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Young, Muslim, Female...and Not a Stereotype

Skimming through my Advanced Placement world history textbook, I came to a section titled “Gender Relations in Islam.”

The words that followed jumped out at me. “According to the Quran, women are to satisfy men's sexual desires and to bear children ...women are considered sexually seductive …”

Confusion. Shock. Anger.  Although this was just a small section in a whole, more balanced chapter on Islam, this translation and its implications hit a nerve. This is the source of information about Muslims for four full classes, and yet, as a young Muslim woman, I know it is not true.

For me, reading those words in a textbook was more offensive than if someone had said them to my face, because I knew that my own classmates, my own friends, were reading them, too.

We go to school to learn. We are under the impression that stereotypes are fabricated without basis. But what happens when stereotypes appear in our sources of information? When books and media get their facts from people with limited views, it feeds the problem of stereotyping. We follow the words of authors and journalists that we don't even know, sometimes without a second thought. In this case our textbook, revised in 2006, falsely described me and others of my religion.

I showed my parents and their opinion mirrored mine. I couldn't just let this pass. My history teacher is a very educated and well-rounded man, open to different thoughts and views. When I asked if I could present to my class what I know about gender relations in Islam, not only did he agree, he asked that I do it for all four history classes.

I am not the only Muslim in my school or class. Although Muslims have been in the Detroit area for more than 100 years and there are tens of thousands of us here, we are a minority. But on the day of my presentation, the other Muslim students and I felt like a team. Equally indignant, everyone contributed their experiences and knowledge. That day was pleasantly surprising. There was an air of confidence among the Muslim students, and one of interest from everyone else. The teacher and classes asked questions about things they had heard on TV or read in the book. And although “The World History: Third Edition” will likely be used to teach many more 11th and 12th graders at North Farmington High School, at least some students began to question it. We left with a sense of camaraderie, based on understanding and respect.

Is it possible that by changing how we learn, we can learn how to change?

Nour Soubani, a junior at North Farmington High School, is part of the "TIME 11", a group of Detroit area high-school students working with Assignment Detroit.

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