Some Muslim women in the United States often see a conflict between the beliefs and practices of their religion and the norms and standards of modern society. There are some Muslims (both women and men) in America who are pushing for change, and there are others who believe that established practices and beliefs should be upheld. Through the materials presented in this lesson, students will explore basic beliefs and practices of Islam, examine Muslim women's roles in Islam and modern American society, and compare women's rights in Islam with the history of women's rights in the United States.
- Demonstrate an understanding of the basic beliefs and practices of Islam;
- Recognize that the experience of Muslim women in any country is shaped by that country's culture;
- Compare and contrast the rights and protections Islam has provided for women with the history of women's rights in the United States.
Four 45-minute class periods
American Muslim Women QuickTime Video
For the class:
- A chalkboard, whiteboard, or poster paper (for brainstorming activities)
- The appropriate writing utensil for your writing surface
- Tape (necessary if you are using poster paper so that you can display the students' work)
For each student:
- Pen or pencil
- Computer with Internet access
- Student Organizer 1: Beliefs and Daily Lives of Muslims
- Student Organizer 2: American Muslim Women
- Student Organizer 3: True or False?
- Frontline Teachers Guide: "Belief and Daily Lives of Muslims"
- Drive for an Islamic Sorority at U. of Kentucky
- More Rights Than One Might Think
- Living the Legacy: The Women's Rights Movement 1848-1998
- Accommodating Muslim Modesty in Public Pools
- Celebrating Eid al-Adh at the Mall of America
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 www.portaportal.com.
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.
Part I: Introductory Activity: Understanding the Basics of Islam
Assessing Prior Knowledge:Explain to your students that they will be examining the experiences of Muslim women in the United States. Ask students to begin by brainstorming a list of things that they know about women in Islam. Have students record their thoughts about Islam privately, without discussing the responses as a class. Ask students to hold on to their responses (or you may collect them). Explain to them that throughout the course of this lesson they will learn more about the role of women in Islam, and that after they complete the lesson they will have time to review and revise their responses.
Understanding the Basics of Islam:Explain to your students that in order to examine the experiences of Muslim women, they must have a basic understanding of fundamentals of Islam and how they pertain to women. Instruct students to go to the Web site "Beliefs and Daily Lives of Muslims" at www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/teach/muslims/beliefs.html. Ask students to read the information on the page and answer the questions on the Student Organizer 1: Beliefs and Daily Lives of Muslims handout. They are to record the Five Pillars of Islam and a brief explanation of each, a brief description of the daily life of observant Muslims, and each of the aspects of the role of women in Islam with a brief description. Check for comprehension by discussing the questions and answers to those questions.
Part II: Learning Activity 1: What are the Experiences of Muslim Women in America?
- Explain to your students that you will be taking a closer look at the experiences of Muslim women in America. To do so, they will watch the American Muslim Women QuickTime Video and they will listen to a story from National Public Radio called "Drive for an Islamic Sorority at U. of Kentucky," available at www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5052885.
Distribute the Student Organizer 2: American Muslim Women handout and instruct students to answer the questions on the organizer for each piece. The questions they will answer include:
- "American Muslim Women" -- What are the positive and negative aspects that Ranaa Akbar sees for women growing up Muslim in the United States; what are the challenges and difficulties that Zainab and Amna Akbar and Sara and Muminah Ahmad face living in America as Muslim women; how are these young women's views and practices of Islam similar and how are they different; what are the basic Islamic beliefs about equality between men and women and about relationships between men and women?
- "Drive for an Islamic Sorority at U. of Kentucky" -- What were the initial reactions from some students when they first heard about the possibility of an Islamic sorority; why do students (and others) want an Islamic sorority; and what are some of the differences between the Islamic sorority and other sororities?
- Once students have discussed the pieces, explain that they will be listening to other stories about Muslim women who are adapting to life in the United States while maintaining their Muslim ideals. Divide the class into two groups; one group will listen to: "Accommodating Muslim Modesty in Public Pools" and the second group will listen to "Celebrating Eid al-Adh at the Mall of America".
