Lesson Plan: Unity in Diversity
Exploring Islam in the United States

Activities and Procedures

1. Warm-up/Conversation Starters

Share the following with your students:

Did You Know?

  • There are 5 to 7 million Muslims in the United States
  • They are African Americans, South Asians, Middle Easterners, Africans, Europeans, and many more
  • 64 percent of Arab Americans are Christian
  • The Christian Word for God in Arabic speaking nations is Allah

Divide students into two groups and ask each group to find the answers to the following questions. Provide them with a copy of Change the Story's "A Timeline of Muslim Events in America":

  1. Who were some of the first Muslim arrivals in America?
  2. Where and when was the first American mosque built? By which ethnic group?

Reconvene the class and ask students to share their responses. Then, using a world map, have students pinpoint the countries that came up in their answers to the above questions. Ask them to identify other countries of the world where Muslims in the U.S. originate.

Once the map activity is completed, if it hasn’t already been identified, place a pin on the USA and remind students that many African American Muslims are able to trace their Islamic heritage to the Muslims who were brought to America as slaves from Africa.

Ask students to discuss the following questions:

  • Did your findings surprise you? Why or why not?
  • How do you think geographical and linguistic differences play a role in a person’s religious identity?
  • If Muslims in America come from such diverse backgrounds and nations, do you think there is such a thing as one monolithic Islamic culture?

Share with students that they are going to focus on gaining a better understanding of the heterogeneous nature of the Muslim community in the United States.

2. Questions for Class Discussion

As a class, read and discuss the related chapters in This Is Where I Need To Be, focusing on the following:

  1. Make a list of the phrases that the authors use to speak about their identities and the countries from which they originate. What stands out to you when you look at this list?  How do you understand your readings in the context of the following quote from a letter Malcolm X, a black Civil Rights leader, wrote on his pilgrimage to Mecca:
  2. During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass and slept in the same bed (or on the same rug) while praying to the same God with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of the blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the actions and in the deeds of the ‘white' Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana. We are truly all the same—brothers.
  3. What do you notice about the names of some of those authors featured in the oral histories: Priscilla, Danielle, Adam, Fanta, Sokol, Tania? What conclusions can you draw from these names about Muslims and their cultural backgrounds?
  4. How do you understand these oral histories in the context of the following remark by Dr. Umar Abd-Allah, author of A Muslim in Victorian America: The Story of Alexander Russell Webb:
  5. For centuries, Islamic civilization harmonized indigenous forms of cultural expression with the universal norms of its sacred law. It…fanned a brilliant peacock’s tail of unity in diversity from the heart of China to the shores of the Atlantic. ...in that regard, (Islam) has been likened to a crystal clear river. Its waters (Islam) are pure, sweet, and life-giving but—having no color of their own—reflect the bedrock (indigenous culture) over which they flow. In China, Islam looked Chinese; in Mali, it looked African.
  6. Find a passage in Chapter 1 where the author reflects on her relationship with a non-Muslim member of her family. What do we learn about the author’s relationship with that family member and her extended family? Can you identify with this experience in some way? Give an example.
  7. Based on these oral histories, analyze the connection between the authors’ religion, cultural background, and identity. How do the three intersect? How did these oral histories make you think differently about your understanding of Muslims in America?

Related resources for this lesson plan.

Frontline: Portraits of Ordinary Muslims in America
PBS offers a look at ordinary Muslims in various parts of the world. This segment focuses on Muslims in America.

“A Crown Jewel”, by Zerqa Abid
This article from Islamic Horizons magazine (see page 42) features the Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Central Ohio, a mosque built primarily by immigrant Muslims. Members of the congregation speak on how the mosque is a ‘symbol’ and an expression of their identities as Muslims in America.

Five reasons to teach, This is Where I Need to Be.

home || teachers || students || explore || about || contact || sitemap