The Elephant in the Room: Am I a Muslim?

I don’t tell my students my religious affiliation (or possible lack thereof) because I don’t want students to project bias onto me where none exists (and dismiss everything I say as a result). In my class on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, I’ve heard rumors that a number of students have started to speculate that I’m a Muslim. Their reasoning? I presented Judaism and Christianity in a rather critical manner, but apparently I’ve been more sympathetic in my treatment of Islam—so I must be a Muslim!

I thought this was really interesting, and I wanted to confront this issue openly in class; I find there to be some pretty serious pedagogical usefulness in drawing attention to the elephant in the room and thinking critically about it. So I openly asked them why they thought I was a Muslim and gave them an opportunity to air their rationale.

I responded to what they said by offering an alternate explanation for why I might treat the subject matter in an unequal manner. I pointed out that in the US, they will hear positive things their whole lives about Judaism and Christianity and negative things about Islam. In fact, this semester in my class might be the only time they are substantially subjected to competing views. And, insofar as I see part of my job as a teacher to mess with students’ heads—i.e., disrupt the status quo and the (problematic) assumptions they come in with—my method and agenda in the class might be shaped not by my own views but by their views.

They kind of laughed and said something like, “no, you’re definitely Muslim.”


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2 Responses to The Elephant in the Room: Am I a Muslim?

  1. Kenny Paul Smith says:

    Very nicely said.

  2. Kate says:

    Excellent reflection… my students always want to know my ‘affiliation.’ I make them guess at the end of the semester and then I ‘reveal’ my religious background. Many students think I am Jewish because I emphasize how imperative it is for them to understand Jesus in his historical context. Yep- according to some- that makes me Jewish.
    Thanks for sharing this insight!

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