Saturday, July 23, 2011

Peace through Knowledge: The study of Islam and other World Religions

Putting the words school and religion together in a sentence is enough to make many people cringe. Separation of church and state is an important facet of the U.S. government, and teachers tend to avoid religious topics so they don’t run the risk of crossing that fine line. Joann’s featured resources this week on the Gateway give teachers tools to teach students about world religions in a fair and balanced manner.

Religious conflicts have fueled wars throughout the ages. Gaining a deep understanding of the differences and similarities between these conflicting religions is an important part of growing up and becoming a contributing member of society. Since people tend to fear the unknown, they can develop an unhealthy fear and prejudice towards particular religions and cultures. Since it is somewhat of a taboo topic, students might not feel comfortable asking questions about different religions at school, and there aren’t many other places they can go to find the answers to these questions. With the current unrest in the Middle East, an important religion for students to understand is Islam. Most children in United States are familiar with Judeo-Christian history and beliefs, but the ideas and practices of Muslims (those practicing Islam) may seem foreign and scary to them.

Islam is the second most popular religion in the world. Most of the followers live in the Middle East, Asia, and the horn of Africa. Because of this geographical separation from the United States and because of the extensive coverage of Islamic extremists in the news, the religion is not well understood by many Americans. According to one Gallup poll, 43% of Americans felt at least a “little” prejudice against Muslims. As teachers, we might be able to help alleviate this fear of the unknown to prevent this prejudice.

By teaching about religions such as Islam in school, we can arm our students with knowledge so they can make informed choices. We don’t want stereotypes to fuel their decisions; we want our students to base decisions on unbiased facts. Studying the history of Islam is just an example. There are many different religions in the world that students can compare and contrast to gain a better understanding of historical and current events.

New York’s Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility has some valuable resources for teaching world religions in the classroom. There is a “Teachable Moment” section on their site that has some good ideas for activities and critical thinking about Islam and other major religions. One example is Islam and the West: An Overview and Suggestions for Study, which has lots of good ideas for incorporating the study of religion (specifically Islam) into your curriculum. You will find more good resources on Morningside’s site. is also a good source of lesson plans and tips for including the study of world religions in your classroom. How have World Religions Shaped Who I Am Today?” is an introductory lesson to a unit on world religions. In this lesson, students take an inventory of their beliefs. The whole unit is well-planned and would be a good place to start when you incorporated a unit on world religions into your teaching.

There are a huge amount of resources available on the Gateway to help you introduce and study religion with your students. If you go to the main page of the Gateway and search for Islam, you will find plenty to use. The following two examples are other types of resources available. Check them out to see a preview of what is available.

USA Today Special Report Comparing Religions:

Islam or Christianity:

~Peggy's Corner - July 21, 2011~

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