Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Idea from Facing History and Ourselves
"Shajee's Story: Middle School Students Learn About Islam" highlights one San Francisco Bay Area middle school’s decision to be proactive and embrace the opportunity to learn about the Muslim religion. The school’s decision was prompted by several incidences of expressed student indifference to learning about Muslims today within the school as well as recent name calling and bullying in several middle schools in the area. At a time of increased stereotyping of Muslims and public questioning about Islam as a religion, teachers at these schools, with the support of Facing History and Ourselves Bay Area Office, decided to respond to this climate by including student speakers from the Muslim Student Association at Irvington High School to share their personal stories about being a Muslim American in today’s world. The teachers hoped that through these open and safe conversations students would begin to build authentic connections and relationships with one another and any negative preconceived notions of what it meant to be a Muslim American would be addressed, questioned and healthy dialogue and friendship could follow. As Diane Moore, of the Harvard Divinity School, believes "there exists a widespread illiteracy about religion that spans the globe;1 second, one of the most troubling and urgent consequences of this illiteracy is that it often fuels prejudice and antagonism, thereby hindering efforts aimed at promoting respect for pluralism, peaceful coexistence and cooperative endeavors."
"Shajee's Story: Middle School Students Learn About Islam" chronicles one speaking engagement at Orinda Intermediate School and the story of Shajee, a Muslim American high school student and President of Irvington High School’s Muslim Student Association.
(1) One Story
Prior to viewing this video, it is important to take time to build vocabulary and comfort in talking about religion with your students. This process can be referred to as religious fluency and includes feeling safe, comfortable and confident to talk about religion from a place of knowledge and insight.
One reading, “Talking about Religion,” written by Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago, introduces many of the issues surrounding the "Shajee's Story: Middle School Students Learn About Islam" story (it can be found on page 88 of Stories of Identity: Religion, Migration, and Belonging in a Changing World, downloadable at http://www.facinghistory.org/resources/publications/stories-identity-religion-m). Downloading and sharing this reading, and discussing the Connections Questions that follow, can be a helpful tool in initiating conversations in the classroom about religion in our lives today.
These questions can be used as journal prompts, discussion ideas, small group work or for larger class discussions.
1. How did Patel overcome “rejection”? Who inspired him? What different traditions do they represent? What do they have in common? Who inspires you?
2. Patel believes that there is a connection between “inner coherence”—comfort with one’s identity—and a commitment to pluralism—the peaceful coexistence of different groups. What does he mean? How can people balance their own identities and beliefs with a commitment to pluralism?
3. Religion is an important part of Patel’s identity. Does religion play a role in the way you see yourself and others?
4. Reflecting on his silence, Patel explains that his friends were not equipped to discuss their faith with other people or to ask questions about the differences between their traditions. How can young people become prepared to talk about these issues? What does Patel mean when he talks about the “dangers lurking within this absence”?
5. Patel says that he and his friends were bystanders while Jews were intimidated at school. Have you ever been a bystander? Describe the situation. Why didn’t you get involved? How do you and your friends respond when people of different groups feel intimidated by racism and prejudice? How would you like to respond?
You may be interested in viewing Eboo Patel sharing a more extensive version of this story. Please go to http://civicdilemmas.facinghistory.org/content/talking-about-religion
(2) Preparing for a Classroom Speaker
In order to appropriately introduce personal narratives and/or host classroom speakers, it may be helpful to share with your students some helpful best practices that Shajee followed but are important to put in place for any speaker in order to make the most of the presentation.
- Shajee shared his story from the “I” perspective which meant that it was only his experience and not necessarily illustrative of all Muslims American high school students.
- Shajee was a student leader representing the Muslim Student Association and was came to speak by the invitation of the school.
- Shajee was not the only Muslim student speaking. There were three students in total from Irvington High School, all with different religious observance and unique identities as Muslim Americans. One female student dressed in traditional Muslim clothing and another male student similar to Shajee in his appearance. Including different perspectives is critical for students to have a more complicated picture of a group’s identity.
Post View: Bridging One Story to the Community
Here are some suggested classroom activities that you may want to choose following this video clip.
(1) Journal Prompts:
- What was new, surprising or challenging in watching Shajee’s classroom presentation?
- If you were to meet Shajee in your class, what would you like to ask him?
In the closing of Eboo Patel’s story he writes,
Pluralism is not a default position, an autopilot mode. Pluralism is an intentional commitment that is imprinted through action. It requires deliberate engagement with difference, outspoken loyalty to others, and proactive protection in the breach. You have to choose to step off the faith line onto the side of pluralism, and then you have to make your voice heard.
In your own words, what do you think Eboo Patel is expressing here? What is your definition of pluralism?
(2) Classroom Discussion
The video highlights a series if important questions educators face in confronting religious stereotypes in general. Integrating these questions can be introduced as individual journal prompts, small group discussion questions or a larger Socratic discussion.
- How do young people learn about people whose religious traditions are different than their own?
- As we teach about religion and identity, what is the value of personal narrative and experience?
- How do the educators hope to use personal narrative to break down stereotypes? Do you think it is an effective tool?
- How can we create spaces for young people to talk about their experiences and their identities without presenting them as experts on their religion?
- Are there dangers in an approach like the one featured? Are there advantages?
- What kind of preparation might be necessary for both the speaker(s) and the students?
- Finally, what questions still remain in your mind?