How to Integrate Islam into Your Reading Curriculum

    Themes taught in Islamic Studies and Reading classes can be integrated together in a cross-curriculum situation fairly easily. Although there are no bona-fide Islamically-oriented reading textbooks available yet, there are hundreds of different story-type titles published which can be easily obtained from the appropriate booksellers.

    The relationship between reading and faith is as basic as "Iqra," the first word of revelation. When a child reads a story his or her imagination is stimulated. It's not enough to tell a child that Du'a is powerful. Let them read the story of someone who made Du'a and was strengthened.  It's not enough to teach a child that Islam can work in their life.  Let them read about real life people who are also Muslims.

    There are two ways to carry out this goal. One is within the Islamic Studies class, the other is in the Reading class. Within the Islamic Studies class, I've always found it most useful to use the Qur'an as a source of reading literature. When you're reading about Ramadan in the class, crack open a Qur'an and read and discuss the verses about it. If you're talking about the Battle of Badr, look up all those verses and read about the drama and perilous nature of the situation from the Qur'anic perspective, etc...

    (Ideally, in a future, well-structured and well-supplied Muslim school, the life stories of all the Prophets, including the Prophet Muhammad, would be taught in Social Studies classes. Islamic studies would be concerned with issues of faith, spirituality, right and wrong, Fiqh and Shari'ah, beliefs, etc... Reading class would use the Qur'an and Hadith as primary texts with Islamically-oriented stories and literature from all over the Muslim world interspersed throughout. Arabic class would incorporate Qur'an memorizing (with meaning) and use the Qur'an as the main textbook and source of vocabulary. Science and math classes would be integrated into one class of longer duration.)

    In Reading class, until we have real Islamically-oriented reading textbooks, the reading teacher can select novels, stories, poems, passages from the Qur'an, etc... in conjunction with what the Islamic studies teacher will be doing, whenever possible. This of course will require the development of a full year's syllabus on both their parts, working together, but it can be done. There are enough Muslim written books, stories, poems, etc... that all the elements of a successful reading program can still be maintained.

    These two methods are how Islam and Reading can be integrated into one conjoined unit to reinforce the lessons upon the minds, hearts and imaginations of the students. Of course a third way would be to allow the students to read a short story or novella in their Islamic Studies class, from time to time, if it enriches their study of a particular aspect of Islam.

    Never underestimate the usefulness of movies and documentaries in Islamic studies class. Visual representations are a fact of life today. Everyday, Muslim children watch at least 2-6 hours of non-Muslim television and become indoctrinated with the sights and sounds of kufr. Let them have a video presentation of some aspect of Islam every once in a while. Appropriate videos for each grade level are listed in the appropriate section of this website.

The Need for Cross-Curriculum Integration

A School Day in the Life of a Muslim Child

    When Ahmad finished reading, the teacher, Mr. Robbins, walked over to him and said, "Good job Aaamed."

    Although Ahmad used to get annoyed that Mr. Robbins could never seem to pronounce his name right, those feelings had long since been brushed aside by how much love and reverence Ahmad developed towards his third grade teacher.

    "Okay class," Mr. Robbins began, "That's enough on the heroes of the American Revolution. Now it's time for reading. Put your social studies books away."

    The class obeyed instantly, Mr. Robbins was loved by all and the children took him as a role model. He made learning fun.

    "Turn to page 213 in your reading books." the teacher asked.

    Ahmad, who had just finished reading so well about Thomas Jefferson and how he wrote the great Declaration of Independence, wanted to get more praise from the teacher. He raised his hand and asked if he could read first. Mr. Robbins politely said that someone else should get a turn but that he could read again in a moment.

    Ahmad waited patiently as Sarah Driscoll began reading the story of Jane Simpson, a girl who disguised herself as a man to go and fight in the Revolutionary War against the British. When it was finally Ahmad's turn to read, he was given the part where Corporal Simpson was wounded and was finally found to be a woman by the doctors.

    The class was glued to their books for what would happen next. Ahmad decided that this was a fun subject, so later, when the class was taken to the school library, Ahmad asked the nice Librarian, Mrs. Goldstein, for a book about Jane Simpson. She reminded him that he still had a book about the Cherokee Indians out and he quickly pulled it out of his bag and returned it.

    Later at home, after his snack, he went up to his room and started reading the full story about his new hero. He was only interrupted once when his dad came home at 6 pm. "Come for Salat!" His father yelled up the stairs.

    Ahmad was annoyed but he knew he would get in trouble if he didn't come running. He rushed through his Wudu and then went to stand silently next to his dad while he led the Maghrib Salah. Ahmad looked around at the furniture while his father chanted the familiar, unfamiliar words. Ahmad had no clue what they meant.

    Ahmad followed along in the movements of Salah and repeated audibly some of the strange phrases he was supposed to say, but just so his dad would think he was doing what he was supposed to do.

    As they sat in Jalsa, Ahmad couldn't help but think about what he had just read upstairs in his room. Jane Simpson knew the British were coming to take her rights away, after all, Thomas Jefferson had written, just a few weeks before, that the British were bad and out to enslave the colonies!

    Jane Simpson wanted to stop the British as much as anybody else. So she cut her hair, dressed like a boy and joined the minutemen militia. That was when the rude Salah interruption came.

    When the ritual was over, Ahmad quickly rushed through his "Super Sonic Sunnah" prayers and ran back upstairs to read some more. The next day in class they were supposed to learn about the Battle of Bunker Hill. Ahmad's heart raced to think of the new heroes he would learn about. It was so cool, he thought, that whatever they learned in history class would be related to what was in their reading class. Mr. Robbins was the best teacher. His girlfriend, Ms. Florence, who is the fifth grade teacher, is also nice too. She once came in and showed the class how the Indians made their Teepees.

