A Muslim Primer

The book "A Muslim Primer", used in at least one 9th grade World History section, contains numerous and obvious falsehoods. For example, the section read by Newton students states that the Catholic church is “reconsidering polygamy as a Christian option”. After several parents pointed out that the claim was absurd, the NPS agreed to ‘fix’ the problem by whiting it out. However, numerous other inaccuracies and deceptive omissions remain:

  • The book cites with approval a claim that the late astronaut Neil Armstrong was a ‘secret’ Muslim, unable to declare his faith publicly for fear of losing his government job. Armstrong repeatedly denied this and was buried in a Christian graveyard after a Christian burial service.

  • Ayatollah Khomeini, a despot who had thousands of Iranians executed without trial, is described only as a "brilliant Shiite theologian". There is no mention of his role in the Iranian revolution and afterward, much less of his role in the torture and murder of thousands of people.

  • Although there is much discussion of modern-day prejudice against Muslims, there is no mention of Islamist* violence against Jews and Christians or the fact that Jews are the targets of hate crimes at nine times the rate as Muslims.

  • Population figures are inflated up to 300%. A Muslim Primer states there are "four or five million" Muslims in the United States; the actual number in 2002, when the current edition was published, was approximately 1.6 million. The book also states that the world population of Christians and Muslims is approximately equivalent; however 2010 reports indicate that there are 2.2 billion Christians and 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. (Figures are not in error - there are approximately 1.6 million Muslims in the U.S. and 1.6 billion worldwide).

  • A chapter assigned to students – a supposedly ‘comprehensive’ analysis of the role of women in Islam – has many inaccuracies and major omissions. The book states that two-thirds of all women in pre-Islamic Arabia were slaves (p. 126) and that women, in general, were “scantily attired and often topless” (p. 128). No citations are given.

The statements have no basis of support. While slavery was common in both pre- and post-Islamic Arabia, there is no agreement that 2/3 of the female population were slaves. Regarding women's clothing, contemporaneous accounts indicate that both men and women wore dark robes or wraps.

  • The chapter also grossly misstates the ‘progressive’ role of Islam in promoting women’s rights. The book’s author claims that “much of what the Quran advocates for women was not seen in the West until one hundred years ago”. This is at best only partially true. Although medieval women often had more rights under Islamic nations than in the West, Western women gained numerous legal rights, including the right to travel freely – which women in some Islamic nations still do not have - beginning as early as the 1200s with the English Magna Carta. (See here and here for an analysis of the cultural reasons for the differences in women's rights between modern and traditional Islamic societies). This lack of accuracy and praise of non-existent virtues renders A Muslim Primer unsuitable for classroom use.

The most egregious problem with the book's chapter on women, however, is that it entirely fails to state that under some interpretations of Islamic law, girls can be married at age six and the marriage consummated at age nine. The male marriage partner is chosen by the parents and is usually an adult. This is not a hypothetical issue – girls in Yemen and some other Islamic nations are regularly married, against their will, well before puberty; some die in childbirth or from being raped by their ‘husbands’. Muslim girls from Western nations, including the United States, also continue to be forced into marriage even today. Some are deceived and kidnapped by family members, taken abroad, and forced to marry; some are unable to return home for years or ever. Although early marriage is not the norm in many Muslim-majority nations and is practiced by other religions as well, it is often promoted as a religious obligation.

A number of Muslim-majority nations, including Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Niger, Iran, South Sudan, and Mauritania, allow the marriage of girls under the age of twelve, and organizations in Egypt strive to either lower the age of marriage or to entirely remove age limits.

In considering legal status, the freedom to choose one's partner and the age at which one marries is vitally important. No system that supports the forced marriage of children is "progressive". The omission of this aspect of Islamic law, which still affects millions of girls today, is a deception about a fundamental issue of human rights.

By continuing to use this book, Newton schools are misleading students about important and fundamental issues of religion, demographics, and human rights.


* Please note the distinction between "Islamic" and "Islamist". "Islamic" refers to Islam itself; "Islamist" refers to extremist or radical Islam. The vast majority of Muslims do not ascribe to Islamist values.