Crossing Borders/Breaking Boundaries IV:
The Impact of Islamic Culture on the Arts of the Renaissance

July 19-26, 2004
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Title: Examining Western Perceptions of Islam and the Middle East

Teacher: Michelle Mitchell

School: North Dorchester Middle School, Hurlock, Maryland

Subject/Grade Taught: Social Studies- Grade 8

These lessons would also be appropriate for Social Studies and Language Arts classes in grades 7-9.

Teaching Time: Three class periods of about 65 minutes each

Big Idea: Breaking the Mold -- Stereotyping and Misconceptions of Muslims

Essential Learner Outcomes:

  • Students will use geographic concepts and processes to understand location and its relationship to human activities
  • Students will understand the diversity and commonality, human interdependence, and global cooperation of the people of Maryland, the United States and the World through a multicultural and historic perspective. Students will understand how people in Maryland, the United States and around the world are alike and different.

Lesson Objectives:
Identify personal stereotypes of Muslims
Identify stereotypes of Muslims in movies and news articles
Discuss negative effects of stereotyping
Identify and appreciate the contributions that Islamic culture has had on our society.

There is a tremendous amount of stereotyping about Muslims and the peoples of the Middle East in American popular culture. At the same time, many history classes tend to focus on either the ancient civilizations or the Renaissance in Europe as the basis for learning and cultural developments throughout the world. The Islamic culture with its major contributions to the Renaissance in Europe is overlooked. The purpose of these lessons is to help students identify and dispel inaccurate stereotypes about the Muslim culture and begin building students’ awareness of the great Islamic culture.

Lesson-Day 1

Warm-up: Students will define the term “stereotype” and discuss common examples, such as “fat people are lazy”. They will also consider why stereotyping a person is not productive for society.

  1. Students will take a survey designed to identify Muslim stereotypes.
    (Survey is separate) (To be Completed)
  2. After students have completed the survey, show the 10 minute computerized video from the Ibn Baz Foundation at, entitled Misconceptions and Myths on Islam. *The end of this video clip mentions male and female circumcision and you may want to stop the video prior to this segment. Also, download the video before class so you are prepared.
  3. Ask students where stereotypes come from? Elicit answers that include other people, TV, movies, books, newspapers.
  4. Show video clips from Disney’s Aladdin (1992) pointing out the line in the opening song, “It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.” Also include shifty, disreputable storyteller and the saber-wielding villains, etc. which reinforce that Aladdin’s home is “barbaric”. Not to mention, that the villains all have dark-hooded eyes and large hooked noses. Other videos that Arab/Muslim stereotyping and that may be appropriate for this age group include Aladdin’s sequel, The Return of Jafar (1994), In the Army Now (1994), Kazaam (1996) and Father of the Bride, Part II (1995). (see resources for additional information)

As students view parts of these films, discuss the stereotyping. Possible questions to address may include: Did they ever notice the stereotyping before? How might Muslims feel when they see these movies? How could the movies have had less stereotyping?

Independent Practice: Students will watch one additional clip and identify stereotyping of Arabs and/or Muslims independently.

Assessment: Students will complete a short answer question about the stereotyping they found in the movies and why it is unfair. (To be developed)

Closure: Using a magazine or newspaper cartoon, students will identify Arab/Muslim stereotyping in another medium.

Day 2

Warm-up: Students will work in small groups to try to determine which people from a small group of photos are Muslim and possibly their employment. The pictures come from a cross section of society. (All of the pictures are of Muslims.) Discuss the pictures and share biographical information. Elicit from students that you can not identify Muslims just by their looks. With 1.2 billion Muslims in the world, they come in all shapes and sizes and can be found in all professions. Traditionally, Muslims are stereotyped as either billionaires, bombers or belly dancers.

  1. Review stereotyping found in the movies from day 1. Notice that Arabs/Muslims were not given dignified professions.
  2. Pass out a current news article to read with students and identify any stereotyping of Islamic cultures. We will also examine the tone of article.
    Independent Practice: Students will work in pairs or small groups to identify stereotyping in a current news article. They will also determine the tone of the article toward Muslims.

    Assessment: Groups of students will summarize their article and present their findings to the class.

    Closure: Discuss how stereotyping affects the tone of the article and influences the reader.

Day 3

Warm-up: Provide students with a world map and model for students where Islam began and the major regions of the world that are Islamic. Students will color their maps.

  1. Explain to students that the Islamic culture was much more advanced than Europe for 1000 years and that the Europeans “borrowed” many ideas from the Muslims. Since the Europeans brought the ideas to the New World, American culture has benefited from Islamic ideas. Give a couple of examples, such as glass blowing and algebra.
  2. Instruct students that they will work in pairs to identify pictures of various contributions to society. They will separate the pictures into two groups, those that were Muslim ideas and those that were not. Students will get an opportunity to use their prior knowledge and common sense to predict which ideas or items came from the Islamic culture. Provide pairs with an envelope of pictures.
  3. Discuss the pictures and/or ideas. Hopefully students will be surprised and willing to discuss reasons for misconceptions. (All are from the Islamic Culture.)

Assessment: Students will write a brief paragraph about the most surprising thing they learned while doing this activity. Why was it surprising?

Closure: Examine pictures from magazines or other sources to see if Islamic influences can be found.


Text Sources
George, Linda S. The Golden Age of Islam. (Marshall, Cavendish, New York: Benchmark Books, 1998.)
Council on Islamic Education. Teaching About Islam and Muslims in the Public School Classroom. (Fountain Valley, California: Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publications Data, 1995).

Web Sites
Ten Things Everyone Needs to Know About Islam http:/
Arab and Muslim Stereotyping in American Popular Culture http:/www.ciaonet.ort/wps/shj01/
Misconceptions and Myths on Islam http:/

Movies: Aladdin, The Return of Jafar, Kazaam, In the Army Now and Father of the Bride, Part II.
Stereotyped Cartoon
Pictures of Muslims and/or non Muslims
News articles with stereotyping
World Map
Pictures of items or ideas from Islamic Culture
World Map

Keywords: Stereotyping of Muslims Islamic Culture Islam; Muslim Stereotyping in the Media; Student Survey about Islam


Sponsored by
the Center for Renaissance & Baroque Studies
and the Maryland State Department of Education