Community News (V11-I11)

Columbia Teachers’ guide promotes understanding of Muslims

NEW YORK, NY–Faculty at Teachers College have developed a curriculum guide for public school teachers designed to enhance understanding of Islam and promote tolerance of Muslim students.

About one in 10 students in New York City public schools are Muslim—nearly 100,000 in all. “Yet, they remain one of the most misunderstood segments of the student population, especially after 9/11,” writes Louis Cristillo, a research assistant and lecturer at Teachers College who developed the guide.

The curriculum guide grew out of Cristillo’s study of Muslim youth in New York public schools, published in preliminary form last spring, and an oral history publication produced by Muslim students about their everyday lives, This is Where I Need to Be, which was published by the Teachers College Student Press Initiative last year. Cristillo’s study, “Religiosity, Education and Civic Belonging: Muslim Youth in New York City Public Schools,” found that, of more than 320 Muslim students surveyed, 85 percent said they felt safe in their schools, but 17 percent reported having been the object of bigotry, often in the form of teasing or offensive taunting about Islam or being called a “terrorist.”

The guide is designed to help sixth- through eighth-grade teachers bring to life the themes explored by Muslim students in the oral history:  the cultural diversity of the American Muslim communities in the United States; media bias and Islamophobia; negative stereotypes and the role of education in promoting tolerance; the role of American cultural and civic values shaping Muslim identity; and the impact of peer pressure on the lives and attitudes of American Muslim youth. It includes visual aids for teachers to reproduce and include in their lessons. For example, there are images of two masks with heavy, white beards, one with a Santa Claus hat and one with a turban. Students can use the masks as a springboard for a discussion on ethnic stereotypes. 

“As educators in the era of globalization, we need to ensure that students are learning about one another from one another—especially in one of the most diverse cities in the world. However, any teacher in a multicultural setting regardless of location could use these curricula and implement it easily into their classroom,” says Teachers College faculty member Erick Gordon, who directs the Student Press Initiative.

The curriculum guide features five lesson plans and companion materials that can be taught over the course of one or two sessions, a semester or a year. Students are prompted to research the lives of notable historical, political and cultural figures that happen to be Muslim; build their own “identity charts”; and analyze media coverage of stories related to Islam. The guide also has tips for students on how to write oral histories. Each lesson addresses the academic standards drawn from the Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning content guide and can be used in language arts, English, history and social studies classes.

Prof. relates Muslim identity to the African-American community

PITTSBURGH–University of Pittsburgh faculty member Arif Jamal spoke last week about the roots of Islam within the African-American community to help commemorate Black History Month at Carnegie Mellon.

The lecture was a collaborative effort between the Muslim Students Association (MSA) and the black awareness organization, SPIRIT. While an acknowledged presence of Muslim communities across the U.S. exists, “not many people are aware of the diversities among Muslims,” Jamal said. He also said that a large segment of the Muslim population in the U.S. is actually from the U.S.; that is, they are American Muslims.

“Islam is not a new religion, even in Africa,” Jamal said. Contrary to the popular belief that Islam was brought to the Africans by Arabs, it is a part of a very “early metaphysical declaration” in the African continent, Jamal said.

“Islam became intertwined with African culture, and was incorporated into the African society…. Archeologists have dug up Muslim sites in Western Africa,” he said, displaying photographs of African-style mosques and pyramids, some shaped like large beehives.

Somali senior killed in San Diego

SAN DIEG0– The tight knit Somali American community was tarumatized after one of its senior members was killed in a car accident on his way to mosque.
Mohamed Abdirahman Husien emigrated from Somalia about a decade ago to flee a civil war, family members said. A retired engine mechanic, Husien filled his days with prayers, reading books and listening to radio news.

He lived in the heart of San Diego’s Somalian community, two blocks from Masjid Alnasar, a mosque on Winona Avenue. Husien was crossing University Avenue about 5 a.m. on the way to morning prayer when he was hit, family members said. 


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