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        Scholarship and Learning in Islam - Lesson Plan | Religion & Ethics Newsweekly

        In this lesson, students look at several aspects of lslamic learning and scholarship.  They are introduced to the madrasah (Islamic religious school), learn about the history of Timbuktu and explore Muslim contributions to math and science.

        Lesson Summary


        Islam has a long tradition of scholarship. In this lesson, students look at several aspects of lslamic learning. They are introduced to the Islamic religious school known as the madrasah, where students begin their religious education by studying the Qur'an. A video segment from the PBS series Religion & Ethics Newsweekly features Dr. Roy Parvis Mottahedeh, a scholar who presents a madrasah in operation today and speaks about the historical evolution of madrasahs. Another Religion & Ethics video segment describes the history of the mosque at Timbuktu which, in the fourteenth century, was a vibrant center of Islamic scholarship. A third video segment links astronomy to the annual celebration of the religious holiday of Ramadan.

        Students will watch and discuss the videos and do further research. As a culminating project, they will develop graphic presentations to teach others about scholarship and learning in Islam.


        Students will be able to:

        • Explain what a madrasah is;
        • Recognize the centrality of the Qur'an in Muslim education;
        • Understand that within any given religion, religious education practices can vary according to religious ideology/philosophy;
        • Identify and describe two or more centers of learning in the Muslim world;
        • Describe the links between astronomy and Ramadan;
        • Recognize the significant contributions that Muslims have made to science and mathematics;
        • Prepare a presentation highlighting Islam's emphasis on scholarship and learning.

        Grade Level:


        Suggested Time

        Three to four 45-minute class periods, with additional time for discussion and culminating activities as needed

        Media Resources


        For the teacher:

        • Board and/or chart paper
        • Ideally, a screen on which to project the video
        • Handouts of Web resources if computers are not available in the classroom

        For students:

        Web Sites

        Before The Lesson

        Prior to teaching the lesson, review all of the Web sites and video segments used in the lesson to make certain that they are appropriate for your students. Bookmark the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom, or upload them to an online bookmarking utility such as

        Download, print, and copy all of the student organizers listed above for each student in your classroom.

        Prerequisite: Before beginning this lesson, be sure to do the Introductory Activity from the Religion and the First Amendment lesson with your class.

        The Lesson

        Part I: Introductory Activity: Education and Religion

        Discuss with students the fact that, historically, much learning has occurred within the context of religion. In colonial America, for instance, children learning to read and write used religious texts for their studies. Explain to students that they will watch several video segments to learn about the role of scholarship and learning in Islam, past and present.

        Part II: Learning Activity 1: Learning about Madrasahs

          1. Tell students that they are going to watch a video about Muslim education in schools called Madrasahs QuickTime Video but first they are going to review some of the words that they will hear during the video. Distribute the Student Organizer 1: Vocabulary handout to your students and teach/review the words on the list. The words and the definitions are:

            Qur'an -- also sometimes spelled Koran; the holy book of Islam, believed to be the word of God as delivered to, and transcribed by, the prophet Muhammad.

            Islam -- a monotheistic religion (one that recognizes one God), focused on the commandments of God as revealed in the Qur'an.

            Muslims -- followers of the religion of Islam, numbering approximately 1.2 billion. Populations of Muslims are concentrated in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East but there are large Muslim populations throughout the world. It is estimated that five to seven million Muslims live in the U.S.

            Allah -- an Arabic word meaning literally, "The God." Muslims use this Arabic term as the proper name for God. Muslims view Allah as the Creator and Sustainer of everything in the universe, who is transcendent, has no physical form, and has no associates who share in His divinity.

            Muhammad-- the founder of Islam, who lived from 570-632 C.E., believed by Muslims to be the final prophet of God, receiver and transcriber of the word of God into the Qur'an.

            (Source of above definitions: TEACHING ABOUT ISLAM & MUSLIMS IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOL CLASSROOM: A HANDBOOK FOR EDUCATORS, 3rd Edition. Fountain Valley, CA: Council on Islamic Education, 2002.)

            Aristotle -- A Greek philosopher who lived from 384-322 B.C. He emphasized direct observation of nature and believed in the existence of changeless first principles that form the basis of all knowledge. After the decline of Rome, Aristotle's work was lost in the West. In the 9th century, Arab scholars introduced Aristotle to Islam, and through Arab and Jewish scholars Aristotelian philosophy was reintroduced in the West. Thus Islam, Judaism, and Roman Catholicism all have a strong connection to Aristotelian thought.