Instruct students to listen to the two stories and respond to the following questions on their organizers:
- What are some ways Muslim women are creating a space for themselves in American society while still meeting their religious duties; what can you tell about the attitude of the younger generation of Muslim women in America; with a few minor adjustments, the religious women in the stories were able to enjoy American life and still maintain their religious values. Have you ever had to make minor adjustments in your life so you could make yourself or others happy?
- Once students have listened to the stories and recorded their information, pair each student up with a classmate from a different group. The students who listened to "Accommodating Muslim Modesty in Public Pools" will share what they learned, and those who listened to "Celebrating Eid al-Adh at the Mall of America" will share what they learned. After students have shared, have a full-class discussion about the accommodations that people, both Muslim and non-Muslim, are working towards for Muslim women in America.
Part III: Learning Activity 2: Islam and Women's Rights
- Explain to students that, now that they have an understanding of some of the experiences of Muslim women in America, they will take a closer look at the issue of women's rights in Islam and in America. Have students form small groups of two or three. Distribute the Student Organizer 3: True or False? handout to each student, and have the students follow the directions on the organizer: Working in pairs, they are to decide, to the best of their abilities, which statements are true and which are false. When they finish, ask them to read the essay "More Rights Than One Might Think," which is found at www.pbs.org/wgbh/globalconnections/mideast/questions/women/index.html. Then, have them revisit the true/false statements and make corrections based on what they learn from the essay. Finally, students are to list three things that they've learned about women in Islam that they didn't already know.
- Answers to the True/False questions are as follows:
- Muslim women are oppressed by their religion. FALSE
- The Qur'an explicitly states that men and women are equal in the eyes of God. TRUE
- When Muslim women marry, their property is given to their husbands. FALSE
- The Qur'an instructs Muslims to educate daughters as well as sons. TRUE
- Muslim women have had rights for over 1400 year that were only granted to American women in the 19th and 20th centuries. TRUE
- The restrictions placed on women in some Islamic countries are cultural, not religious. TRUE
- The Qur'an directs both men and women to dress modestly. TRUE
- Use of the hijab, or head scarf, varies according to the society in which a Muslim woman lives. TRUE
- Women of many cultures and religions cover their heads in different ways. TRUE
- As a class, discuss what students have learned about women in Islam. Ask students what, if anything, surprised them. Make sure students understand the difference between a cultural practice and a religious practice, explaining that many of the oppressive practices that they may have associated with Islam in fact do not come from the religion but are part of a local cultural tradition. Explain that for 1400 years, Islam has given women rights that women in the United States are still fighting for today.
Part IV: Culminating Activity
- Explain to the class that they are going to compare the rights of women in Islam with the rights of women in the United States. Ask students to visit the Web site "Living the Legacy: The Women's Rights Movement 1848-1998." Ask them to click on "History of the Movement," and to find the Declaration of Sentiments drafted by Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1848. Have the students compare the rights of women in the United States in 1848 to the rights granted Muslim women 1400 years ago (using the resources from this lesson, including the video segment "American Muslim Women" and the essay "More Rights Than One Might Think.")
- Ask students to create a chart comparing women's rights in Islam with women's rights in the United States with regard to the following:
- - property rights
- - marriage
- - divorce
- - education
- - equality
- When students have completed their charts, discuss their findings as a class. Have them go back and review the list they brainstormed in the introductory activity. Ask students to share what they've learned, and discuss how their views on women in Islam have changed.
World Cultures/Comparative Religion
- Have students research other religions and the roles that women play in those religions, such as Hinduism and Judaism. Have students research the experiences of women who practice these religions in the United States.
- If possible, have your students meet with Muslim women in your community to learn about their experiences in American society.
- Have students contact various Muslim women's groups in America, such as the Muslim Women's League (www.mwlusa.org), through letters or email. Students can gather information these groups and their perspectives on different issues that Muslim women face in America.