Mapping the Muslim Empires
By Sonjanita L. Moore


The purpose of this lesson is to allow students the opportunity to learn more about great Islamic peoples of tri-continental antiquity. This project-based lesson is interdisciplinary allowing for humanities (social science), language arts, visual arts and technology (computer) integration. It is a good follow-up activity to Muhammad: Legend of a Prophet and/or Muslims.

Curriculum Standards

Students will:

  • Understand:
    • that culture & experience influence people’s perceptions of places & regions
    • the nature, distribution & migration of human populations
    • the patterns of human settlement and their causes
    • ways geography is used to interpret the past

  • Read and understand literature representative of various societies, eras & ideas
  • Apply acquired information, concepts & ideas to communicate in a variety of formats
  • Compare & contrast different stories about historical figures
  • Work with team members to communicate, plan, problem-solve and evaluate group research.

Time Required

Minimum amount: Five hours (five one-hour class sessions)
Maximum amount: Seven hours (seven one-hour class sessions)


  • Presentation Boards
  • Almanacs
  • Atlases
  • Current Periodicals (featuring Islamic countries/news)
  • 5-7 folders (1 per group)
  • Notebook paper
  • 5-7 diskettes (1 per group)
  • Arts & Crafts Materials (construction paper, stencil, scissors, markers, glue, glitter, etc.)
  • Islamic/Arabic music (to be played during class as students work on projects)
  • Islamic texts/references

The Lesson

Anticipatory Set

  • Place worldwide images of Muslim men, women, and children (copied from Internet, books or cut out of papers, etc) on their desks (one per student is fine) before students enter the classroom. Also, turn on music from Islamic world. Instead of limiting yourself to Arabic or Middle Eastern music, you should also consider South Asian, Indonesian, Turkish, and various North African music to set the tone for the opening class.

  • Once they've arrived, tell students that they are going to do a ten-minute free write on their picture/drawing/photo, setting a line limit within the time frame (e.g., ten lines in ten minutes). Free writes can come in any form: story, poem, rap, list, letter, etc. Remind students that they should interpret what's going on in the shot.

  • When time is up, have each student pass around his/her picture as they read their free write (15-20 minutes). By the end, teacher should have posted all pictures in a visible spot in the room.

  • Debrief the exercise by asking the students to compare and contrast the pictures and the stories. After a brief discussion (five minutes), the students should understand that the purpose of this exercise was to introduce a unit on Islam and those that practice it, Muslims (Moslems). This exercise emphasizes the diversity of the religion and its followers.


  1. Divide students up into groups, distribute to each group a portfolio containing the following:

  2. Instruct students to write the name of each group member on the portfolio. The portfolio should also hold all instructions, notes and research printed from the Internet (you may want to do a brief lesson on creating bibliography pages/citation).

  3. Discuss with the class, using the map as a reference point (on a LCD projector or transparency), how Islam spread from Mecca throughout the world. Explain that the purpose of this project will for students to research some of the Islamic kingdoms that arose following Prophet Muhammad's death.

  4. Have each group select one Islamic group from the following list of Islamic kingdoms, empires, and groups to research and present to the class:

    • Ottoman Empire (Ottoman Turks)
    • Zandj (Zengh)
    • Idrisids
    • Abbasids
    • Fatimids
    • Ummayads (Omayyads)
    • Mamluks (Mameluks)
    • Moors
    • Berbers
    • Timurids
    • Ziyanids
    • Nasrids
    • Rasulids
    • Hafsids
    • Marinids
    • Sasanians
    • Safavids
    • Mughals
    • Aghlabids
    • Hammadids
    • Seljuks (Saljuqs)

  5. Have each group decide which member will take on the following research details:

    • Who are these people?
    • Where were they from? (Map)
    • What nations/empires bordered this kingdom? (Name two)
    • Who were the rulers or key figures of the kingdom?
    • When did this empire exist?
    • What kind of relationship did it have with other nations?
    • What was life like in the kingdom? (dress, music, food, sports, etc)
    • What is the area called today? Who rules there now?

    Students could conduct their research online, at the library, and/or using classroom resources depending on school scheduling and available resources. Allow one and a half class periods for research (plus homework time).

  6. Make sure students make, at the beginning and end of each class session, seven-ten line entries, discussing the status of their research since the last entry entries (successes, failures, etc), into the group portfolio, including:

    • Name, date, class, group members;

    • Project Title (name of Islamic Kingdom); and

    • Sources they used since last entry (format established by teacher).

  7. By the beginning of the third session, students should have enough articles, clippings and notes to begin putting their boards together in class, if they haven't already.

  8. Have students assemble/decorate presentation boards during the third and fourth days.

  9. On the fifth day, students should present their projects. You or they should arrange the desks in the room into one large U-shape or circle. Then, have students arrange the boards on desks (science fair-style). If you want, this is a great time to offer foods and beverages from various Islamic countries, take pictures, and invite other classes. Or, you can play music from different countries. Perhaps, any of your students with an ethnicity from one of the many Muslim majority countries might also provide music or food.


  1. In the last ten-12 minutes of the fourth day, have the students evaluate the project (how they think they did individually and as a group, if they liked or disliked the assignment and why, etc).

  2. During the fifth day, evaluate the pieces based on a checklist or pre-determined rubric, such as the following:

Evaluation Category

Questions to Consider

Scoring Scale out of Total (Perfect Score) of 15



  • How creatively did the group make use of information, maps, images, graphics, drawings, etc.?
  • Was the presentation of their material especially creative?





  • How well did the group follow instructions and answer all the questions?
  • Did they go above and beyond the questions asked?




Group Dynamics

  • Is there clear evidence of shared responsibility?
  • How thorough is the group portfolio?
  • Are there entries from each member for each day?
  • Are the evaluations included?




Related Works

World’s Great Men of Color by J.A. Rogers
Geography of the Muslim World by Mushtaqur Rahman & Guljan Rahman
A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani
Islam by Karen Armstrong
Segu by Maryse Conde
The Middle East by Bernard Lewis
African American Islam by Aminah McCloud
The Holy Qur'an

The Message
Muhammad: Legend of a Prophet (PBS)
Muslims: Frontline (PBS)
Arab & Jew: Return to the Promised Land (PBS)
The Siege
Egypt: Land of the Gods (History Channel)
Malcolm X
In Search of Bin Laden (PBS)
Looking for Answers (PBS)
Ambush in Mogadishu (PBS)
Religions of the World (PBS)

This lesson was submitted by Sonjanita L. Moore, a Humanities teacher in Chicago, Illinois

Interdisciplinary Links

  • Alternative to the Presentation Boards: Students could opt to prepare PowerPoint® presentations (seven-ten slides, 6x6 rule, hyperlink to the map, one animation/rollover image, and map) on their topic. Students should write out the layout/content of each slide (including a bibliography page) on notebook paper before they actually create the slides. The teacher may want to have students use specific, pre-screened search engines or websites for their research.

  • Visual Arts: Students could create dioramas, collages, paintings, sculptures, or drawings to represent the Islamic Kingdom they chose.

  • Writing or Performing Arts: This component could lead the students to produce skits around the kingdom and period of choice, which they could then present to their class or the school.