ARTICLE

Commemorate 9/11 by Confronting Islamophobia

Last week, Teaching Tolerance ran a post from an assistant principal in Illinois. Lamenting the recent spate of anti-Islamic incidents and the rising anti-Muslim rhetoric, she wrote: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?

Last week, Teaching Tolerance ran a post from an assistant principal in Illinois. Lamenting the recent spate of anti-Islamic incidents and the rising anti-Muslim rhetoric, she wrote:

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?

In that short paragraph, she neatly summed up two excellent reasons to teach about Islam, one academic and one related to the welfare of her students.

But not everyone felt the same way. Comments revealed just how radioactive the subject of religion in general, and Islam in particular, has become. A fellow teacher asked if our blogger felt like she was “walking a minefield.” Others asserted that this was not a topic for classrooms. 

We disagree.

Not only is it a classroom topic, it’s one that must be addressed now, and urgently, as the nation pauses to remember the 9/11 attacks.

It should be taught now precisely because the rhetoric has gotten hotter, as we hear of Christian ministers staging Quran burnings and preaching anti-Muslim sermons at Ground Zero. What’s at stake is nothing less than the meaning of religious freedom. And students need to know that.

This week, we urge all educators to teach about Islam and to talk about Islamophobia. Name it. Call it out. Here’s how to respond if someone challenges you: 

  • It’s current events.
  • Teaching about religious freedom is part of civics.
  • Teaching students how to separate fact from opinion is an essential skill.
  • Teaching about religion is not the same as religious teaching.
  • The cultural contributions of religions are an integral part of world history and have an important place in English, art, music, and social studies classes.
  • Students need to understand the danger of religious intolerance.
  • Many of our students are Muslims. They feel threatened and unsafe.
  • It’s the right thing to do.

These Teaching Tolerance lessons offer something for every grade level:

Who Are the Arab Americans? In the aftermath of 9/11, this lesson helped students overcome misconceptions.

Intolerance and Hate use editorial cartoons to confront and examine stereotypes.

Building a Bridge of Understanding uses art to start a dialogue about Islam.

The School Holiday Calendar examines the holidays of various faiths and asks students to analyze a complex social problem.

The Resurgence of Hate takes a look back at the Ku Klux Klan and offers an opportunity to draw analogies to other instances of hate. 

Understanding Religious Clothing uses garments to compare religions and deepen understanding.  

Taking a Closer Look at Religions around the World offers a starting point for lessons on comparative religions.  

Keep it Academic suggests resources for integrating religion into the academic curriculum while maintaining neutrality.