Written by

Susan L. Douglass, Principal Researcher and Editor


Nadia Pervez, Curriculum Specialist


Council on Islamic Education


Note to Teachers

Requirements for teaching about religion are included in national and state social studies standards for history and social science. Study of religion is part of every standard elementary and secondary world history textbook. Teaching about world religions includes the origins, beliefs, customs and history of five major faiths—Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. Teaching about Islam thus forms a part of world history and geography curriculum and standards in nearly every state.

Teaching about Islam in world history, world cultures, and world geography classes is generally covered through a historical narrative from the distant to the recent past. Seldom are issues related to religious law and society discussed in relation to beliefs and practices in any detail, and even less are changing views of these important social, economic and political issues broached in the classroom. Contemporary geographic and cultural studies of Muslim regions, in contrast, usually focus on several individual countries as case studies.

The film Frontline: Muslims can be used as a classroom tool to explore a wide range of locations and issues in Muslim contemporary societies. In the brief film clips and narrative on the several regions (Egypt, Nigeria, Iran, Turkey, Malaysia, and Muslims in the U.S.), the producers had little time to delve into the historical background behind each of the important issues discussed. The complex topics—the role of Islamic law, secularism and democracy, religious tolerance, women’s roles and rights, human rights, and terrorism—would be most challenging for any teacher to address without specialized knowledge. The Council on Islamic Education, whose experience in teaching about religion in public and private school classrooms extends to textbooks, online references, teacher training, and teaching resources, has prepared a set of lessons that provide the necessary background information and instructional activities for effective use of the Frontline:Muslims film.

These lessons cultivate understanding of common and differing values that form a basis for tolerance and cooperation. These are the most important justifications for the academic study of human values and spirituality in the schools. Only by understanding what we have in common does the study of difference take on real significance for shaping our common global future.


The lesson packet bridges between the constraints of a documentary video production and the needs of the classroom. A correlation demonstrates that the materials meet content standards and skills mandates cited in state and national curriculum documents. They provide preparatory material that helps students get the most out of viewing part or all of the film with vocabulary, note-taking pages, as well as pre- and post-viewing questions for comprehension and critical analysis and assessment.

The background lessons on Islamic beliefs and Muslim history can supplement or replace textbook units on Islam. They include a glossary of key terms, an overview of the origins, beliefs and practices of Islam, a biography of Muhammad, and a reading on Muslim history from the seventh to the twenty-first century. Map activities include the spread of Islam and its contemporary distribution in the world. A geography project outline completes the second group of lessons.

The third group of lessons explores Islamic law and contemporary social issues. They can be used alone in any unit on historical and contemporary Islam, or in conjunction with all or parts of the Frontline:Muslims film. Topics addressed in the interactive lessons include the basic principles and practice of Islamic law, a comparative document study activity on human rights, including religious tolerance, a primary and secondary source analysis activity on marriage and women’s rights, a current events lesson incorporating the issue of official policies on wearing hijab (Muslim women’s dress), a set of overhead transparencies and handouts on the subject of jihad and terrorism in Islamic law, and an activity exploring the civic and religious dimensions of interactions among adherents of world faiths in the context of American life. Students also explore Muslim values through analysis of quotations from the Frontline: Muslims film.

Correlation with National Standards for Civics and Government

1. Defining civic life, politics, and government. Students should be able to explain the meaning of the terms civic life, politics, and government.

To achieve this standard, students should be able to:

  • distinguish between civic life--the public life of the citizen concerned with the affairs of the community and nation--and private life--the personal life of the individual devoted to the pursuit of private interests
  • describe politics as the process by which a group of people, whose opinions or interests might be divergent, reach collective decisions that are generally regarded as binding on the group and enforced as common policy
  • define political authority, identify its sources and functions, and differentiate between authority and power without authority

2. Necessity of politics and government. Students should be able to explain the major arguments advanced for the necessity of politics and government...

3. The purposes of politics and government. Students should be able to evaluate, take, and defend positions on competing ideas regarding the purposes of politics and government and their implications for the individual and society…

4. The rule of law. Students should be able to evaluate, take, and defend positions on the importance of the rule of law and on the sources, purposes, and functions of law.

To achieve this standard, students should be able to

  • explain the difference between the rule of law and the "rule of men"
  • explain alternative ideas about the sources of law, e.g., custom, Supreme Being, sovereigns, legislatures
  • identify different varieties of law, e.g., divine law, natural law, common law, statute law, international law
  • explain alternative ideas about the purposes and functions of law such as regulating relationships among people and between people and their government
    • providing order, predictability, security, and established procedures for the management of conflict
    • providing the ultimate source of authority in a political community
    • regulating social and economic relationships in civil society
  • explain how the rule of law can be used to restrict the actions of private citizens and government officials alike in order to protect the rights of individuals and to promote the common good

Correlation with History/Social Science Standards

(Excerpted from National Standards for History)

Standard 3. Historical Analysis and Interpretation

  • Compare and contrast differing sets of ideas, values, personalities, behaviors, and institutions.
  • Consider multiple perspectives.
  • Analyze cause-and-effect relationships and multiple causation, including the importance of the individual, the influence of ideas, and the role of chance.
  • Hypothesize the influence of the past.

