By Joan Brodsky Schur
For use with:
In this lesson students study the immigrant groups who transplanted Islam to America, beginning in the 1870s. The lesson focuses on familiar themes in the study of immigration: the push-pull forces that led to immigration, acculturation, intergenerational conflict, prejudice confronted in the new homeland, and contributions to America.
The topic is introduced through a primary source document—a newspaper article written in the 1850s in which the Know Nothing Party condemns all Catholics as belonging to a faith that is antithetical to American democracy. In the lesson the word “Catholic” has been deleted and “Religion X” is written in its stead. Students must then guess what religion is being referred to and analyze why they thought so. After watching the video American Muslim Teens Talk , which includes several Muslim immigrants speaking about their experiences in America, the class proceeds to investigate and research a variety of Muslim immigrant groups in America. Based on individual research, students create an imaginary immigrant, and as that immigrant introduce themselves in a monologue before the class. At the end of the lesson the prejudice faced by Muslim immigrants is compared to that of other groups such as Catholics, Jews, and the Japanese.
• To extend students’ appreciation of America’s diversity through a study of the Muslim immigrant experience.
• To apply the themes, concepts and vocabulary through which sociologists and historians study the immigrant experience.
• To compare and contrast the prejudice faced by Muslim Americans to that faced by other immigrant groups at different times in America’s history.
• To enhance students’ writing abilities.
Activity 1: Anti-Immigrant Prejudice in American History
Activity 2: Viewing and Discussing the Video
Activity 3: Researching Muslim Immigration to America
Activity 4: In the Shoes of a Muslim Immigrant: An Oral Report Activity
Activity 5: The Muslim Immigrant Experience Compared to Other Immigrant
National Standards for History, National Center for History in the Schools
Standard 4: The student conducts historical research. Therefore the student is able to:
• Formulate historical questions.
• Obtain historical data from a variety of sources…
• Support interpretations with historical evidence.
Era 6 Standard 2: Massive immigration after 1870 and how new social patterns, conflicts, and ideas of national unity developed amid growing cultural diversity. Therefore the students is able to:
• Distinguish between the “old” and “new” immigration in terms of… the immigrants’ ethnicity, religion, language, place of origin, and motives for emigrating…
• Trace patterns of immigrant settlement…
• Assess the challenges, opportunities, and contributions of different immigrant groups.
Era 10 Standard 2 Economic, social and cultural developments in contemporary United States.
2B The student understands the new immigration and demographic shifts. Therefore the student is able to:
• Analyze the new immigration policies after 1965 and the push-pull factors that prompted a new wave of immigrants.
• Identify the major issues that affected immigrants and explain the conflicts these issues engendered…
2C The student understands changing religious diversity and its impact on American institutions and values. Therefore, the student is able to:
• Analyze how the new immigrants have affected religious diversity.
• Analyze the position of major religious groups on political and social issues…
2E The student understands how a democratic polity debates social issues…
The student is therefore able to:
• Evaluate the continuing grievances of racial and ethnic minorities and their recurrent reference to the nation’s charter documents.
• Evaluate the continuing struggle for e pluribus unum amid debates over national vs. group identity, group rights vs. individual rights, multiculturalism…
Curriculum Standards for Social Studies, National Council for the Social Studies
Strand I, Culture
e. Demonstrate the value of cultural diversity, as well as cohesion, within and across groups.
Strand IV, Individual Development and Identity
c. Describe the ways family, religion, gender, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status, and other group and cultural influences contribute to the development of a sense of self.
e. Examine the interactions of ethnic, national, or cultural influences in specific situations or events.
Strand V, Individuals, Groups and Institutions
e. Describe and examine belief systems basic to specific traditions and laws in contemporary and historical movements.
National Standards for Civics and Government Center of Civic Education
II. What are the Foundations of the American Political System?
B.1. Distinctive characteristics of American society
• Explain religious freedom
• Large-scale immigration
B. 4. Diversity in American society
• Identify the many forms of diversity found in American society, e.g. racial, religious, ethnic…
• Describe conflicts that have arisen from diversity and explain the means by which some have been managed and explain why some conflicts have persisted unabated.
• Explain the importance of adhering to constitutional values and principles in managing conflicts over diversity.
Activity 1: Anti-Immigrant Prejudice in American History
Tell the class that as part of their study of immigration, they are going to focus on the arrival of members of a particular faith to America. The influx of greater and greater numbers of adherents of this faith caused rabid prejudice in the United States. Distribute the following document, and ask students to guess the name of Religion X.
