Entering Professor Mohammad Dajani’s office / library at Al Quds University is like being transported to Ohio – Oberlin, to be exact, where the professor takes a class each year. He is the head of the American Studies department, and his office and the halls around represent the good, the bad and the tacky of U.S. culture. Posters of bad movies compete for space with copies of the Constitution and newspaper reports of Kennedy’s assassination. The library has a wealth of books discussing the American scene, with it appears no topic omitted.
Professor Dajani is equally uncensored. He is the founder of Wasatia, a group encouraging moderation in Palestinian Muslim religious views, societal approaches, and political outlooks. In our conversation, he was quite critical of certain aspects of religious teaching – both in Palestine and in the broader Arab Muslim world. He cited the teaching of a Hadith that says that on Judgement Day Muslims will be called to kill Jews. This Hadith both contradicts the Qur’an and is one of thousands of Hadith – so why is it being taught, he challenges. He also gave the example of teaching verses that state that say only the followers of Islam are saved, good, etc. Why interpret this as meaning formal Muslims, when it can mean “those who submit to God”?
The evening of the day I visited Prof. Dajani it was the turn of Israeli textbooks – in this case history, geography and civics, not religion. Professor Nurit Peled-Elhanan has just published a book on bias in these texts, and some examples are startling. Also, unfortunately, they are not getting better. She noted that for a while in the ’90s the books did discuss the massacres of Palestinians during the 1948 war, though with a great deal of justification. Now they may not. Arabs (rarely is the word Palestinian used) are portrayed as backward and irrational. Maps do not show the green line, the wall, and show few Palestinian place names.
I’ll be interested to read more about both Israeli and Palestinian textbooks – I know that texts in the Arab world usually omit Israel, for example, and I’ve been hearing about the combination of nationalism and religious teaching in the Israeli curriculum.