I think one of the best ways to address an issue like this is to hear things from the horse's mouth, as it were. And so this week, our class had a presentation on Islam from the Islamic Association of Raleigh.
If you want to learn about Islam, and you live in the Triangle area, I definitely recommend the IAR (and I imagine other Islamic centers in major urban centers do much the same). They regularly present information about Islam to schools, community organizations, Sunday Schools, etc., as well as invite visitors to their mosque. They did an excellent job with our class, not only by bringing a laptop with Power Point presentations and photos that really help to convey a feeling for the topics in Islam that they were discussing, but also by bringing two middle school-aged boys so that the students in our class could hear from their peers what it was like to be a Muslim.
|Presentation by the Islamic Association of Raleigh|
Perhaps the most enlightening aspect for me was learning about the (at least) once-in-a-lifetime visit to Mecca that is one of the Five Pillars that are expected of Muslims. The adults had made the pilgrimage, and not only had great photos, but did a wonderful job of conveying the spiritual significance of the journey and of the various aspects of visiting Mecca. And the boys were great in explaining how they incorporated Islam into the typical life of a middle schooler. One of them has already memorized half of the Quran, adding hours a day of religious study on top of his academic classes (and the other one isn't far behind). On the other hand, they were also just typical boys; they enjoy going to the mosque because after their services, they can go play ball in the gym with their friends.
That kind of normalcy may be the best thing we can give our middle schoolers when talking about Islam. As a religion, it can seem tough (you follow the Five Pillars and you are a Muslim; if you don't follow what is in the Quran, apparently about 100%, you aren't), or exclusive (they gave us an English translation of their holy book, but it is only truly a Quran if it is in Arabic), or strange (such as the coverings the women have to wear, although the presenters did have an explanation of that). But when you meet actual people who are friendly and reasonable and act like your next door neighbors, especially when they are kids the same age, it all seems much more normal.