NEW YORK – An education expert is warning that some American textbooks present a biased view of Islam and offer a sugarcoated picture of Islamic extremism, a trend that has parents worried about what's being taught in public schools.
In numerous history textbooks, "key subjects like jihad, Islamic law, the status of women are whitewashed," said Gilbert T. Sewall, director of the American Textbook Council, an independent group that reviews history books and other education materials.
Cindy Ross, the mother of a junior high school student in Marin County, Calif., said she couldn't believe her eyes when she read her son's textbook last school year.
"I was very shocked by what I saw, looking through the book," she said — shocked at how Islam was portrayed in her son's seventh grade history text.
"What did strike me was that all the other religions seemed to be lumped together, where there is an inordinate emphasis on Islam specifically," Ross said.
Sewall claims that publishers have been pressured by Islamic activists to portray the religion in the most favorable light, while Islamic terrorism is downplayed or glossed over.
"The picture is incomplete ... and the reason for this is that publishers are afraid of the Islamist activists. They don't want trouble," he told FOX News.
Sewall, who authored a report on how textbooks teach and present Islam, singled out one book that he said failed to explain what the story of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
In a section discussing Islamic fundamentalism, the textbook "World History: The Modern World," published by Prentice Hall, omits direct mention of the 9/11 hijackers' religion, referring to the 19 Islamic fundamentalists as "teams of terrorists."
"On the morning of September 11, 2001," the book reads, "teams of terrorists hijacked four airplanes on the East Coast. Passengers challenged the hijackers on one flight, which they crashed on the way to its target. But one plane plunged in to the Pentagon in Virginia, and two others slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. More than 2,500 people were killed in the attacks."
In his report on the text, Sewall called the passage "dismaying" in its flatness and brevity. "In terms of content, so much is left unanswered. Who were the teams of terrorists and what did they want do to? What were their political ends? Since 'The Modern World' avoids any hint of the connection between this unnamed terrorism and jihad," he wrote, "why September 11 happened is hard to understand."
But Muslim advocacy groups say students need to learn more about Islam to correct misconceptions and help turn away a wrongheaded focus on extremism.
"It's wrong to show an entire faith community from the lens of a small extremist community, which is really a fringe. It's a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the Muslim community, and that's not how Muslims want to be framed," said Daisy Khan, executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement.
"I think there is an unbalanced portrayal of Islam seen mostly through a political lens, but that is not the reality of who a majority of Muslims are," she told FOX News.
Khan said when it comes to teaching about Islam, "I think the more important issue is American values of tolerance, respect and mutual understanding," which can best be imparted with accurate information about the religion.
But the content of those religious lessons also has Sewall concerned, particularly on the controversial topic of jihad.
Sewall says the violent aspects of Islamic jihad are glossed over and that it is presented as an internal struggle or a fight for protection in books like "History Alive! The Medieval World and Beyond," published by the Teachers Curriculum Institute.
"Jihad is defined as a struggle within each individual to overcome difficulties and strive to please god. Sometimes it may be a physical struggle for protection against enemies," the book reads, noting that Islam teaches "that Muslims should fulfill jihad with the heart, tongue and hand. Muslims use the heart in their struggle to resist evil."
It's a lesson that Sewall says needs to change.
"What is frustrating is that repeatedly the textbook publishers have been called on their bias on the sunny, doctored view of Islam" but have refused to balance their books, he said.
None of the textbook publishers contacted by FOX News regarding their books responded to requests for statements or interviews.
Parent Cindy Ross told FOX News she is concerned that unpleasant facts are being ignored for the sake of political correctness in her son's textbooks.
"When you are talking about a history textbook, that is supposed to be talking about historical facts and they are talking about jihad in terms of spiritual terms ... I think it would be completely inappropriate for a public school."
FOX News' Eric Shawn and Shira Bush contributed to this report.