Note: The full document in its original form can be found at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania at http://www.hsp.org/default.aspx?id=446. It is an anti-Catholic newspaper that was published by the Know Nothing Party and American Crusader in 1854.
Note: In the version below the words Republic and Republican have been changed in various places to read nation, democracy and form of government.
Student Handout 1
The influx of greater and greater numbers of immigrants who practiced Religion X caused great prejudice in America at a particular time in history. Read the following primary source document regarding Religion X and then answer the following questions as your teacher instructs you to – in whole class discussion, in small groups or for homework.
Bound to Serve Their Religion Before The Country
We must not let this fact go by—members of Religion X are bound to serve their Religion before their Country. What is the practical and inevitable result of such a system in this country? Why that every member of Religion X stands committed as an enemy to the Nation. In such a character, base as it is—reeking all over, soaked all through with a religion that countenance crime; with principles that are shocked at no extremity of corruption—their whole effect is to pull down democracy and bolster up Religion X. This it does. It is seen. The thing is plain. It can’t be otherwise. A man who is an adherent of Religion X is not a believer in democracy. He can’t be. Calling fish, flesh, don’t make it so. Hence whatever is told you of Religion X as favorable to all that is American, put no faith in it. [A leader] of Religion X says America must be crushed—and all political commentators of any note or weight, agree that if it is ever crushed, it will be by Religion X.
Let us remember these matters. Let us regard every member of Religion X as an enemy to the country—and so treat him. He is nothing else….
Things Which [Religious Leaders] and all True Followers of Religion X Hate:
• They HATE our form of government, and are trying to overthrow it.
• They HATE the American Flag, and it offends them beyond endurance.
• They HATE liberty of conscience.
• They HATE the liberty of the press.
• They HATE the liberty of speech.
• They HATE our Public School system.
• They HATE the Bible, and would blot it out of existence if they could!
QUESTIONS TO ANSWER:
• What religion do you think is being so avidly attacked in this newspaper?
• What makes you think so? Point to specific words and phrases to defend your answer.
• Does the newspaper attack some, most or all of the followers of Religion X?
• In the article, what do we learn about Religion X? What is the reasoning behind the attack on this particular religion?
• What factual evidence is presented to convince the reader that all members of Religion X are anti-American?
• Do you find this piece of writing convincing? Why or why not?
DEBRIEFING QUESTIONS FOR CLASS DISCUSSION:
After you disclose the actual name of Religion X (Catholicism) and the date (1854) pose the following questions:
• What made some students think Religion X was Islam?
• How would you feel if similar things were said about you on the basis of your faith?
• Is it surprising today to discover that some Americans felt Catholics threatened the very foundations of American values? If so, why is it surprising?
• What other organizations espoused anti-Catholic, as well as anti-Semitic views, e.g., the KKK?
• What was happening in U.S. history during the 1850s that made Protestant Americans fear the influx of Catholic immigrants? Why did native-born Americans feel threatened by the influx of Catholic immigrants (mainly from Ireland as well as Germany)? Direct students to their textbooks or other sources for answers.
• What is happening today that makes some Americans fear an influx of Muslim immigrants?
• How would you feel if you were a Muslim immigrant in America today (or how do you feel if you are one)?
• What do you know about Muslim immigration to America? When did the earliest Muslims arrive? From what countries did they emigrate? Where did they settle? How successful have they been? How much do Americans know about the religion they practice, the second largest world religion?
Activity 2: Viewing and Discussing the Video
Introduce the video American Muslim Teens Talk to the class. Tell them that in it nine Muslim youths share what it is like to be a Muslim in America today. Some of them are first generation immigrants, others have parents who are immigrants, and two are African American. Introduce the students, and if possible project their photos on a large screen or photocopy them [insert link – DID WE DECIDE THAT THIS SHOULD BE A PDF WITH THE KIDS’ PIX AS WELL AS AN ELEMENT THAT WILL APPEAR AT THE TOP OF THE SECTION ON THE WEBSITE? IF IT IS A SEPARATE PDF WILL IT PRINT AS WELL IN B&W AS COLOR?] so that your students can better remember who said what.
Before viewing the film mark on a world map the places from which the Muslim families immigrated:
Anna: father from England, mother American
Usman: Sierra Leone
Nora: parents from Pakistan and India
Umair: parents from Pakistan and India
(Fatimah: African American)
(Ibrahim: African American)
Consider using the note-taking charts and discussion questions provided for use in Sharing Our Roots http://www.theislamproject.com/education/sharingourroots.doc
to help students focus on the topics discussed in the video, e.g. Fitting In/Misunderstandings, Prayer, Misunderstandings, Hijab, Fun, Drinking, Dating, Parents, and A Message For Their Peers. Also provided in Sharing Our Roots [create link] are Teacher Guides that include a synopsis of what each student has to say on these issues.
In addition to using the questions on the note-taking charts, focus on three over-riding questions regarding Muslim immigration to America:
• In what ways have Muslim immigrants and their offspring acclimated themselves to the American landscape and achieved success?
• What are the conflicts between first and second-generation Muslim immigrants? In what ways do they typify the conflicts of other immigrant groups? In what ways are they different?
• What prejudices have Muslim immigrants faced? How have their experiences compared to other immigrant groups such as Irish Catholics, Jews, Japanese or immigrants from other Asian countries?
To find answers to students’ questions regarding Islam use the many lessons on the Islam Project website, especially Previewing Vocabulary Activity, Biographical Sketch of Muhammad’s Life, Values and Practices of the Faith, Overview of Muslim History and the Spread of Islam from the 7th to the 21st Century, Women’s Rights and Marriage in Islam, Islamic Concepts, and Personal and Civic Values in Islam.
Based on their viewing of the video, ask students what questions they have about Muslim immigration to America. If they could meet one of the students in the video, what questions would they like to ask him or her?
Activity 3: Researching Muslim Immigration to America
On the blackboard divide into four regions the countries from which the Muslim students or their parents emigrated:
South and Southeast Asia
Briefly review where Islam started and how it spread to each of these regions using the lesson Overview of Muslim History and the Spread of Islam . Ask students why they think Muslims from a variety of predominantly Muslim countries would have wanted to (or been forced to) leave their homelands? Why might they have chosen to come to America? List on the board any information or hypotheses the students have to offer in answer to these questions.
Now assign students to read Patterns of Muslim Immigration by Jane I. Smith at the U.S. Department of State http://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/muslimlife/immigrat.htm.
Pose the following questions regarding the reading, either as homework or in discussion:
• What are the four waves of Muslim immigration to America?
• How did American immigration laws affect Muslim immigration from different geographical regions of the world to America?
• What are the approximate dates of each wave of immigration?
• What are the distinguishing characteristics of each wave of immigration?
For what reasons did people immigrate in each wave?
From what countries did they emigrate?
What were the immigrants’ economic and educational backgrounds?
• Muslim immigrants from which region—the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, South and Southeast Asia, or Europe—most likely founded the first mosques and Islamic organizations in America?
• Where did Muslim immigrants settle in America? What are some of the organizations they founded?
Tell students that each one of them will research the arrival of one Muslim immigrant population to America. Using what they have learned, each student will then create a fictional character whose life personifies key aspects of Muslim immigration from that region/country. (You may or may not wish to ask each student to write a complete, separate research report in addition to his or her oral presentation.)
Review for the class the important vocabulary regarding the immigrant experience. Explain that you expect students to use these words and concepts in discussion, in their writing and in their presentations.
RESEARCH SOURCES INCLUDE:
• Books written for school libraries—those available primarily focus on Arab Americans and Southeast Asians.
• Books written for the general public or scholarly audience usable by advanced students only.
• Interviews with Muslim immigrants.
• Internet sources.
• Organizations including Muslim American organizations, advocacy groups for specific ethnic groups, e.g., American-Arab Anti-Defamation Committee and the Arab American Institute; organizations specializing in aiding refugees, e.g., U.S. committee for Refugees.
Countries of Origin Include*
(Southwest Asia) Middle East
Europe South Asia
Algeria Turkey Albania
Indonesia Slaves to America**
Egypt Iran Azerbaijan
Iraq Afghanistan Bosnia
istan Sierra Leone
*Note: For a more complete list of predominantly Muslim countries, and guidelines for writing reports about a specific country, go to the Islam Project lesson http://www.theislamproject.org/education/B05_GeographyandCultures.htm.
**It is well documented that many slaves from Africa were Muslim, but they were prohibited from practicing their native religions in America. Enough information exists on this topic for student research.
Student Handout 2: Topics for Research
Why They Left
• When did members of this community first arrive in America?
• Why did they begin to leave the home country at this time in history?
• What were conditions like in the home country?
• Did they choose to leave or were they refugees?
• Did they plan to resettle in America permanently, or only temporarily?
• What socioeconomic classes did they belong to in the home country?
• What did they hope to gain by coming to America?
• When was the peak immigration period for this group?
Settlement and Work
• Where did the immigrants primarily settle in America and why, e.g., urban, rural, specific regions?
• What kinds of employment did they find in America? Was this similar to or different
from the work they did in the homeland?
• How quickly did the group advance up the “ladder of success” in America, and by what means?
Religion and Assimilation
• At the time of their arrival, were there any Islamic institutions in America?
• If not, how, when and where were they first founded?
• What other kinds of organizations did they join/found to help them adjust to life in
• What Islamic practices were the easiest to transplant to America? Which the most
difficult? Which underwent change or “Americanization”?
• How did marriage patterns affect the group? Did the group marry within its ethnicity and faith or did they intermarry outside their ethnic and/or religious affiliations? How did this disrupt or strengthen Muslim and/or ethnic identity?
• What conflicts arose between first and second-generation Muslim immigrants?
Contributions to American Life
• For what accomplishments did the group become noteworthy?
• What individuals became prominent in American life and what were their accomplishments?
• Did they contribute aspects of their culture to America life, such as foods, dances and
Prejudice and Immigration Policy
• Did the group encounter prejudice in America right away or over time, and if so on what basis, e.g., race, nationality, or religion? What stereotypes existed about the group?
• How was prejudice expressed and/or acted upon (by individuals, organizations, U.S. immigration or other policy)?
• What spurred particular periods of rising hate against the group?
• How did the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, affect group members? On what basis were members of the immigrant community singled out by other Americans or governmental policy? Were group members deported, detained, denied citizenship?
• How did the group go about confronting stereotypes and fighting bias and hate crimes? Did they win significant court cases or was legislation enacted on their behalf? If so, how did new laws affect the rights of other Americans?
• What do future prospects look like for this immigrant community in America?
Activity 4: In the Shoes of a Muslim Immigrant: An Oral Report Activity
Distribute the following handout to students to help them prepare their oral presentations. Students can be assigned to work in pairs such that they can practice in front of their partner before presenting their character to the entire class.
Student Handout 3: Preparing an Oral Report as a Muslim Immigrant
To teach the rest of your class about the immigrant experience of the group you chose to research you will create a fictional immigrant and, as that immigrant, tell the rest of the class about the experiences you had leaving your homeland and settling in America. You will draw on the information you researched to create the fictional character. Try to create a lively, dramatic and informative monologue. Using the checklist below, create an outline for your monologue. You will be given five minutes in which to perform your monologue.
• What is your name and family history in the homeland?
• Describe life in the homeland and the events that impelled you to leave.
• Describe U.S. immigration policies at the time you left your homeland. How did you arrange to come to America?
• Describe your journey to America, your hopes and fears for the future, especially as a Muslim in America.
• Describe where you settled, why you chose that place, and the immigrant community you joined.
• What traditions and customs did you most miss about the homeland?
• What was most difficult about settling in America?
• How did your family support itself in America? What successes have you attained?
• How did you transplant your religious tradition to America? What were the obstacles and/or help you received in doing so?
• What was the role of Islamic organizations in helping you to maintain your faith?
• What was your relationship to other Muslims from your homeland as well as other Muslims born in America or those who emigrated from other countries?
• What events continued to unfold in your homeland? How did you stay abreast of relatives left behind? What were your worries for them?
• What aspects of life in America were the most difficult to adjust to?
• What do you appreciate most about life in America?
• What, if any, prejudice did you encounter in America? What do you believe was the source of the prejudice? How has it affected you? What means did you find it fight it?
• Assuming you immigrated within the last fifty or so years, how did events following the terrorist attacks of September 11 affect you?
• What are your dreams for your children’s future in America?
• In what ways does your story most typify other immigrants from your country?
In your presentation try to:
• Prepare and share one traditional food from your homeland.
• Bring with you to show one object representative of your homeland—something an immigrant might wish to bring with him or her to America.
• Schedule student presentations.
Activity 5: The Muslim Immigrant Experience Compared to Other Immigrant Groups
After the oral presentations try to help students synthesize what they have learned about the experience of Muslim Americans regarding prejudice in America compared to the experiences of other immigrant groups, such as:
• Jews who were barred access to housing, colleges, law firms well into the 20th century.
• Japanese who were barred from citizenship at different times in American history and placed in internment camps during World War II.
• Irish Catholics against whom the Know Nothing Party issued the propaganda with which this lesson began.
Make the following assignment:
Ask each student to fill in the following chart for the Muslim immigrant group they studied and ¬one other immigrant group that faced prejudice in America. Students will need to consult their textbooks or other sources of information.
Student Handout 4: Comparing Prejudice Faced by Different Immigrant Groups
Name of Group
Negative stereotypes about the group
How Prejudice Expressed/
Causes of rising tide of hate
Methods used to confront hate & how effective
Resolution of problem (if any)
In discussion, help students to draw conclusions based on the information on their charts. For example, there are similarities regarding the case of the internment of the Japanese during World War II and the “enemy combatants” held in detention without recourse to appeal at Guantanamo Bay following the “War on Terrorism” begun in 2001. Both policies were initiated during a time of fear, and both policies were overturned by Supreme Court cases. The tactics developed by Jews to fight for their rights, e.g., creation of the Anti-Defamation League, were later adopted by Arabs, e.g., the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. In all cases, how does ignorance breed stereotypes and hatred?
You may also wish to compare the experiences of the Muslim students in the video to what students learned about the Muslim American experience in general.
Comparing the Acculturation of Muslims in America to other Immigrant Groups: Advanced questions based on a knowledge of Islamic tradition.
• What made Islam easier to transplant than other religions? What made it more difficult? For example, because Islam is a “way of life” religious practice incorporates daily life. It is hard, for example, to pray five times a day in country that does not share the practice. On the other hand, Islam does not believe that worshippers need an intermediary between themselves and God; wherever Muslims settled the most knowledgeable male worshipper could act as prayer leader.
• How did the practice of zakat (charity giving) provide for community building in America?
• How did the history of Islam’s founding provide a model for the Muslim community to welcome other newcomers fleeing their homelands? (The story of how those in Madinah became the welcomers and helpers for those fleeing Makkah).
• Did the concept of Dar ul-Kufr (the place of unbelievers) and the lack of precedents in Islamic law for living outside Dar al-Islam (the realm of Islam) make it difficult for Muslims to adjust to life in America?
• How did Muslim celebrations and holy days unite immigrant communities?
• Did the idea of a Muslim Ummah (worldwide community) help to unite Muslims in America across national and cultural differences, and if so how?
• How did the value Muslims place on education and the family help them to attain lives of stability and success in America?
• What conflicts have arisen between “Americanized Muslims” and more recently- arrived immigrants, especially regarding the role of women in the mosque?
• What has been the relationship of the Muslim immigrant community to the African American Muslim community? How has it changed over time?
Rubric for Participation in Class Discussion
Participation: Comments on Student’s Participation: 15:
Participated often in discussion.
Listened well to others.
Comments reflected use of information gained from watching the video.
Student used vocabulary of immigration to analyze and discuss.
Student was able to compare and contrast the Muslim immigrant experience to that of other groups.
Rubric for Note Taking On Video Charts
(if students used them)
Topic Comments on Student’s Charts 15:
Captured important comments made by students in the video.
Posed thoughtful questions about Islam and the Muslim immigrant experience in America.
Followed through with effective learning about Islam.
Made reasonable hypotheses about life in a Muslim country vs. life in America.
Rubric for Research Report
Topic Comments on Report 15:
Student effectively used a variety of sources for research.
Student covered the essential topics listed in the sample outline (handout 2).
Report was well organized, with clear topics and logical transitions between topics.
Report used the vocabulary and concepts of immigration studies.
Proper sentence structure and grammar were used.
Report was carefully proofread for spelling
Proper citations and bibliographical form was used.
Student Presentation as an Immigrant
Topic Comments on Presentation 15:
Student’s presentation was well-rehearsed and delivered in a clear and dramatic manner.
Student conveyed essential information about the group he/she portrayed.
Student conveyed an understanding of vocabulary and concepts of immigration.
Student conveyed an understanding of issues facing Muslim immigrants in America
Student came prepared with the props/costume stipulated in the assignment.
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Esposito, John L. What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Esposito, John L. and Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, eds. Muslims on the Americanization Path? New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
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Lee, Michael S. Healing the Nation: The Arab American Experience After September 11. Washington DC: The Arab American Institute, 2002. Available at the AAI website www.aaiusa.org/
Naff, Alixa. The Arab Americans. New York: Chelsea House, 1999.
Renard, John. Responses to 101 Questions on Islam. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1998.
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Turner, Richard Brent. Islam in the African-American Experience. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.
Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck, ed. Muslims in the West: From Sojourners to Citizens. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
The Muslims of America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
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