How Do You Bring Islam Into the Classroom?


In recent weeks, our country has been treated to an ugly reflection of itself. The controversy over the Islamic community center in New York City has been followed by a spate of anti-Muslim acts. They include the stabbing of a Muslim cabbieattempted arson at a mosque in Tennessee and teens harassing Muslims at worship in upstate New York.

The controversy over the New York community center has clearly made the biggest splash. When I first heard what people were saying about it I immediately wondered how to tackle this head-on as an educator. What would I say to my teachers about how to approach the subject in our history classes? How could I be a participant in a difficult conversation in which some of our Muslim students are directly affected?

I decided to visit the local Islamic Society to get information. Teachers, I have learned, are at their best when they are students themselves and are seeking to become more educated. While there is something to be said for immersing yourself in a new and different culture, it can have unintended consequences. One of my friends recently admitted that she was hurt when someone invited her children to a playgroup simply for the forced and artificial act of “having a diverse group.”

When I visited the Islamic Society center I was careful not to make the praying Muslims there a fascination. My goal was not to shine a spotlight on them. Instead, I wanted to build a relationship in which I could answer students’ questions. That relationship was needed because information about Muslim culture and history is glaringly absent from our history books and curriculum. Many of my students know of Islam only through the September 11 terrorist attacks.

In searching for more information, I found a website by two men who are trying to visit 30 mosques in 30 days. Aman and Bassam are both Muslims who have mapped out mosques across the country that they are attending during Ramadan. They chronicle their travels on their blog and via Twitter. This is a great resource for classroom teachers to promote culture, technology (they use lots of photographs and the occasional video), geography and communication. However, be sure to screen each blog post because there is occasional mild profanity. The story about Alabama is particularly interesting.

Keep in mind that Teaching Tolerance also has resources here, here and here that can help in teaching about sensitive religious issues. And I’m curious: How is your school dealing with the issue of the New York community center?

Wickham is a Teaching Tolerance blogger and assistant principal at Lincoln Magnet School in Springfield, Ill.  


Interesting. I just read the

Submitted by Jill on 20 January 2011 - 6:20pm.

Interesting. I just read the article about creationism vs. evolution, and the fact that the vast majority of those believing in evolution and recognizing it as the scientific fact that it is, are educated. I am in a quandary over Islam. Isn't it, too, like creationism and other Christian beliefs described as ignorant in the previous article; not scientifically based, but rather old-fashioned backwards superstition ? I don't see the difference, except that one is PC and the other isn't.

Greetings, One of the most

Submitted by Susan Douglass on 19 September 2010 - 10:17pm.

One of the most important aspects of teaching about religion is access to good sources, which have in the past been very hard to find. Teachers who teach about Islam in world history and world geography and world cultures classes find themselves challenged to teach about all of the major (and many minor) world religions. As an experienced educator and instructional materials developer, I have been collecting such resources and making them available through an annotated list of resources at The Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, under Dr. John Esposito, sponsors a program of free workshops for educators in any of the 50 states and Canada. I have so far conducted more than 50 such workshops for educators and community groups. Among the highlighted resources are the wonderful documentary films and lesson materials produced by Unity Productions Foundation ( on subjects related to Islam, Muslim history and contemporary issues. In response to the Park51 issue, UPF has created a website at where viewers can watch the foundation's most important films in full online, and can engage in the 20,000 Dialogues project in their communities.

Who will do the teaching?

Submitted by Irv Silberman on 17 September 2010 - 5:02pm.

Who will do the teaching? Will it be a Sunni Muslim or a Shiite Muslim. Will the origin of the Qur'an be evaluated? Islamic scholars are starting to question the basic origin of this foundational text. What is D'Himmi and how does it discriminate agains Christian and Jew. Now is the time to clear the air.Muslims in general are good people but they are intimidated by an agressive orthodox group. Moderate muslims will benefit from an a scholarly study of Islam.

The controversy over Park51

Submitted by Tanenbaum on 14 September 2010 - 5:07pm.

The controversy over Park51 certainly provides the opportunity for a teachable moment. But, many teachers are unsure how to deal with sensitive issues such as this in the classroom. Therefore Tanenbaum created fact sheets and resources to help teachers turn this tension-filled topic into an enriching classroom experience. We hope you find them helpful and let us know if you have any questions!

I think that if we are going

Submitted by Phil on 3 September 2010 - 10:48am.

I think that if we are going to bring Islam into the classroom then we need to also bring Christianity, Judiasm and all religions into the classroom.

It seems all of this concern is going in just one direction, and reflects a lack of 'tolerance' in and of itself.

I do not believe that

Submitted by Mary on 3 September 2010 - 6:45pm.

I do not believe that religion should be taught in schools. When I was a child we used to have a silent moment when we could pray to what ever God we chose, but it was eventually outlawed. I believe that tolerance should be taught in the home. We make remarks about others and our children pick it up.Even though they are young, if talk about hatred at home your kids are going to natural think that your right. Because why would your mom or dad say something about a race or religion if they did not think it was true. Children learn intolerance from the home. Maybe we should make people take classes before they become parents. Even better make a law against passing on your prejudice to your children. I seen kids playing together and they really do not what color or religion another kid is. They just happy to have someone to play with.

I'm actually studying to

Submitted by Kerry on 30 March 2011 - 3:21pm.

I'm actually studying to become a teacher right now at KU, and I'm unsure if relying solely on parents is a good idea. What if some parents avoid the topic or pass on bad information about certain religions?? Shouldn't teachers take this important topic into their hands so their students will not be ignorant and prejudice toward certain religions. You said that children learn intolerance at home, so are teachers just supposed to accept that? Since kids play so well together when they are young, is that not the perfect time to start teaching about different views of other people. What happens when they become older? They don't play so well together anymore......

