The Muslim Student in the American Classroom
Why might you want to know about Islam? There are several reasons, among them, there are over seven million Muslims living in the United States and there is a very good possibility that you will have one in your classroom. I have been teaching Muslim students for several years and I have asked the Muslim community in my area to share those things they think you should know about.
There is one thing I would like you to know and that is 99.9% of Muslims are not terrorists, nor do they believe in terrorism. They are not a threat to you, your families, or your classrooms. They love this country and their guaranteed constitutional rights every bit as much as you do. Please be fair and just in your dealings with your Muslim students and put to rest any fear or prejudices you may have.
What Muslims Believe
Islam is a monotheistic religion that is practiced worldwide. Followers of Islam, which means submission to the will of God, are called Muslims. Muslims believe they must proclaim there is only one God, pray 5 times a day, fast during the month of Ramadan, which is based on a lunar calendar, to give alms, and make a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, once in their lifetimes.
Muslims believe in all the prophets of God, including Moses and Jesus. Jesus is thought of as a prophet of God and not the literal son of God. Muslims also believe the last prophet was a man named Muhammad. The great majority of Muslims are not Middle Eastern; they come from all over the world. There are five and a half million Muslims in the United States.
The Muslim Student
Teachers should be aware of several things when they have Muslim students in their classrooms. Two of the most important things are that the student needs to be able to make his or her prayer on time and that mixing of males and females is not permitted.
Muslims are required to pray five times a day. These times are sunrise, noontime, afternoon, sunset, and nightfall. It is likely that at least one of these times will fall during the school hours. Please check with your school administrator and find a quiet place that the student can pray at the proper times. The times of prayer fluctuate throughout the year depending on the length of day light hours. The religion of Islam does not permit the unnecessary mixing of males and females, except among close family members. While this is generally not a problem in the primary grades, it becomes one later.
Parents may ask that their child be excluded from P.E. class for this reason and for modesty's sake. Muslims are not permitted to "dress down" or take community showers. Modesty is of the highest priority. Older Muslim girls will wear a head cover in keeping with this belief. Dancing with persons of the opposite sex if definitely not allowed. Mixing for classroom work is not considered permissible either. Please, take this into consideration when making cooperative group assignments.
Because Islam does not allow mixing of males and females, Muslims are also prohibited from shaking hands with members of the opposite sex. If you are a female teacher, you will not want to put a Muslim man in the position of refusing your handshake. The same holds true if you are a male teacher; you do not want to offer your hand to the mother of one of your students. Do not be offended if a Muslim does not make eye contact and does refuse to shake your hand.
Dietary laws are clearly spelled out for Muslims. They are not allowed to have any pork, pork products, or alcohol. If you have a pizza party for your classroom, be considerate and make sure there is a cheese pizza available. Marshmallows contain gelatin and are also not allowed. Gelatin is often produced by boiling pork bones. Checking treats before you buy them can go a long way in promoting good will in the classroom and making your Muslim student feel included.
Parents may also request that their child be excused from music class, as music is not generally acceptable in Muslim households. This belief is based on several sayings of the Prophet Muhammed that can be found in (I)Sahih Al-Bukhari.
There are two major holidays that Muslim's celebrate each year. These holidays are based on a lunar calendar and are at a slightly different date each year. The holidays are Eid Al Fitr, which is celebrated after the month of fasting. Your student may elect to fast this month. Fasting is a sign of faith. If your student is fasting, please be supportive; you will not only gain the respect of your student, but his or her family as well. Rest assured, your student is eating before sunrise and after sunset. Fasting for children is not required but many like to participate. Perhaps you can send the student to a resource room during lunch rather than making him hang out in the cafeteria. As stated, Eid Al Fitr is celebrated at the end of the month of Ramadan. Expect your student to be absent for a minimum of one day and possibly three. The holiday typically lasts three days.
Eid Al Adha is the celebration in memory of the sacrifice Abraham was going to make of his son Ish'mail to God (Muslims believe it was Ish'Mail and not Issac) and of God's mercy in letting Abraham sacrifice a lamb instead. This holiday also lasts three days. On one of these days your student may go with the family to sacrifice a sheep. Do not be surprised if your student freely shares the experience!
Muslims will also expect their child to be excused from any non-Muslim holiday celebrations. If you are having your class make holiday gifts, perhaps you could rename the gift your Muslim child is making. He or she could be making an Eid gift, for example, or perhaps just a present to show he or she loves his or her family.
Another thing to be mindful of is to allow the child to stand quietly during the Pledge of Allegiance. Some Muslims feel that it is not permissible to pledge allegiance to anything or anyone other than God.
Talking to the parents is a good way to get an idea of those activities in which they will allow their child to participate. Asking ahead of time can prevent misunderstandings and promote an atmosphere of caring concern. Muslims are by and large very happy when someone shows an interest in their belief system.
All information was gathered through interviews with Muslim students and families in the greater Kansas City area. Books used include Sahih Al-Buhkari, volumes 1-8, and the Holy Quran.
© Copyright 1999 Jean Napier-Faeih
Islamic Informational Links:
Islam World This site contains comprehensive information about Islam. You can scroll down and find articles such as "50 Questions and Answers on Islamic Monotheism", "The Principals of Islam", "This is the Truth- newly discovered scientific facts", articles about marriage and the family, Islamic history, information on 32 Islamic countries and the Holy Quran translated into 19 different languages and a collection of Hadiths, which are sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.
Al-Sunnah.com This site contains links to free Islamic software, Arabic web browser, free books and audio including the Holy Quran, Islamic screen savers, Free email, Islamic greeting cards and Arabic programs. There is also a link for a nice collection of Islamic history maps.
Islamic City Here you can listen to the call to prayer, get news and information about Islam and what is happening in the Islamic world. There is even a bazaar to shop at. The theme of this site is that of an Islamic city.
Send an Islamic Greeting Card:
Eid-Ecards This site has many different styles of cards. The artwork is beautiful here. There are also cards for everyday.
Musalman This site has e-cards with beautiful Islamic calligraphy.
Eid Mubarak This site's name means "Happy Eid". Here you can create a custom card. This is also a nice site for non-Muslims who wish to make a pretty card.
Blue Mountain Greetings This site has e-cards for almost all religions and holidays! This is definitely a site to bookmark for your multicultural classroom. Take note: this is a subscription site!
This page is devoted to all the victims of terrorism, including innocent Muslims. Terrorism is NOT ISLAM! Terrorists are not Muslim. They are not practicing the true Islam. Do not let these people win by creating hatred.
All Rights Reserved Copyright © 1999 Jean Napier-Faeih
Contact the Web Master - Jean at Besteacherusa@aol.com