Islam School Assignment Template

Over the centuries of Islamic history, Muslim rulers, Islamic scholars, and ordinary Muslims have held many different attitudes towards other religions. Attitudes have varied according to time, place and circumstance.

Non-Muslims and Islam[edit]

The Qur'an distinguishes between the monotheistic People of the Book (ahl al-kitab) (Jews, Christians, Sabians and others) on the one hand and polytheists or idolaters on the other hand.[citation needed] There are certain kinds of restrictions that apply to polytheists but not to People of the Book. One example is that Muslim males are allowed to marry a Christian or Jew, but not a polytheist. Muslim women, however, may not marry non-Muslim men.[1]

The idea of Islamic supremacy is encapsulated in the formula, "Islam is exalted and nothing is exalted above it."[1]

Abraham, Moses, Hebrew prophets, and Jesus were all prophets of Islam, but according to Muslim tradition their message and the texts of the Torah and the Gospels were corrupted by Jews and Christians.[2]

Apostasy in Islam can be punishable by death and/or imprisonment according to most interpretations.[3] W. Heffening states that Shafi'is interpret verse [Quran 2:217] as adducing the main evidence for the death penalty in Qur'an.[4] Wael Hallaq states the death penalty was a new element added later and "reflects a later reality and does not stand in accord with the deeds of the Prophet." He further states that "nothing in the law governing apostate and apostasy derives from the letter of the holy text." [5] There are also interpretations according to which apostates aren't executed nor punished, and there is freedom of religion.

Early Muslim practice[edit]

During the thirteen years that Muhammad led his followers against the Meccans and then against the other Arab tribes, Christian and Jewish communities who had submitted to Muslim rule were allowed to worship in their own way and follow their own family law, and were given a degree of self-government. However, the non-Muslim dhimmis were subject to taxation jizyah at a different rate of the Muslim zakat. Dhimmis also faced economic impediments, restrictions on political participation and/or social advancement based on their non-Muslim status.

Some Jews generally rejected Muhammad's status as a prophet.[6] According to Watt, "Jews would normally be unwilling to admit that a non-Jew could be a prophet."[7] In the Constitution of Medina, Muhammad demanded the Jews' political loyalty in return for religious and cultural autonomy.[6][8] In every major battle with the Medinans, two local Jewish tribes were found to be treachous (see [Quran 2:100]). After Badr and Uhud, the Banu Qainuqa and Banu Nadir (the latter being an ethnic Arab tribe who converted to Judaism, according to the Muslim historian al-Yaqubi), respectively, took up arms against the ummah and were subsequently expelled "with their families and possessions" from Medina.[9]

However, this incident does not imply that Jews in general rejected Muhammad's constitution. One Yemenite Jewish document, found in the Cairo Genizah, claims that many Jews had not only accepted Muhammad as a prophet, but even desecrated Sabbath in order to join Muhammad in his struggle; historians suggest that this document, called Dhimmat an-nabi Muhammad (Muhammad’s Writ of Protection), may have been fabricated by Yemenite Jews for the purpose of self-defence.[10] Still, some Yemeni Jews considered Muhammad a true prophet, including Natan'el al-Fayyumi, a major 12th century rabbi who incorporated various Shia doctrines into his view of Judaism.

The Syriac PatriarchIshôyahb III wrote in his correspondence to Simeon of Rewardashir, "As for the Arabs, to whom God has at this time given rule (shultãnâ) over the world, you know well how they act toward us. Not only do they not oppose Christianity, but they praise our faith, honour the priests and saints of our Lord, and give aid to the churches and monasteries."[11]

After Muhammad's death in 632, Islamic rule grew rapidly, encompassing what is now the Middle East, Egypt, North Africa, and Iran. Most of the new subjects were Christian or Jewish, and considered People of the Book. (After some argument, the Zoroastrians were considered People of the Book as well.[12]) Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians were called dhimmi, protected persons. As noted above, they could worship, follow their own family law, and own property. People of the Book were not subject to certain Islamic rules, such as the prohibitions on alcohol and pork, but were subject to other restrictions. Under the Islamic state, they were exempt from military service, but were required to pay a poll tax known as jizya. (They were, however, exempt from the zakat required of Muslims.) They could be bureaucrats and advisors, but they could never be rulers.

Later Islamic practice[edit]

Under the Ummayads and Abbasids, the Islamic community was increasingly fragmented into various sects and kingdoms, each of which had its own evolving policy towards dhimmi and towards conquered polytheists.

Later Islamic conquests[edit]

Further information: Muslim conquests and Spread of Islam

With the Ghaznavids and later the Mughals, Islam also expanded further into northern India. Will Durant, in The Story of Civilization, described this as "probably the bloodiest story in history." This approach was not uniform, and different rulers adopted different strategies. The Mughal emperor Akbar, for example, was relatively tolerant towards Hindus, while his great-grandson Aurangzeb was heavily intolerant. Hindus were ultimately given the tolerated religious minority status of dhimmi in their own homeland. However, the underlying complexity of Hindu philosophy was useful in this regard, as it had always posited an underlying unity of all things, including the fusion of various deities into a single reality (Brahman).[citation needed]

The Buddhists of India were not as fortunate; although Buddhism had been in decline prior to the Muslim invasions, the destruction of monastic universities in the invasions such as Nalanda and Vikramashila were a calamity from which it never recovered. According to one Buddhist scholar, the monasteries were destroyed because they were large, fortified edifices considered threats by Muslim Turk invaders.

The Almohad rulers of Muslim Spain were initially intolerant, and engaged in forced conversions[citation needed]; Maimonides, for example, was forced to masquerade as a Muslim and eventually flee Spain after the initial Almohad conquest.

However, it is worth mentioning that most Muslims rulers in Spain could be considered tolerant with some exceptions.[citation needed] Christians were free to practice their own beliefs, and had kept their own churches. The tolerant atmosphere in Muslim Spain made it a refuge for Jews persecuted in other European lands.[citation needed]

Comparative religion and anthropology of religion[edit]

In the early 11th century, the Islamic scholar Abū Rayhān Bīrūnī wrote detailed comparative studies on the anthropology of religions across the Middle East, Mediterranean and especially the Indian subcontinent. Biruni's anthropology of religion was only possible for a scholar deeply immersed in the lore of other nations.[13] He carried out extensive, personal investigations of the peoples, customs, and religions of the Indian subcontinent, and was a pioneer in comparative religion and the anthropology of religion.

According to Arthur Jeffery, "It is rare until modern times to find so fair and unprejudiced a statement of the views of other religions, so earnest an attempt to study them in the best sources, and such care to find a method which for this branch of study would be both rigorous and just."[14] Biruni compared Islam with pre-Islamic religions, and was willing to accept certain elements of pre-Islamic wisdom which would conform with his understanding of the Islamic spirit.[15]

In the introduction to his Indica, Biruni himself writes that his intent behind the work was to engage dialogue between Islam and the Indian religions, particularly Hinduism as well as Buddhism.[14] Biruni was aware that statements about a religion would be open to criticism by its adherents, and insisted that a scholar should follow the requirements of a strictly scientific method. According to William Montgomery Watt, Biruni "is admirably objective and unprejudiced in his presentation of facts" but "selects facts in such a way that he makes a strong case for holding that there is a certain unity in the religious experience of the peoples he considers, even though he does not appear to formulate this view explicitly." Biruni argued that Hinduism was a monotheistic faith like Islam, and in order to justify this assertion, he quotes Hindu texts and argues that the worship of idols is "exclusively a characteristic of the common people, with which the educated have nothing to do."[14]

Biruni argued that the worship of idols "is due to a kind of confusion or corruption."[14] According to Watt, Biruni "goes on to maintain that in the course of generations the origin of the veneration of the images is forgotten, and further that the ancient legislators, seeing that the Veneration of images is advantageous, made it obligatory for the ordinary. He mentions the view of some people that, before God sent prophets, all mankind were idol-worshippers, but he apparently does not presumably held that, apart from the messages transmitted by prophets, men could know the existence and unity of God by rational methods of philosophy." Biruni argued that "the Hindus, no less than the Greeks, have philosophers who are believers in monotheism."[14] Al-Biruni also compared Islam and Christianity, citing passages from the Qur'an and Bible which state that their followers should always speak the truth.[16]

Contemporary Islam[edit]

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, most Islamic states fell under the sway of European colonialists. The colonialists enforced tolerance, especially of European Christian missionaries. After World War II, there was a general retreat from colonialism, and predominantly Muslim countries were again able to set their own policies regarding non-Muslims. This period also saw the beginning of increased migration from Muslim countries into the First World countries of Europe, the UK, Canada, the US, etc. This has completely reshaped relations between Islam and other religions.

In predominantly Muslim countries[edit]

Some predominantly Muslim countries allow the practice of all religions. Of these, some limit this freedom with bans on proselytizing or conversion, or restrictions on the building of places of worship; others (such as Mali) have no such restrictions. In practice, the situation of non-Muslim minorities depends not only on the law, but on local practices, which may vary.[citation needed]

Some countries are predominantly Muslim and allow freedom of religion adhering to democratic principles. Of particular note are the following countries:[17]

  • Indonesia and Malaysia have a significant population from the Hindu, Christian and Buddhist religions. They are allowed to practice their religions[citation needed], build places of worship and even have missionary schools and organizations but with limitation of such practice.
  • In Syria, there are about 2.2 million Christians (10-12% of the population) from about 15 different religious and ethnic sects (Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Church of the East, Protestants, Armenians Apostolic and various Catholics, Greek, Syrian, Aremenian, Chaldean, Maronite, Latin), as well as a few dozen Jews, and they have many hundreds of independent privately owned churches and some 15 synagogues. The freedom of religion is well observed by the state law as well as the historical long record of tolerance since the Ummayde caliph days. Christmas and Easter days are official holidays for both the Catholic or Orthodox calendar.

Some predominantly Muslim countries are less tolerant of non-Muslims:

  • Pakistan has different electorates for Muslims and non-Muslims, and also two chief justices of Supreme Court of Pakistan were Hindu and Christian.
  • Saudi Arabia limits religious freedom to a high degree, prohibiting public worship by other religions.
  • The now-overthrown Taliban regime in Afghanistan was considered intolerant by many observers. Some ancient Buddhist monuments, like the Buddhas of Bamyan, were destroyed as idolatrous.
  • The constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran recognizes Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism as People of the Book and official religions, and they are granted the right to exercise religious freedom in Iran.[18][19] Five of the 270 seats in parliament are reserved for these three religions. However, the situation of Bahá'ís, the largest religious minority in the country, is far worse. Bahá'ís are often attacked and dehumanized on political, religious, and social grounds to separate Bahá'ís from the rest of society.[20] According to Eliz Sanasarian "Of all non-Muslim religious minorities the persecution of the Bahais has been the most widespread, systematic, and uninterrupted."[19] See Religion in Iran and Persecution of Bahá'ís. Also, senior government posts are reserved for Muslims. All minority religious groups, including Sunni Muslims, are barred from being elected president. Jewish, Christian and Zoroastrian schools must be run by Muslim principals.[21] Compensation for death paid to the family of a non-Muslim was (by law) less than if the victim was a Muslim. Conversion to Islam is encouraged by entitling converts to inherit the entire share of their parents (or even uncle's) estate if their siblings (or cousins) remain non-Muslim.[22] Iran's non-Muslim population has fallen dramatically. For example, the Jewish population in Iran dropped from 80,000 to 30,000 in the first two decades of the revolution.[23]
  • In Sudan, there was extensive use of the rhetoric of religious war by both parties in the decades-long battle between the Muslim North and the largely non-Muslim South (see Second Sudanese Civil War.)
  • In Egypt, a 16 December 2006 judgement of the Supreme Administrative Council created a clear demarcation between "recognized religions"—Islam, Christianity and Judaism—and all other religious beliefs; the ruling effectively delegitimatizes and forbids the practice of all but these aforementioned religions.[24][25] The ruling leaves members of other religious communities, including Bahá'ís, without the ability to obtain the necessary government documents to have rights in their country, essentially denying them of all rights of citizenship.[26] They cannot obtain ID cards, birth certificates, death certificates, marriage or divorce certificates, and passports; they also cannot be employed, educated, treated in public hospitals or vote among other things.[26] See Egyptian identification card controversy.

