Islamic Society: A Lesson in Surrender


This lesson addresses the Qur'anic call for all members of a society to understand that the value of wealth comes from its ability to lessen the suffering of others, the premise of Islam's third pillar. The lesson is best used in conjunction with a study of any surah from the Qur'an that contains passages about the alms levy, and could function as an introduction to a discussion of that topic. But it can be used in any class, grades 6-12 with or without reference to Islam or the Qur'an. This lesson would fit nicely during the viewing of MUHAMMAD: LEGACY OF A PROPHET along with the PBS Web site

Curriculum Standards

The following standards have been taken from the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel) standards.

The Student:

  • Understands the spread of Islam in Southwest Asia and the Mediterranean region
  • Understands the influence of Islamic ideas and practices on other cultures and social behavior
  • Understands significant aspects of Islamic civilization
  • Understands various meanings of social group, general implications of group membership, and different ways that groups function
  • Understands conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among individuals, groups, and institutions
  • Knows environmental and external factors that affect individual and community health
  • Understands the relationship of family health to individual health

Time Required

Depending on the depth of the discussion the teacher desires, this lesson could last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes.


  • Plain, unmarked envelopes
  • Any authentically valued unit of currency among students (quarters, 1 dollar bills, extra-credit points, Blockbuster coupons, etc.)

The Lesson

Anticipatory Set

This lesson is best delivered cold, without an introduction that "gives away" the exercise. The student's surprise at it and the normal range of human reactions that will result from it must be authentic. In essence, they will learn about Islamic values without knowing that they are doing so.

It may be used as an initial activity after any surah from the Qur'an that mentions the alms levy ("the poor due," Islam's 3rd Pillar).

Begin class by asking, "If the word "Islam" translates as ‘the surrender,' what does that mean?"


Background Information

  • This lesson gives an experiential understanding of the Third Pillar of Islam (Charity) in references to passages from the Qur'an such as... "Give in alms from what [God] gave [you]"(2:1), "Those that give their wealth for the cause of God can be compared to a grain of corn which brings for seven ears, each bearing a hundred grains"(2:261), "But those that give away their wealth from a desire to please God and to reassure their own souls are like an orchard on a hillside"(2:265), and "God gives abundance to whom he will"(2:261). References to charity are omnipresent in the Qur'an, and it would be easy to find others.

  • The purpose of the exercise is to have students understand: a) that Islam asserts that the primary value from any commodity is in its ability to help others, b) that Islam asserts that God does not distribute wealth as an indication of favor, and c) that Islam understands an uneven distribution of circumstances and wealth as God's way of teaching humanity to value care for others as a form of surrender to God rather than simply valuing acquisition and possession.


  1. Count the total number of students in the class in which you will offer this lesson. Gather the same number of plain, unmarked envelopes. (ex. If you have 20 students, then you need 20 envelopes).

  2. Multiply the number of students by three. (ex. If you have 20 students in a class, then multiply that number by three to get: 60.) You will need this number of single-denomination items that have real-life, authentic value to the students AND TO THE TEACHER. One dollar bills work best (a side-lesson here is that the exercise requires some real sacrifice, thought and participation from the teacher, as well), but you can use quarters, extra credit points, coupons, school-specific privileges, etc. as well.

  3. Distribute your chosen items unevenly among the envelopes. Make sure that the values of the envelopes vary significantly with some having no value (nothing in them), some having a variety of mid-range values, and a few having significant high-range values).

  4. Close the envelopes, but do not seal them. Make sure that they are unmarked and indistinguishable in any way from each other.

  5. Ask a colleague if she would interrupt your class at a time or on a signal of your choosing and give some urgent reason for you to leave the classroom for 5 to 10 minutes.


  1. When you are ready to place the lesson, inform the students that the word Islam translates as "The Surrender," then ask them what that implies or what that calls for man to surrender.

