Saturday, July 2, 2011

Lesson Plan: The Times of Muhammad

In teaching about Islam in our World Religions class, I think it is really important for the students to understand the culture from which Islam evolved.  To deal with their questions about Osama bin Laden and 9/11 and all that, we have to try to cover the Muslim concept of jihad (which means "struggle" in Arabic, but is often translated as "Holy war" by the Western media).  And to really understand the historical development of jihad, you have to know something about the Arabic tribal culture and the life, times, and conflict/conquest that Muhammad experienced during his life.

We started with the student's favorite topic--FOOD!  I brought in a selection of foods, and asked them to select the 12 that are posted on the Internet as Muhammad's favorite foods.  They did a pretty good job of that, since they had made a lot of Middle Eastern food for the Jesus Feast we had earlier.  However, they were surprised about some of the Middle Eastern standards that were available in the communities Jesus visited that were not common among the nomadic Arabic tribes.

Some of these foods Muhammad ate daily; some he did not.

I then used a pack of cards to tell the story of Muhammad's relationship with the various tribes that are important to his story:  the tribe into which he was born, the powerful tribe that was trying to silence him and his followers, the tribe that "adopted" him when he had to leave Mecca, etc.  Besides being a good story-telling technique, I used the cards because we are trying to follow the Islamic practice of not having pictures of Muhammad, and because it was the Arabs who introduced the concept of cards, which originated in either China or India, to Western culture.

It's too complicated to go into here, but we discussed how the original concept of jihad was originally permission from God for Muhammad to attack the Arabs controlling Mecca, which the heavenly revelation said was justified (although most killing is prohibited in the Quran) because those people were interfering with the true believer's desire to worship God (or Allah) at the Kaaba, the most sacred site in Islam.  Only later did it become linked with the Arab's acquisition of new territory, which they believed was one means of spreading the word about Allah and Islam.

So going over the tribal history of the Arabs and the derivation of the idea of jihad helps to set up a foundation for the discussion we will be having in a few weeks about modern Islamic political affairs, including 9/11 and terrorism and such.  It is a sensitive topic, and can be difficult to discuss with this age, but I think understanding the historical background of Muhammad and the Muslims will help.

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