    Ahmad loved being an American. And an American was all he was.

    What you have just read is a story that is repeated everyday, in every public school (and private school,) in America and Canada. Children from Muslim families are indoctrinated everyday into the culture, mind-set, historical frame of reference and consciousness of non-Muslim nations. School districts have invested millions of dollars into research to further the goals of producing loyal citizens and curriculums between subjects are often linked to reinforce, from one class to the next, the desired principles and components that children are asked to acquire.

    Ahmad will probably never live Islam on his own, though he may think of himself as a "Mozzlim" in a loose sort of way. His children, however, won't even do that much. The inattentive Muslim parents were powerless to stop it. On Judgment Day, they may see generations of their descendants thrown in the fire, all because of their unawareness or negligence. Many of the issues raised in this scenario are outside the scope of this book, but one of them, the power of cross-curriculum integration can be discussed here.

    Cross-curriculum integration is a powerful tool. If you can present an idea, or a group of concepts, to students, in a variety of ways and through different angles, you can get them to believe and accept pretty much anything. Communist nations applied this principle with even greater efficiency than Western nations with the result that millions were led to believe that Communism, an obvious fallacy, was the "truth."

    Any school, in the east or west, which tries to teach a subject in total isolation from other subjects will find that the students aren't able to make broad comparisons or see things in their significant totality. Ahmad studied American history and then had his imagination stimulated by reading stories of American heroes. This served to make the history come alive and that will leave an imprint on him that will last much longer than the actual facts and information will. Can a Muslim-oriented school afford to do any less?

    The situation in nearly every Muslim full-time school is like this: The students are herded from math to science to gym with great fanfare. Then the dreaded subject of Arabic will come around in which the language will be presented and studied with no connection to anything else.

    Islam class then comes due where the students are taught whatever they are taught. Then, in Social Studies, the students learn about American and/or ancient history. (Islamic history is contained in only one or two chapters and is over with in about two to three weeks.) Then, in reading class, the students read about what?- American heroes, people with secular values and folk tales from Gambia, the Eskimos or main street USA.

    Almost nothing written by or about Muslims is read in reading class. Social studies is about socialization into the secular west and when English class rolls around, the students read more secular/non-Muslim style practice selections and study grammar related to non-Muslim, secular themes. Do you get the impression that Muslim-oriented education is shooting itself in the foot!

    If a teacher in one class is telling the students that Islam is the best, then the children had better read about Muslims who followed Islam and lived the best way in Reading class!  *  If the students are reading about a Muslim hero named Tariq bin Ziyad in Reading class, then they had better see him mentioned in their social studies book! Anything less and you're defeating the purpose of building a sense of Muslim-ness in the student- that they are part of a civilization and a world-wide community based on Islam.

    Of course secular-minded "Muslims" may oppose this strategy, but on what grounds? That the children will be cut off from secular (read: real) knowledge? All of the children from Muslim families in the West are already secular and already American in their attitude, demeanor, temperament and frame of reference. The only hope we have left is in building in them a sense of an extra-identity based on their affiliation with Islam. Anything less is assimilation and disappearance.

    Unfortunately, no Muslims have yet produced bona-fide reading textbooks for use by Muslim children, patterned after modern-style reading textbooks. Until that time, we must put together, as best we can, a series of reading materials that can be employed in reading class. Such materials must reflect the multi-cultural diversity of our Ummah along with our historical experience. They cannot only focus on Sirah and the Sahaba, but must include materials which touch upon Muslim history from the Seventh century up to our present era, as well as stories, literature, poetry and prose.

    The Islamic studies, social studies, Arabic, English and reading curriculum of the school must be loosely integrated at a certain level so that cross-curriculum learning can enforce Islamic principles throughout the school day of the students.

    Example: The month of Hajj is drawing near and 'Eid vacation will start in a few weeks. In Islam class, the students are learning about how to perform the Hajj or what its significance is. In Arabic, the teacher is having the class learn the meaning of the Talbiyyah Du'a. In social studies, the students are learning the historical development of the Ka'bah from ancient times to the latest expansion. Finally, in reading class, the students are reading the story of a convert who went to Hajj and what he or she experienced. A nice touch would be if the school administration organized a school-wide video showing of a Hajj documentary (such as "Guests of God"). Wouldn't that be amazing!

    There will be times when cross-curriculum will be more restricted and can only be done in a few classes, but then there will be other times when it can come into full bloom. We hope to develop such a sequence one day and publish it. In the meantime, individual schools will have to try and forge such links among subjects. Pre-planning in the summers is needed. It's not too difficult to do.

    In the summer, before school resumes, the school must call the teachers into service for this task. All teacher materials will be present and then the work of matching subject areas according to particular weeks in the semester can proceed. Save everything on paper and/or computer and work on it and update it throughout the year at monthly meetings for that purpose. Over the years, such a plan can be honed down to a science and implemented year after year.

    May you be fruitful and successful, Ameen.

    (*  A note about presentation: for too long Islamic studies and related subjects have been dominated by imagery derived from Bedouin Arabia, such as camels, deserts, old-style Arab clothing, the bazaar atmosphere, etc... This quaint imagery has no relation to Islam in the modern world and should be curtailed. None of your students ride a camel to school, live in the desert or wear wrap-around sheets, nor do they eat camel meat or drink honey mixed with barley. Let's update the imagery a bit so children can see that Islam is for the space age as much as for former times. Romanticism has no place in Islamic education.)

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