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Technology-rich, standards-based lessons for upper elementary and middle school
Islam in America


Procedures for Teachers

Introductory Activity: Thinking About Culture

Begin with this exercise, developed by Creative Response to Conflict, Inc., ( to raise awareness of the diversity in the classroom and establish a warm, comfortable atmosphere in which to discuss similarities and differences among religions.

  1. Where in the World Go-Around: Lead the group in a go-around in which each person says his/her name and someplace on the planet that relates to their background in some way. You can model this to start; for example: "My name is Ms. Rodriguez and I pick Puerto Rico, because my parents came from there, and Baltimore, where I grew up."

  2. Culture Web: Write the word culture on a large piece of newsprint or chart paper and ask students to brainstorm things that are part of a person's culture, recording their responses. Examples are: language, food, holidays, education, gender roles, money/economy, style of dress, music, and religion. (Be sure religion is on the list!)

  3. Pair-Share: Ask students to join with partners and tell each other about the following topics:
      What I identify as my culture
      Something I appreciate about my culture
      Something I would like people to know about my culture
      Something I don't like to hear people say about my culture

  4. Explain to the class that in this lesson, they will look at how culture and religion intersect, and at how Americans of diverse religions and cultures are working to find common ground.

Learning Activity 1: Religion, Diversity, and Controversy

  1. Explain to students that they are going to watch a video segment on Somali Muslims living in Maine. Before playing the video, point out where Somalia is located and explain that since the 1980s, Somalia has been ravaged by clan-based civil war. Students who wish to know more about the civil war in Somalia can refer to the following Web sites:

    Also, pre-teach the following vocabulary:

      Dilemma -- A situation that requires a choice between options that are or that seem equally unfavorable or mutually exclusive.

      Immigrant -- a person who leaves one country to permanently settle in another.

      Rumor -- unverified information heard or received from another.

      Backlash -- an antagonistic reaction to a trend, development, or event.

      Persecution -- the act of oppressing or harassing through ill treatment, especially because of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or beliefs.

      Refugee -- one who flees in search of refuge, as in times of war, political oppression, or religious persecution.

      Prejudice -- an adverse opinion or judgment formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts.

      Bias -- another word for prejudice.

      (Source: The American Heritage Dictionary, online on

      Note: Help students understand the difference between a refugee and an immigrant. (Immigrants are people who leave their homes to live in another country. A refugee comes to a new home country to escape persecution: e.g., racial, political, or religious. Every refugee is an immigrant, but every immigrant is not a refugee.

    Somali Muslims in Maine

    Then distribute Student Organizer 1: Somalis in Maine: Viewing Guide. Read over it with students and direct them to attend to the points listed and take notes as they watch the video.

  2. After showing the segment, ask students to take a few minutes to write any additional thoughts and reactions they have, focusing them on issues of culture and religion. Then discuss with the class the issues raised in the segment.

    Exploring Religious America

  3. Tell students that they are going to watch another video, this one about Muslims in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Ask the class to think about how the issues in this video compare to the issues in the video on the Somali Muslims in Maine.

  4. After students have watched the video, distribute Student Organizer 2: Discussion: Lewiston, Maine and Lawrenceville, Georgia. Ask students to take a few minutes to free-write their thoughts and reactions on the handout. Then discuss with the class the issues raised in the two videos, using the questions on the handout as a guide.

  5. Referring to the opening activity about culture and religion, ask students how culture plays a role in American Muslims' lives, especially when there is sizeable diversity within the group. Encourage students to make connections between the Somali Muslims in the video and other Muslims in America, such as the community in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Encourage students to a) identify various groups of Muslims in America and b) realize what they have in common (beliefs, possibly the American Dream).

Learning Activity 2: Diversity Among Muslims

  1. Explain to the class that the next video they are going to watch, Muslim Divisions, is about the two main groups of Muslims in America: African-American Muslims and immigrant Muslims who are largely from Asia and Africa. Before students watch the video, distribute Student Organizer 3: Two Communities of Muslims: Viewing Guide. Read over it with students and direct them to attend to the points listed and take notes as they watch the video.

    Muslim Divisions

  2. After watching the video, ask students to share their thoughts and answers to the questions on the handout. Also ask them why they think dialogue between groups is important. Distribute Student Organizer 4: Discussion: Two Communities of Muslims which has several questions to help focus the discussion. Refer back to the opening activity about culture and religion and encourage students to think about the role of culture in this issue. Then bring up issues of American children born to immigrant Muslims. How will they fit into this equation? Will they be the glue to bind the groups?

Learning Activity 3: Halal-Kosher Dining at Dartmouth

  1. Tell students that the next video they are going to see is about Muslims and Jews sharing a dining hall at Dartmouth College. Before students watch the video, ask what they know about food and how it relates to religion and to culture. Chart their examples.

  2. If students do not mention the terms kosher or halal, name and explain these terms. Explain that kosher refers to food prepared and served according to Jewish dietary laws, and halal refers to food prepared and served according to Muslim dietary laws. Point out that there are some similarities between kosher and halal foods.

    Halal-Kosher Dining at Dartmouth

  3. Next, show the video segment. As they watch, ask students to think about the other videos that they watched in this lesson. How does the portrayal of different religions and cultures in this video compare to what they saw in the other videos?

  4. After students have watched the video, discuss the questions on Student Organizer 5: Discussion: Halal-Kosher Dining at Dartmouth. Those questions are: Do you think that eating together in a shared dining hall will encourage Muslim and Jewish students to learn about each other's traditions; do you think other students will visit the cafeteria to try halal and kosher foods; how is this video similar to the videos we watched earlier; how is it different; in what ways do you think religion and culture can bring diverse groups of Americans together; what can the communities of Lewiston, Maine and Lawrenceville, Georgia learn from the young people in this story?

Learning Activity 4: In the Wake of 9/11


    Muslims in America
  1. If 9/11 did not come up in any of the discussions in this lesson, ask students to think about how the events of 9/11 might have influenced the attitudes of the residents of Lewiston, Maine and Lawrenceville, Georgia toward their Muslim neighbors. After a brief discussion, introduce the video segment "Muslims in America" by explaining to the class that American Muslims were also affected by 9/11. Then, show the video.

  2. Afterwards, discuss the video. Ask if anyone knew that Muslims were also victims of the attack and ask them to share their thoughts on the story. After the discussion, ask the class to revisit their thoughts on how best to bridge the cultural and religious divide between Muslims and their non-Muslim neighbors. Does this change anything? What, if anything, would they do differently to bring the different communities together and encourage cooperation and dialogue?

Culminating Activity

  1. Sum up the lesson by telling the class that they've learned a lot about Islam in America through watching and discussing the videos in this lesson. Ask them what they think non-Muslims in their community think or know about Islam. Tell the class that as a culminating activity they are going to interview friends, neighbors and family members about their knowledge and beliefs concerning Islam. Students may use the questions on Student Organizer 6: Interview Questions, or you can come up with a set of questions together as a class. After students have carried out the interviews, assess and discuss the results as a class.

  2. Using the survey results as a guide, students can apply what they've learned in this lesson by creating graphic presentations (in the form of a poster, PowerPoint or Web site) to better inform others about the Muslim community in America.

Extension Activities

Visit local religious institutions of different faiths: mosque, church, synagogue, temple. Have the students create Venn diagrams comparing and contrasting the different institutions.

Visit local kosher and halal restaurants. How is the food similar? How is it different?

Stage a debate around the issues surrounding the Somali Muslims in Maine, or around the proposed Muslim cemetery in Lawrenceville, Georgia.