The Educator’s Guide to Including Muslim Students

Nov 16, 2019 by

The nearly 3.5 million Muslims in America have become part of the American fabric in many communities. Many Muslims are civically-minded, and they contribute to their communities. They get involved in their neighborhoods, and they send their children to local schools.

At a time when most schools advocate for accepting differences between cultures, Muslim students are more likely to feel more disenfranchised than any other group. They are ignored, bullied, and their needs are often pushed to the side largely because of the misunderstandings surrounding their culture.

Many of these misunderstandings center around the religious beliefs of these students and their families. Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, demands adherence to its tenets. In a world of political correctness, how do you make sure that you aren’t violating cultural norms or singling out your students for beliefs that appear uncommon?

If you want to include all children in your classroom, consider these implications when planning lessons, going on field trips, or eating with your Muslim students.

First impressions

Many people make decisions about others based on first impressions. We judge others in a split second, a mere blink of the eye. It can take as little as a tenth of a second or an eternity like seven seconds to evaluate another person. Many times, non-Muslims judge Muslim students by appearances. Muslims may wear clothing quite different from mainstream pop culture.

Muslim males must be covered from the navel to knees, and females from the neck to hands and feet. Some women also cover their heads with a hijab as a sign of modesty. Their classmates may make snap judgments about unconventional garments. This, in turn, can cause classmates to shun or avoid Muslim students.

In the classroom – and beyond

A strict dress code applies to Muslim students inside and outside school as well. They must maintain their modesty at all times, whether swimming, participating in field day events or any other times schools might relax the dress code.

Avoid encouraging Muslim students to wear shorts or other revealing clothing. Instead, talk to their parents about how to best include their children in the activity.

Curriculum choices

Even the curriculum may need adjusting for Muslim students. Standard literature for early elementary students like The 3 Little Pigs and The True Story of A. Wolfe can be questionable for Muslim students. Some suggestions to make a part of your classroom library and to provide alternative reading choices to students include: Does my Head Look Big in This and Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal.

Eating

Most Muslims are careful about eating food that is halal, which means prepared according to religious standards. For example, Islam requires that they avoid eating pork. You might think that only the school cafeteria has to worry about serving pork to Muslim students. If you’re a classroom teacher, it’s an important concern, too. Gummy bears, Skittles, and marshmallows all have pork in them; the gelatin used as a binder is the offender. Young children may not recognize forbidden foods like these and eat them anyway.

Significant Dates

Teachers are acutely aware of significant dates in the academic calendar, including important Christian holidays. Muslim students, too, observe religious dates. These dates often conflict with school activities, including tests. Learn about significant Islamic dates like Eid ul-Adha, Ramadan, and Eid ul-Fitr. Then schedule exams so that your Muslim students don’t miss out.

Cultural Norms

You may be tempted to hug your Muslim students, pat them on the back, high five them or shake their parents’ hands. Don’t if they’re of the opposite sex. Respect and modesty for some Muslims may mean not touching someone of the opposite sex, even in the case of a handshake. It is considerate to let the person of the opposite sex extend his or her hand as a signal that it is okay to shake hands. Instead, communicate openly and clearly about academic expectations. Solicit their help in addressing the needs of the Muslim students in your classroom.

Your Muslim students have much to offer their classmates if you can make them feel included in school life. It’s up to you to make them feel included.

Keywords: inclusivity, belongingness, multicultural education, Muslim, Islam, Muslim Students, Islamic Education, Eid, Islamic Holiday, diversity

Question or Comment: How can we ensure that all students feel included in our school districts and schools? What policies if any does your state or school district have that is centered on or encompasses educational equity?

References

Abu Bakr, W. (2018). Here’s what American public schools need to understand about Muslim children. What is it like for these young students in America? The Muslim Vibe. Retrieved from:

Candy Club. (2019). Vegan Friendly Candy: Types of Treats that Vegan Candy Lovers can Enjoy. Candy Club. Retrieved from:

Islamic Calendar

https://www.islamicfinder.org/islamic-calendar

Gibbons, S. (2018). You have 7 Seconds to Make a First Impression. Forbes Magazine. Retrieved from:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/serenitygibbons/2018/06/19/you-have-7-seconds-to-make-a-first-impression-heres-how-to-succeed/#2dc7e52356c2

Hozien, W. (2013). The Educator’s Guide to Middle Eastern Culture. Slideshare. Retrieved from:

Mohammad, J. (2018). 8 Must Have Books That Make Muslims Visible in Your Classroom.

Retrieved from:

https://www.teachingwhilemuslim.org/teacher-blog/2018/10/1/must-have-books-that-makes-muslims-visible-in-your-classroom

Ahmed, S., Abuwi Aleem, M., Hussain, A.S. & Salamah, H. (2019) Muslims in YA: Great Books. School Library Journal. Retrieved from: https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=muslim-americans-in-ya

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