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

Activities and Procedures

3. Class Project

On the reproducible “Wall of Fame: Personalities” you will find a list of notable historical, literary, political, and cultural figures, all of whom happen to be Muslim. Separate the names, put them all into a hat and ask each student to pick one name. Tell students that they are going to be researching and writing mini-biographies to create a “Wall of Fame” which will highlight the Muslim community’s diversity and contributions to society.

Have students use the handout “Wall of Fame: Research Notes” to collect and compile their information. They can then consolidate their research, using the reproducible “Wall of Fame: Profile.”

If Internet access is available, students might also write their biographies following a wikipedia format and post them on a group blog, using blogger.com or a similar blogging site. To create a character sketch on their blog, students can:

  • write a short biography of the person they researched
  • add quotes by or about them
  • add excerpts from and/or links to articles written by or about them
  • post images, art and lyrics to songs they feel express the personality of this individual

When students are finished, you might have them do oral presentations about the individuals they researched. You may also create an exhibit highlighting their work.

Afterwards, reconvene the class and evaluate their experiences with this assignment. Some reflection questions you might pose are:

  • What aspect(s) of their research did they find most fascinating?
  • What aspect(s) did they find most surprising?
  • Would they use what they now know to dispel myths and misinformation about Muslims on an individual as well as on a collective, large-scale basis? If yes, how?

4. Homework or Longer-term Assignments

  1. Have students take Changethestory.net’s “Millionaire Quiz.” It tests students’ knowledge of Muslims on everything from demographic information to cultural and artistic contributions, and would provide an interesting launching pad for group discussions or further research.
  2. Ask students to view the PBS documentary Prince Among Slaves which examines the roots of Islam in America. This PBS documentary tells the story of Abdul Rahman, an African Muslim prince. In 1788, the year Abdul Rahman was sold into slavery, his father controlled a country larger than the United States at the time. Yet, once captured and sold, Rahman would struggle and toil for 40 long years. Through it all, he strove to hold onto his Muslim identity.

    Following the movie, divide students into small groups and have them discuss the following questions before reconvening and sharing their findings with the rest of the class:

    1. Were you previously familiar with the fact that many of the slaves brought to America were Muslim? Does this movie change any prior perceptions you had, especially about African Americans today?
    2. Were you surprised to learn that people of aristocracy were also amongst those enslaved? Why or why not?
    3. What was there about the protagonist’s sense of identity that empowered him to stay hopeful and determined? Illustrate with three examples from the movie.
    4. Many slaves had to take on the names of their owners. In the context of identity, why do you feel the slave-owners practiced this?
  3. Ask students to answer/ the following questions:
    • What religious food and drink restrictions do Muslims have?
    • Do you have any foods that you can’t eat for health or religious reasons?
  4. Have students find two recipes reflecting the food prepared in any three Muslim countries or by Muslim families in the United States. You can culminate this research assignment by hosting a food festival where students bring in foods from different parts of the Muslim world, including the United States. Or, students can create a recipe book of "Muslim Foods" which shows the cultural diversity of the cuisines that are shared by members of one religion. This activity further reinforces the lesson that while the religious tenets of Islam are often one and the same, Islamic culture varies from region to region.
  5. Students find photos and provide a brief description of wedding dresses worn by Muslim brides: one bride from the Middle East and one from South Asia. Ask students to compare the common features and the differences in both wedding dresses and wedding celebrations of either region, then extend their understanding to at least one other religion of the world.
  6. Have students go online and find photos of the different mosques in the United States. Encourage them to explore whether all U.S. mosques are identical. They should note the salient features of three mosques in the U.S. or in New York City—including dominant architectural influences—and list what makes each mosque unique and which features the mosques have in common. Ask:
    • How do mosque features reflect cultural or ethnic variations among the Muslim community?
    • What do they tell you about Muslims in the United States and their identity given the kinds of mosques you see built here?

Related resources for this lesson plan.

Change the Story
Resources at this educational website include “What is Islam?” and “Islam 101” as well as a downloadable PDF quiz, “The Millionaire Quiz” and a timeline of Islam.

Reporting on Religion: A Primer for Journalists 
Religion Newswriters provides a thorough introduction to Islam for religion journalists. This may also be helpful in the classroom.

Muslims, by Paul D. Numrich
This entry from the Encyclopedia of Chicago examines Chicago as a microcosm of the theological, ethnic and cultural diversity of Islam.

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