FOUNTAIN VALLEY – Shabbir Mansuri first became concerned with Americans’ study of Islam after his daughter came home from school with a textbook that inaccurately portrayed the way Muslim families pray.
Later he discovered another book that used an illustration of a camel to portray Islam’s “Moment in Time,” while other cultures were represented with humans.
Frustrated with national and state history standards, Mansuri founded the Council on Islamic Education in 1990. His nonprofit organization, now called the Institute on Religion and Civic Values and based in Fountain Valley, has worked with educators, publishers and policymakers to provide perspective to educational materials related to all world religions.
Over the years, Mansuri said he’s become accustomed to public scrutiny over his faith and his institution. But now he’s facing a protest by local activists who are voicing concerns about his involvement with “blatant Islamist propaganda” in American classrooms and questioning his relationship with the Fountain Valley School District, which has leased him office space since 1993.
Members of the Mission Viejo chapter of ACT for America, a national group that advocates against the threat of radical Islam, have addressed the Fountain Valley school board twice in recent months. They presented a report called “Islam in America’s Classrooms: History or Propaganda,” citing examples of supposed Islamic propaganda in textbooks and identifying Mansuri and his organization as the culprits.
The report contends that most modern American textbooks avoid painting a “rosy picture of Christianity and Judaism,” and instead promote and glorify Islam, which has a history of violence and anti-democratic ideologies.
“They are the primary activist group telling textbooks what they can say about Islam, selling supplemental materials to school districts, educating teachers and giving them educational materials to use in their classes,” said Al Rowley, a member of the Mission Viejo group. “The material gets into the classroom without normal vetting.”
Mansuri strongly denied accusations that his group is lobbying for Islamic indoctrination in schools. He founded his organization, he said, to take part in the discussion and improvement of American education, not to promote a specific agenda.
“IRCV is recognized within the education community for our expertise in teaching about world religions,” Mansuri said. “This expertise stands from our long-standing interest in religious liberty, religious pluralism and the practice of faith within a civic social framework.”
The allegations are hardly new, he added. The concerned individuals, he claimed, are “children of 9/11,” simply the product of miseducation.
“I understand the historical aspect of their fear because Islam is a religion that challenges the divinity of Jesus Christ,” he said. “Events since 9/11 have added more complexity for those groups who were already very fearful.”
ACT for America members are asking the Fountain Valley school board to terminate the lease to Mansuri’s new office, which is in the district building at 10055 Slater Ave. The group’s report contends that by leasing office space to Mansuri, the school district could be “aiding and abetting” his organization’s Islamist agenda.
Steven Jackson, a Fountain Valley resident, addressed the board April 23, claiming that Superintendent Marc Ecker has a “personal friendship” with Mansuri. He also expressed concerns with Islamic doctrine, which he called “historically and demonstrably contrary to that of America’s founding.”
Ecker said the allegations brought to the school board are both untrue and unjust.
“This is the production of a very far right wing association that has some issues with Muslim people and the Islamic religion,” Ecker said.
So far, Ecker said the group has failed to provide substantial evidence that would warrant terminating the district’s lease with the institute. Doing so, he said, would be not only illegal but “simply immoral.”
Even before immigrating to the U.S. from India in 1969, Mansuri said he had a strong interest in American institutions, particularly those dealing with education. The fact that he is Muslim and is trying to participate is the root of the complaints, he said.
Mansuri said he has yet to be directly contacted by ACT for America or the individuals at the board meeting. He said he would be willing to discuss any misconceptions about the institute.
“We would be more than happy to break bread and exchange perspectives so that if they wish to harbor inaccurate views, or even hatred, toward us, at least it will be for honest and personal rather than ideological reasons,” he said.
Rowley said his group and others are considering their next steps, but plan to return to the school board.