Religion, Textbook Dispute Rekindled

March 8, 2007

Author: Laurel Rosenhall

Source: Sacramento Bee

A picture of the founder of the Sikh religion in a seventh-grade textbook has reignited what's become a common dilemma for California's education establishment: How much influence should contemporary religious groups have in crafting history lessons for the state's 6.3 million public school students?

The state Board of Education is scheduled to vote today on whether to remove a picture from a history textbook that shows the founder of the Sikh religion in a way that Sikh leaders find offensive. It's the latest in a pattern of compromises as religious groups and textbook publishers vie over the minds of one of the most diverse student bodies in the country.

In recent years, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu groups have weighed in as state educators and publishers developed new social studies books. Those textbooks are now read in classrooms across California and the nation.

One of them has caught the attention of Sikh leaders in Sacramento. "An Age of Voyages: 1350-1600," published by Oxford University Press, shows Guru Nanak, who founded the Sikh religion in India in the 1500s, wearing a golden crown and a closely cropped beard and mustache.

Sikh activists complained about the image, saying the portrait makes Guru Nanak look like a Muslim chieftain. The picture, which hangs in a museum in London, was originally painted in the 19th century, after Muslims ruled India.