  2. Before discussion can begin, have your colleague interrupt your class and call for you to leave for 5 to 10 minutes. As you are leaving, tell your class that you may be gone for a bit but that you wanted to make sure that had something before you left. At that point, distribute the envelopes in a fashion that is obviously both hurried and at random. If you like, you can tell the students that they can open their envelopes while you're gone.

  3. Leave the room, close the door. Eavesdrop if you wish, stand by the door, or go for a walk, but give the students about five to ten minutes for curiosity to get the better of them. They will open the envelopes and find that they have something of value. They will also find that not everyone has the same amount. They will probably also speculate about what to do about that fact, speculate why you distributed unevenly, either gloat or share, hoard or sympathize, etc. The reactions will, hopefully, be varied.

  4. After enough time has elapsed, return to the room as if nothing had happened. Begin the discussion.

  5. This is not a standard assessment, per se, and the teacher will not grade the students on what has occurred in her absence. This discussion focuses on student self evaluation of what happened and then look to the Qur'an for what Islam asserts about what should happen. The following is an effective series of questions for the teacher to ask the students:

    1. What did I give you?
    2. Why does that have value?
    3. What did you do with it?
    4. Did everyone get the same amount?
    5. Did I know that I was distributing unevenly?
    6. Did I know specifically who was getting each amount?
    7. Why would I distribute unevenly?
    8. Was I hoping you would react and then act in a certain way? If so, then in what way?
    9. Why would I want you to react in that way?
    10. Given that, where does the true value of what I have given you come from?
    11. Is it important that what I have given you is my own and not the school's? (End the lesson at this point if you are not specifically studying Islam)
    12. If Islam's third pillar is Charity, what does that mean?
    13. What does the Qur'an say about this exercise and what you should do?
    14. What are the normal reactions of humanity towards wealth and value?
    15. Does Islam attempt to change humanity's definition of those two words? How?
    16. What is "the surrender" in this context?

After the Discussion

  1. After the assessment discussion listed below, you may choose to let the students keep what you have given them.

  2. It is important that you not force, make or require the students to distribute the wealth evenly. (ref: "There is no compulsion in religion" [2:256]) As a closing question, ask the students to think about why it is important that you will not make them do other than what they choose to do with what you have given them. Also ask them why you will emphasize, though, that what they choose to do is of paramount importance.

  3. Now is the time to introduce the third Pillar of Islam, using the quotes given, above. Put them on an overhead or on the board, and discuss the idea of charity from a new viewpoint after having gone through the exercise. What is your definition of charity now? Why is it important enough to be a major tenet of Islam?

Extension Activities

  • This lesson can be connected to a Global History's study of the Middle East as an object lesson of the values that Islam tries to establish in a society.

  • This lesson can be adapted to fit any Economics class to study the economic impact of charity, taxes or welfare

  • This lesson can be adapted to fit any Social Studies class to study the role that an individual must play in a community

  • This lesson can be adapted to fit any Health class to study the relation of giving and receiving on mental and emotional well-being

Related Works


  • The World's Religions, Huston Smith.


  • Christianity: The Bible, Matthew 5:3-9, 5:42, 6:1-4, 6:19-21, 7:12, 13:3-9, 25:34-40, etc.
  • Buddhism: The Dhammapada, 1:2, 1:19-20, 4:3, 5:3, 6:8, 7:3-4, 10:1-4, 13:1-4, 15:1-8, etc.
  • Hinduism: The Bhagavad Gita, 17:11, 17:20, 18:5-6, 18:9, 2:55, 2:62-65, 3:19, 3:37-43, 4:23-25, 4:32-33, 5:13-14, etc.
  • Judaism, The Torah, Genesis 4:1-10, Proverbs 3:27-28, 19:1, 22:1-5, etc.
  • Taoism, Tao Te Ching, Ch. 3, Ch. 5, Ch. 7, Ch. 8, Ch. 10, Ch. 16, etc.


  • Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling