Islamic Civilization and the Arts
Grade Level: Middle School – High School
Includes curriculum unit + CD-ROMs with multimedia content
Islamic Civilization and the Arts introduces students to various elements of Islamic civilization through a humanities approach. Lessons on art, the mosque, Arabic language and calligraphy, poetry, and music provide students with experience analyzing myriad primary source materials, such as images, audio clips, and sayings of Muhammad, excerpts from the Quran. In each lesson, students learn about the history, principles, and culture of Islam as they pertain to particular forms of art. Hands-on activities encourage students to gain an appreciation for Islamic historical and cultural traditions.
Lesson One, An Introduction to Islam, introduces students to the religion of Islam and provides a brief historical background of Islamic civilization to prepare them for the subsequent lessons on Islamic arts. In Part One, students are introduced to a definition of Islam and complete a survey identifying their current perceptions of Islam. Students also read several of Muhammads sayings and consider what they reveal about the religion and how they might contradict students' initial perceptions. In Part Two, students complete a pre-test to assess their current knowledge of Islam. Through the use of information tables, students create a visual representation of the countries that make up the Islamic world. They then read an informational handout on Islamic civilization as homework. In Part Three, students participate in a class competition, chronologically arranging significant events related to Islamic civilization. They also view several images portraying the Pillars of Islam. To conclude and debrief the lesson, students complete the perceptions survey again and discuss and compare their current responses with those from the first survey. Finally, students compare and contrast Islam with other civilizations and religions.
Lesson Two, The Role of the Mosque, introduces students to the mosque through its history and physical features to help them better understand its significance within Islam. The lesson begins with a general discussion about places of worship. Students learn about Islamic worship and the significance, history, and features of the mosque before comparing Islam with Christianity and Judaism. They deepen their understanding through personal association and connection by visiting a local mosque or taking a virtual tour of a mosque. Students reflect on their experience in a short essay. They then learn about the variation among the physical structure of mosques and how that variation reflects the diversity of cultures in which Muslims live. Students view images of mosques from around the world and complete research and presentations on mosques from various regions.
Lesson Three, Islamic Art, is an introductory exploration of Islamic art and architecture. Through studying, analyzing, and comparing and contrasting various works of art, students learn about Islamic spirituality and civilization, and their influences on art in other societies. In Part One, students view 11 images relevant to Islamic art and record their initial impressions. These impressions are collected and revisited at the end of the lesson. Students then learn about basic aspects of Islamic art through an informational handout. They view the initial set of images a second time and discuss each one. In Part Two, students apply what they have learned about Islamic art through viewing a second set of images of both Islamic and non-Islamic art. Using what they have learned through handouts and class discussions, small groups study images, write educated descriptions and analyses of each item, and present their findings to the class. In Part Three, students choose among three art projects to demonstrate what they have learned about Islamic art. In the first project, they reference the Islamic art they have studied and create their own work of art with symbols, motifs, and colors that are of personal significance. In the second project, they take photographs of or sketch objects around their homes or school that remind them of Islamic art and architecture. In the third project, they take photographs of or sketch works of art around their homes or school that reveal information about the civilization in which they live. Students present their projects to the class and, if time allows, to other classes. To debrief this lesson, students revisit the questions from the beginning of the lesson and see how their opinions of Islamic art may or may not have changed. They also discuss what art can reveal about a society and its values.
Lesson Four, Arabic Language and Calligraphy, introduces students to Arabic, one of the most widely used languages in the world. By engaging in a range of activities, they will learn about the significance of the Arabic language, particularly its written form, in Islamic history, traditions, and culture. In Part One, students read an informational handout on the Arabic language for homework and answer discussion questions. Then, students engage in a map activity that shows how Arabic has spread throughout the Middle East and beyond. Once students understand the language's prevalence in the world, they learn about the influence Arabic has had on different languages through an activity that focuses on Arabic loanwords used in English. In Part Two, students read and discuss a handout on Arabic script and calligraphy. Upon sharing answers to the handout questions, they view a slide show of art objects that utilize Arabic calligraphy. Applying what they have learned through handouts and class discussions, students document their thoughts on each item presented. In Part Three, students study excerpts from the Quran in two ways. First, they view Quranic pages that have been written in different calligraphy styles in different time periods and places. In groups, they discuss the similarities and differences among these images. Second, they analyze selected text from the Quran and draw connections to Islamic beliefs.
Lesson Five, Islamic Poetry, provides students with the opportunity to gain more knowledge and understanding of Islam through the medium of poetry. In Part One of this lesson, students read and analyze poetry written by poets from around the world and try to determine which is an Islamic poem. They also brainstorm a list of their inferences and conceptions about Islamic poetry. In Part Two, students are introduced to Islamic poetry through an informational handout. Through an analysis of several poems, students consider what poetry reveals about Islamic spirituality. They interpret poems written by some of the most famous and revered Islamic poets throughout the history of Islam. In Part Three, students read Islamic poetry independently and select their favorites to include in an anthology project. Students also compose their own poems expressing what they have learned about Islam. In addition, they write commentaries on each of the poems included in their anthologies. To conclude the lesson, students reflect on what they have learned and compare their initial conceptions in Part One with the knowledge that they acquire by the end of the lesson.
In Lesson Six, Islamic Music, students learn to appreciate Islamic music. By listening to and comparing and contrasting music and musical instruments across the Islamic world, students draw conclusions about how Islamic music has influenced and been influenced by various cultures. In Part One, students listen to a clip of the Muslim call to prayer. They then consider the importance of music in society in general. Through an informational handout and class discussion, students become familiar with the history, role, and characteristics of music in the Islamic world. In Part Two, students are introduced to musical instruments common in Muslim countries and listen to audio clips of each instrument's sound. They explore various types of religious music by reading an informational handout and listening to audio clips of religious and devotional songs. In Part Three, to conclude the lesson and emphasize the diversity and unity of music in the Muslim world, students research and present group work on regional music. They demonstrate their understanding through a writing assignment comparing and contrasting regional music of the Islamic world.