There are many places in the

Submitted by Maureen Costello on 7 September 2010 - 10:41am.

There are many places in the curriculum -- in social studies, literature, art and music -- where it's appropriate and important to teach about religion. This is not the same as promoting a particular religion.
An excellent guide, Teaching About Religion, has issued by the First Amendment Center
It includes these very helpful guidelines:
* The school's approach to religion is academic, not devotional.
* The school strives for student awareness of religions, but does not press for student acceptance of any one religion.
* The school sponsors study about religion, not the practice of religion.
* The school exposes students to a diversity of religious views; it does not impose any particular view.
* The school educates about all religions; it does not promote or denigrate any religion.
* The school informs students about various beliefs; it does not seek to conform students to any particular belief.

Kelly, thank you for writing

Submitted by Trevor Barton on 2 September 2010 - 8:33am.

Kelly, thank you for writing this piece. When we as teachers are helping our communities work through differences in religious beliefs, political ideologies, culture, socio-economic statuses - differences of any kind -the best place to start is by building relationships and putting human faces over and above the rhetoric. We have to work especially hard in the South because we have a history of allowing demagoguery to destroy people. Thanks for your insight and your resources!

I think that teaching

Submitted by Kathryn on 1 September 2010 - 10:13pm.

I think that teaching tolerance and respect for others is important. But are you saying that this is something else we need to be teaching in our schools...Muslim history, how to be tolerant of Muslims, etc? I would not agree with that.

I send my child to public school because I want him in an environment, as much as possible, free from religious overtones. I do not want our public schools bending over backwards to teach tolerance of one particular religion...we should teach tolerance for ALL religion, and non-religion. Tolerance itself is what should be taught, of people who are different, and all that encompasses. Isn't that already being taught in our public schools?

I also think that our kids are lagging behind kids in other developed nations, and I'd much rather see that addressed seriously, than another tolerance initiative in school.

I think that the news stories about these issues are great teaching moments for tolerance in social studies classes, as are any other events going on in the world. But as far as bringing Islam into the classroom...the tone of that makes me pretty uncomfortable. I don't want Islam brought into the classroom, I don't want Catholicism brought in, or any other religious ideology. I would not agree with any type of curriculum change that involves making Islam special in any way, just because we want to show our tolerance. Be tolerant, teach it to our kids, fight hate with love.

I agree with you Kathryn. If

Submitted by Judy on 7 September 2010 - 2:53pm.

I agree with you Kathryn. If our true goal is to teach tolerance, why would we want to highlight any one faith? You can be kind, loving, and TOLERANT without being directly exposed to other faiths. Where is the tolerance for "Christ" during the Christmas season in our public schools? It has all but disappeared - and Christmas is a Christian holiday! I respect all faiths, and that is reflected in my daily life. Let us teach our students that the world is BIG and that God (should they believe in Him) is also BIG; embrace ALL people and love them. If our public school system is going to be religion-neutral, then let's truly be religion neutral.

I am sorry to say Kathryn to

Submitted by Rae on 3 September 2010 - 12:48am.

I am sorry to say Kathryn to no our public schools do not teach tolerance. For example, bullying. Bullying is one child harming another physically or mentally because they feel that child is differnet which makes them fair game. Then you have the situation such sa one little girl not being allowed to attend a catholic school because her parents are lesbians. The only reason you don't see something like that with a public school is because of the law suit that would follow. If you still think that public schools teach tolerance maybe you should read this interesting article I was reading today. If you do read i keep in mind that the only reason the school changed its policy is because they were caught and parents went threw the roof. I hope you do read it. Then maybe you can see that we need to educate our children so that they can stop believing that all Muslims and Arabs are terrorists.

I agree that tolerance is an

Submitted by Jill on 6 September 2010 - 2:51pm.

I agree that tolerance is an important value to instill in children however I do not believe that it is the job of a teacher to teach a student morals or values. Tolerance should start at home. Bringing religions, any religions into a public school, in a historical sense, in order to teach history would be detrimental. It isn't fair to teach children one side of the coin as so many public schools do. How would a teacher or administrator justify teaching how tolerant certain religions are without bringing up their intolerance as well. For example, how could you teach the tolerance of Catholisism without teaching the Church's disapproval for homosexuality and birth control, or the tolerance of Islam without discussing that only muslims are allowed in the holy city of Mecca. Ultimately, these are very sensitive issues and religious tolerance has been an issue in this County since it was founded. A school initiative will not solve this, it begins at home, teachers should focus on teaching the topics they were trained to teach.

You're right about teachers

Submitted by Shnerfle on 1 September 2010 - 9:20pm.

You're right about teachers being their best when they are students. As a teacher, my favorite thing about learning something new, is sharing it with my students. And it sounds like you found some great new resources. Doesn't it feel as though you're treading on eggshells, though? Walking a minefield? It's such a difficult subject to address without unintentionally stepping on toes. Or mixing your metaphors.

Great post! :-)

I can't speak for our school

Submitted by Mr Lady on 1 September 2010 - 8:48pm.

I can't speak for our school just yet, but I can speak as a parent. My best friend is muslim. Her kids are my kids best friends. My nieces and nephew are hindu. My children have particpated in each families religious traditions and celebrated holidays. They've been given the opportunity to learn, not just hear, about both religions and, as children so perfectly do, they've embraced all those opportunities. No matter what my kids' schools do, i know that my children are armed with knowlege and love, and that they will encourage their peers to seek both.