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February 8, 2017

Books and Activities to Teach About Islam

By Alycia Zimmerman
Grades 3–5

    For me, one of the goals of public education is to teach tolerance and celebrate diversity in all its manifestations. I have the advantage of teaching in a school with children from dozens of different countries and who practice every major religion. Discussions about diversity and tolerance develop naturally in our multicultural community. But at a time when a major world religion — Islam — is sometimes misunderstood and even feared or maligned, it seems extra important to make sure that our Muslim students feel welcomed in our classrooms. It is also important to provide exposure for students who don’t have Muslim friends and classmates to the world’s second largest religious tradition.

    Read-Aloud Picture Books:

    Multicultural literature always has an important role in the classroom. Experts in multicultural education emphasize the importance of sharing multicultural literature to increase cultural awareness, teach about diverse perspectives, and help students develop healthy self-concepts about their own customs and values. The picture books below feature several Muslim characters, but these are not all books specifically about Islam or religion. These books teach empathy through relatable characters facing challenges, often in “normal” school settings.

     

    One Green Apple by Eve Bunting

    This is a gentle first-person story that focuses on the narrator’s experience as a new immigrant who is just beginning to learn English. Aside from the girl’s head scarf, the story is rather universal and speaks of feelings that could apply to most newcomers. The students in the story each gather an apple at an orchard to make a batch of cider together. Older readers will recognize the process of making cider as a metaphor for the class uniting together with their new friend. There is plenty of fodder for class discussions based on this story that predominantly focuses on the “new student/English language learner” experience.

     

    My Name is Bilal by Asma Mobin-Uddin

    Another story about being the “new kid” in school, this story targets upper elementary students. When the main character Bilal and his sister, both American-born Muslims, move from their culturally diverse school in Chicago to a new school with very few Muslim students, Bilal is afraid to share his religious identity. With help from a sympathetic (and Muslim!) teacher, Bilal learns to stand up for himself and his sister.

     

    Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed

    This is a great book to introduce students to ideas about refugees, and the hardship of refugee camp life while sharing an age-appropriate story about friendship and self-sacrifice. This is one of my favorite picture books to share with my students, because while the refugee camp setting is foreign to them, the “moral of the story” about what it means to be a true friend is completely relatable to children in all settings.

     

    Coming to America: A Muslim Family's Story by Bernard Wolf

    This nonfiction photo-essay style book tells the story of an 8-year-old immigrant girl from Egypt and her family. The excellent photos portray everyday life for a young immigrant in Queens, New York: school activities, meals at home with her family, homework, etc. There is also an explanation of Muslim worship, daily prayers, and photos of the family at the mosque.

     

    Under the Ramadan Moon by Sylvia Whitman

    With beautiful illustrations and a simple, poetic text, this is a great book to introduce the special month-long Muslim observance of Ramadan to children. Each page speaks to a different ritual observed during the holy month. The information is basic — a good launching point for further explanations, discussion, or research. The author’s full page explanation about Ramadan provides more in-depth information appropriate for mid-elementary students. I brought in dates for students to try after reading this book. Dates were a new food for many of my students, and are a traditional part of the iftar (break-fast) meal.

     

    Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story by Reem Faruqi

    Another one of my favorites, this story is based on the childhood experiences of the author. The main character moves with her family to Georgia, and she worries that her classmates and teacher won’t understand why she isn’t eating or drinking during lunchtime for an entire month. After hiding out in the library to avoid the cafeteria, Lailah finally works up the courage to teach her classmates about Ramadan. Fasting for Ramadan is such an exciting milestone in an observant Muslim child’s life — and one that may not be appreciated by people who are not familiar with the tradition. This book will help give your students insight into the importance of Ramadan for the people who practice it.

     

    Other Ideas for Teaching about Islam

    Listen and Sing: “Alhamdulillah

    My students enjoyed learning and performing the song “Alhamdulillah” for our school community. “Alhamdulillah” is the Arabic/Muslim version of the Judeo-Christian expression of praise “Hallelujah.” This sweet song by Dawud Wharnsby Ali is universal enough that children of all faiths can comfortably sing it in a classroom setting. I adapted these lyrics to further secularize it for a school concert. You can listen to the original version of the song here.