            Crusades -- a series of wars undertaken by European Christians between the 11th and 14th centuries to reclaim the Holy Land from the Muslims, who had taken over Jerusalem in the seventh century. The Crusades failed to achieve this purpose. However, they changed Western civilization forever by bringing the West into closer contact with the Muslim world.

            Mongols -- an Asian people, today numbering about 6 million and distributed mainly in the Republic of Mongolia, the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region of China, and Kalmykia and the Buryat Republic of Russia. In the early 13th century, the Mongol empire emerged as a powerful nation, attacking much of Europe and Asia. By the late 14th century, their power had waned.

            Algebra -- a branch of mathematics that deals symbolically with elements and operations (such as addition and multiplication) and relationships (such as equality) connecting the elements. For example, a+a=2a and a+b=b+a no matter what numbers a and b represent.

            Astronomy -- a branch of science that studies celestial bodies, such as planets, stars, and galaxies, as well as matter and energy in the universe at large.

            Napoleon-- French emperor who lived from 1769-1821. He was one of the greatest military leaders in history and dominated so completely that European history between 1800 and 1815 is known as the Napoleonic era. His positive accomplishments included the promotion of the modern state through administrative and legal reforms. However, he ruthlessly suppressed all opposition. 

            (Source of above definitions: THE COLUMBIA ENCYCLOPEDIA, Sixth Edition, 2001, on

          2. Distribute the Student Organizer 2: Madrasahs: Guided Viewing Sheet handout to your students. Ask them to jot down responses as they watch the video.

        After showing the segment, ask students to take a few minutes to free-write their thoughts and reactions. Then ask them to join with partners to share the responses they wrote down. Partners can then report out to the whole class.

        Part III: Learning Activity 2: Learning Centers of Ancient Islam

          1. Introduce the next video (Timbuktu QuickTime Video, explaining that it is about an ancient center of Islamic learning in Timbuktu. Distribute the Student Organizer 3: Timbuktu: Guided Viewing Sheet handout to your students. Ask students to jot down responses as they watch the video.

        After showing the segment, ask students to take a few minutes to free-write their thoughts and reactions. Then ask them to form groups to share the responses they wrote down. Groups can then report out to the whole class.

        Part IV: Learning Activity 3: Science and Ramadan

          1. Introduce the video Ramadan Moon QuickTime Video explaining that it is about how the start of Ramadan is linked to the lunar cycle. Distribute the Student Organizer 4: Ramadan Moon: Guided Viewing Sheet handout to your students. Ask students to jot down responses as they watch the video.

        After showing the segment, ask students to take a few minutes to free-write their thoughts and reactions. Then ask them to join with partners to share the responses they wrote down. Partners can then report out to the whole class. You might point out, in the ensuing discussion, that the "see for yourself" attitude of Muslims is linked to the Aristotelian principle of observation as key in seeking knowledge.

        Part V: Culminating Activity

        Divide students into groups of three to five. Assign each group to do further research on one of the topics they learned about in the video segments:

        1. Madrasahs
        2. Centers of learning in the Muslim world
        3. Muslim contributions in the areas of math and science

        Each group will then create a graphic presentation in the form of a poster, PowerPoint, or Web site to teach their classmates about their topic. Maps, photographs, models, and drawings can be included. When students have completed their projects, ask each group to share their work with the class.

        Students can refer back to the video segments used in this lesson for their research; you may want to provide them with copies of the transcripts. The Web sites below may also be helpful.

        1. Madrasahs The Madrasa (Qu'ran School)

        Web site of Islamic Arts and Architecture, a non-profit organization.

        The Madrasah
        From Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.

        1. Centers of Learning in the Muslim World

          Mansa Musa From Harcourt Publishers, a biography of Mansa Musa, founder of the Muslim center of learning at Timbuktu.

          A brief, easy-to-read history of Timbuktu from Mr. Dowling, a middle school teacher in Florida.

          "Discovery of Timbuktu Manuscripts"
          Article on the manuscripts of Timbuktu, from the Timbuktu Educational Foundation. The site has many excellent photographs.

          "The Scholars of Baghdad"
          An essay on Islamic scholars of ancient Baghdad.

          Al-Azhar University
          History of the University of Al-Azhar, considered to be one of the world's oldest universities.

          Fes, Morocco
          History of Fes, or Fez.

          "Fez Reveals Morocco's Soul"
          A travel article on Fez, with some information on the University of Al Karaouine.

        2. Muslim Contributions to Math and Science Science & Mathematics in Medieval Islamic Cultures
              Information on the Golden Age of Islamic learning.

          Muslim Scientists and Scholars
          Biographical notes on Muslim scientists and scholars.


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