Saturday, August 20, 2011

Lesson Plan: Arabic Scarves

One of the things that we have discussed in our World Religions class are the clothes typically worn by many Muslims.  Aspects of their dress have both cultural and religious significance in Islam.  One of the items of clothing that we have discussed is their use of scarves, particularly for headdresses for both men and women.

In the early days, scarves were extremely practical for the original Muslims, who were mostly desert dwellers.  Scarves that could be draped around the face protected both sexes from sunburn and sand storms.  But even in modern times and in urban settings, many Muslims continue to wear scarves for headdresses.  Women may wear a niqab (Arabic for veil) to cover their face as part of their hijab (Arabic for curtain or cover), or modest clothing that covers everything but a woman's hands and face when she is out in public.    Muslim men often wear a keffiyeh or a square cotton scarf, usually in a checked or plaid pattern.  The black and white keffiyeh is a symbol of the Palestinian political movement, and was made famous by Palestinian politician Yasser Arafat.  Muslim women also may wear scarves not as veils, but as decorative items or as dance accessories.  The women's decorative scarves often have flowers or other forms from nature woven into them, but the men's rarely have images, but instead favor geometric patterns.

So as one of our hands-on projects for Islam, we gave the students squares of white cotton and allowed them to decorate them as they chose (but reviewing the information above about typical Arabic scarf customs).  Along with permanent markers they could use to draw on the white cloth, we gave them duct tape that they could use for decoration, to provide edging for the scarves, or to stick on yarn for fringe (which is particularly prevalent in the male Arabic scarves).  As always, while all the students start with the same blank canvas, they take their art in totally different and beautiful ways.

The boys in the class pretty much stuck with lines, ranging from the more conventional to the ... less conventional:

The girls had more curves and other images in their scarves:

It was gratifying to see that some of them remembered our earlier lesson about the use of tessellated shapes in Islamic art, and incorporated that into their scarf patterns.

This was an inexpensive project that the students enjoyed; our class, at least, almost always enjoy the chance to be creative.  We also find that we get some of best discussions with this age group when their hands are occupied with something else, and they can talk without everyone looking at them, which makes some of them nervous when discussing more sensitive topics.  Since the topic of dress and appearance, particularly women wearing clothes to hide their attractiveness to men, can be a bit sensitive, this is a good technique for fostering discussion without making young adolescents feel too uncomfortable.

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