    Watch to Learn: My Life, My Religion Islam

    This excellent BBC educational series, My Life, My Religion is aimed towards KS2 students in the UK (ages 7–11). The half-hour episode about Islam is narrated by 11-year-old Sarah, an “ordinary” Muslim English girl. She explains many of the key tenets of Muslim beliefs with fast-paced visuals and a personable narrative. This is probably the easiest way to introduce children to the five pillars of Islam and other basics about the religion. It will also help to dispel some stereotypes; Sarah is a fair-skinned, auburn-haired English girl who excitedly takes selfies with her best friend and talks about “giving up doing hairstyles and stuff” when she first begins to wear a hijab at school.

    Create and Design: Geometric Designs in Islamic Art

    A free 25-page teaching guide from the Metropolitan Museum of Art makes it simple to teach students about geometric motifs in Islamic Art by analyzing samples of art from the museum’s collection. (All the artworks are available for viewing online on the “Additional Resources” tab.) The guide includes extension activities with reproducible worksheets that guide students in creating their own geometric-patterned artworks using just a compass and ruler. This is great for math and art cross-curricular teaching.

     

    Quick Stats for Teaching About Islam

    -       Islam is the second largest religion in the world, with about 1.6 billion Muslims.

    -       About two-thirds of all Muslims live in Southeast Asia. More Muslims live in India and Pakistan than in all the countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa combined.

    -       49 countries have majority Muslim populations

    -       Only about 1 percent of Americans are Muslim (~3.3 million people), which makes up .2 percent of the world’s population of Muslims.

    -       American Muslims have the second-highest level of education among major religious groups in the U.S.

     

    Suggestions Please!

    Do you have ideas for teaching about Islam in the classroom? Stories about what you’ve done with your students? Suggestions for resources? I’m hardly an expert, and I would love to hear more ideas and insights! Together we help ensure that our future citizens and leaders appreciate and understand people of all faiths and cultures.

     

    For updates about my blog posts and to share suggestions or feedback, follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

    For me, one of the goals of public education is to teach tolerance and celebrate diversity in all its manifestations. I have the advantage of teaching in a school with children from dozens of different countries and who practice every major religion. Discussions about diversity and tolerance develop naturally in our multicultural community. But at a time when a major world religion — Islam — is sometimes misunderstood and even feared or maligned, it seems extra important to make sure that our Muslim students feel welcomed in our classrooms. It is also important to provide exposure for students who don’t have Muslim friends and classmates to the world’s second largest religious tradition.

    Read-Aloud Picture Books:

    Multicultural literature always has an important role in the classroom. Experts in multicultural education emphasize the importance of sharing multicultural literature to increase cultural awareness, teach about diverse perspectives, and help students develop healthy self-concepts about their own customs and values. The picture books below feature several Muslim characters, but these are not all books specifically about Islam or religion. These books teach empathy through relatable characters facing challenges, often in “normal” school settings.

     

    One Green Apple by Eve Bunting

    This is a gentle first-person story that focuses on the narrator’s experience as a new immigrant who is just beginning to learn English. Aside from the girl’s head scarf, the story is rather universal and speaks of feelings that could apply to most newcomers. The students in the story each gather an apple at an orchard to make a batch of cider together. Older readers will recognize the process of making cider as a metaphor for the class uniting together with their new friend. There is plenty of fodder for class discussions based on this story that predominantly focuses on the “new student/English language learner” experience.

     

    My Name is Bilal by Asma Mobin-Uddin

    Another story about being the “new kid” in school, this story targets upper elementary students. When the main character Bilal and his sister, both American-born Muslims, move from their culturally diverse school in Chicago to a new school with very few Muslim students, Bilal is afraid to share his religious identity. With help from a sympathetic (and Muslim!) teacher, Bilal learns to stand up for himself and his sister.

     

    Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed

    This is a great book to introduce students to ideas about refugees, and the hardship of refugee camp life while sharing an age-appropriate story about friendship and self-sacrifice. This is one of my favorite picture books to share with my students, because while the refugee camp setting is foreign to them, the “moral of the story” about what it means to be a true friend is completely relatable to children in all settings.