Standard 5. Historical Issues-Analysis and Decision-Making

  • Identify issues and problems in the past.
  • Marshal evidence of antecedent circumstances and contemporary factors contributing to problems and alternative courses of action.

Era 4: Expanding Zones of Exchange and Encounter, 300-1000 C.E.

Standard 2: Causes and consequences of the rise of Islamic civilization in the 7th-10th centuries.

2A: The student understands the emergence of Islam and how it spread in Southwest Asia, North Africa, and Europe

    • [Grades] 5-12: Describe the life of Muhammad, the development of the early Muslim community, and the basic teachings and practices of Islam. [Assess the importance of the individual]

Era 9: The 20th Century Since 1945: Promises and Paradoxes

Standard 2: The search for community, stability, and peace in an interdependent world.

    • 2F: The student understands worldwide cultural trends of the second half of the 20th century.[Grades] 5-12: Describe varieties of religious belief and practice in the contemporary world and analyze how the world’s religions have responded to challenges and uncertainties of the late 20th century. [Analyze the influence of ideas]

(Excerpted from the California Academic Standards for History/Social Science)

7.2: Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of civilizations of Islam in the Middle Ages, in terms of:

  • the significance of the Qur'an and the Sunnah as the primary sources of Islamic beliefs, practice and law, and their influence in Muslims’ daily life

10.10: Students analyze instances of nation-building in the contemporary world in two of the following regions or countries: the Middle East, Africa, Mexico and other parts of Latin America, or China, in terms of:

  • challenges in the region, including its geopolitical, cultural, military, and economic significance and the international relationships in which it is involved
  • the recent history of the region, including the political divisions and systems, key leaders, religious issues, natural features, resources, and population patterns
  • the important trends in the region today and whether they appear to serve the cause of individual freedom and democracy

(Excerpted from the New York Social Studies Standards)

Analyze important developments and turning points in world history; hypothesize what might have happened if decisions or circumstances had been different; investigate such developments and turning points as:

  • the emergence of the world’s great religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Taoism
  • Interpret and analyze documents and artifacts related to significant developments and events in world history.
  • identify different ethnic, religious, and socio-economic groups throughout the world and analyze their varying perspectives on the same historic events and contemporary issues. Explain how these different perspectives developed.
  • examine documents related to significant developments in world history (e.g., excerpts from sacred texts of the world’s great religions, important political statements or decrees, literary works, and historians’ commentaries); employ the skills of historical analysis and interpretation in probing the meaning and importance of the documents by: identifying authors and sources for the historical documents, comparing and contrasting differing sets of ideals and values contained in each historical document, hypothesizing about the influence of each document on present-day activities and debates in the international arena.

(Excerpted from the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Social Studies)

(19) Culture. The student understands the history and relevance of major religious and philosophical traditions. The student is expected to:

(A) compare the historical origins, central ideas, and the spread of major religious and philosophical traditions including Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism; and

(B) identify examples of religious influence in historic and contemporary world events.

(6.19) Culture. The student understands the relationships among religion, philosophy, and culture.

(A) explain the relationship among religious ideas, philosophical ideas, and cultures…


(Excerpted from the Virginia Standards of Learning for History and Social Science)

WHI.8 The student will demonstrate knowledge of Islamic civilization from about 600 to 1000 A.D. by

a) describing the origin, beliefs, traditions, customs, and spread of Islam;

WHII.1 The student will improve skills in historical research and geographical analysis by

a) identifying, analyzing, and interpreting primary and secondary sources to make

generalizations about events and life in world history since 1500 A.D.;

b) using maps, globes, artifacts, and pictures to analyze the physical and cultural landscapes of

the world and to interpret the past since 1500 A.D.;

e) analyzing trends in human migration and cultural interaction from 1500 A.D. to the present.

WHII.14 The student will demonstrate knowledge of the influence of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism in the contemporary world by

a) describing their beliefs, sacred writings, traditions, and customs;

b) locating the geographic distribution of religions in the contemporary world.

WHII.15 The student will demonstrate knowledge of cultural, economic, and social conditions in developed and developing nations of the contemporary world by

a) identifying contemporary political issues, with emphasis on migrations of refugees and others, ethnic/religious conflicts, and the impact of technology, including chemical and biological technologies…