’t want someone talking to their kids whose message might contain “religious” overtones. Separation of church and state, you know.

In this case, we’d guess it was something else: not religion per se, but a particular religious belief. Abdelsalam’s talk is based on her son Yoseph’s experiences at York Avenue Elementary School in the 1990s. Her book, “A Song for Me, A Muslim Holiday Story,” tells of a Muslim boy’s efforts to fit into the holiday spirit at Christmastime. The book presentation is extremely timely now, as Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus.

We know some people want nothing to do with “Muslim” or anything connected to Islam, and especially don’t want their children hearing about a Muslim boy’s struggles at Christmas. The fact that Abdelsalam’s presentation has drawn praise in the past and isn’t a lecture on religion but about acceptance apparently is lost on those who sought — successfully — to keep this particular author away.

Abdelsalam’s book and the story behind the story offer a nonthreatening view of something that too many of us see as only threatening.

If all of us understood a little more about the things we fear, maybe we wouldn’t fear them so much.