     

    Coming to America: A Muslim Family's Story by Bernard Wolf

    This nonfiction photo-essay style book tells the story of an 8-year-old immigrant girl from Egypt and her family. The excellent photos portray everyday life for a young immigrant in Queens, New York: school activities, meals at home with her family, homework, etc. There is also an explanation of Muslim worship, daily prayers, and photos of the family at the mosque.

     

    Under the Ramadan Moon by Sylvia Whitman

    With beautiful illustrations and a simple, poetic text, this is a great book to introduce the special month-long Muslim observance of Ramadan to children. Each page speaks to a different ritual observed during the holy month. The information is basic — a good launching point for further explanations, discussion, or research. The author’s full page explanation about Ramadan provides more in-depth information appropriate for mid-elementary students. I brought in dates for students to try after reading this book. Dates were a new food for many of my students, and are a traditional part of the iftar (break-fast) meal.

     

    Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story by Reem Faruqi

    Another one of my favorites, this story is based on the childhood experiences of the author. The main character moves with her family to Georgia, and she worries that her classmates and teacher won’t understand why she isn’t eating or drinking during lunchtime for an entire month. After hiding out in the library to avoid the cafeteria, Lailah finally works up the courage to teach her classmates about Ramadan. Fasting for Ramadan is such an exciting milestone in an observant Muslim child’s life — and one that may not be appreciated by people who are not familiar with the tradition. This book will help give your students insight into the importance of Ramadan for the people who practice it.

     

    Other Ideas for Teaching about Islam

    Listen and Sing: “Alhamdulillah

    My students enjoyed learning and performing the song “Alhamdulillah” for our school community. “Alhamdulillah” is the Arabic/Muslim version of the Judeo-Christian expression of praise “Hallelujah.” This sweet song by Dawud Wharnsby Ali is universal enough that children of all faiths can comfortably sing it in a classroom setting. I adapted these lyrics to further secularize it for a school concert. You can listen to the original version of the song here.

    Watch to Learn: My Life, My Religion Islam

    This excellent BBC educational series, My Life, My Religion is aimed towards KS2 students in the UK (ages 7–11). The half-hour episode about Islam is narrated by 11-year-old Sarah, an “ordinary” Muslim English girl. She explains many of the key tenets of Muslim beliefs with fast-paced visuals and a personable narrative. This is probably the easiest way to introduce children to the five pillars of Islam and other basics about the religion. It will also help to dispel some stereotypes; Sarah is a fair-skinned, auburn-haired English girl who excitedly takes selfies with her best friend and talks about “giving up doing hairstyles and stuff” when she first begins to wear a hijab at school.

    Create and Design: Geometric Designs in Islamic Art

    A free 25-page teaching guide from the Metropolitan Museum of Art makes it simple to teach students about geometric motifs in Islamic Art by analyzing samples of art from the museum’s collection. (All the artworks are available for viewing online on the “Additional Resources” tab.) The guide includes extension activities with reproducible worksheets that guide students in creating their own geometric-patterned artworks using just a compass and ruler. This is great for math and art cross-curricular teaching.

     

    Quick Stats for Teaching About Islam

    -       Islam is the second largest religion in the world, with about 1.6 billion Muslims.

    -       About two-thirds of all Muslims live in Southeast Asia. More Muslims live in India and Pakistan than in all the countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa combined.

    -       49 countries have majority Muslim populations

    -       Only about 1 percent of Americans are Muslim (~3.3 million people), which makes up .2 percent of the world’s population of Muslims.

    -       American Muslims have the second-highest level of education among major religious groups in the U.S.

     

    Suggestions Please!

    Do you have ideas for teaching about Islam in the classroom? Stories about what you’ve done with your students? Suggestions for resources? I’m hardly an expert, and I would love to hear more ideas and insights! Together we help ensure that our future citizens and leaders appreciate and understand people of all faiths and cultures.

     

    For updates about my blog posts and to share suggestions or feedback, follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

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