According to Islamic law, jizya (poll tax) is to be paid by all non-Muslims,[1] excluding the weak and the poor, living in a Muslim state, to the general welfare of the state. Also, in his book "Al-Kharaj," Abu Yusuf says, "No Jizya is due on females or young infants." In exchange for the tax, the non-Muslims are required to be given security, provided compensation from the Muslim Exchequer when they are in need, treated on equality with Muslims, and enjoy rights as nationals of the state. Al-Balathiri comments on this saying, "Khaled Ibn Al-Walid, on entering Damascus as a conqueror, offered a guarantee of security to its people and their properties and churches, and promised that the wall of the city would not be pulled down, and none of their houses be demolished. It was a guarantee of God, he said, and of the Caliph and all believers to keep them safe and secure on condition they paid the dues of the Jizya."[27] This poll tax is different from the alms tax (Zakah) paid by the Muslim subjects of a Muslim state. Whereas jizya is compulsory and paid by the tolerated community per head count, zakat was paid only if one can afford it. Muslims and non-Muslims who hold property, especially land, were required however to pay Kharaj.[citation needed]

Territorial disputes[edit]

Further information: Divisions of the world in Islam and Islamism

One of the open issues in the relation between Islamic states and non-Islamic states is the claim from hardline Muslims that once a certain land, state or territory has been under "Muslim" rule, it can never be relinquished anymore, and that such rule, somewhere in history would give the Muslims a kind of an eternal right on the claimed territory. This claim is particularly controversial with regard to Israel and to a lesser degree Spain and parts of the Balkan and it applies to parts of Kashmir as well.[citation needed]

Islamic views on religious pluralism[edit]

Reference to Islamic views on religious pluralism is found in the Quran. The following verses are generally interpreted as an evidence of religious pluralism:

Surah Al-Ma'idah verse 48 states:

If Allah so willed, He would have made you a single People, but His plan is to test each of you separately, in what He has given to each of you: so strive in all virtues as in you are in a race. The goal of all of you is to Allah. It is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute. (Quran 5:48)

Surah Al-Ankabut verse 46 states:

And do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is best, except for those who commit injustice among them, and say, "We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. And our God and your God is one; and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him."

The Quran criticizes Christians and Jews who believed that their own religions are the only source of truth.

They say, if you want to be guided to salvation, you should either become a Jew or Christian. Say: What about the religion of Abraham, he also worshiped no one but Allah. We believe in Allah, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, to Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes of Israel, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to all prophets from their Lord: We make no difference between one and another of them: And we bow to Allah. So, if they believe, they are indeed on the right path, but if they turn back, Allah will suffice them, and He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing. This is the Baptism of Allah. And who can baptize better than Allah. And it is He Whom we worship. Say: Will you dispute with us about Allah, He is our Lord and your Lord; that we are responsible for our doings and you for yours; and that We are sincere in Him? Or do ye say that Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes were Jews or Christians? Say: Do ye know better than Allah? Ah! who is more unjust than those who conceal the testimony they have from Allah. But Allah is not unmindful of what ye do! That was a people that hath passed away. They shall reap the fruit of what they did, and ye of what ye do! Of their merits there is no question in your case. (Quran 2:135-141)

Surah Al-Baqara verse 113 states:

The Jews say: "The Christians have nothing to stand upon"; and the Christians say: "The Jews have nothing to stand upon." Yet they both have something to stand upon, they both recite the Book. Like unto their word is what those say who know not; but Allah will judge between them in their quarrel on the Day of Judgment. (Quran 2:113)

Many Muslims agree that cooperation with the Christian and Jewish community is important but some Muslims believe that theological debate is often unnecessary:

Say: "O People of the Book! Come to what is common between us and you: That we worship none but God, that we associate no partners with Him, that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords other than Allah. If then they turn back, say: 'Bear witness that we are bowing to Allah’s will.'" (Quran 3:64)

Islam's fundamental theological concept is the belief in one God. Muslims are not expected to visualize God but to worship and adore him as a protector. Any kind of idolatry is condemned in Islam. (Quran 112:2) As a result, Muslims hold that for someone to worship any other gods or deities other than Allah (Shirk (polytheism)) is a sin that will lead to separation from Allah.

Muslims believe that Allah sent the Qur'an to bring peace and harmony to humanity through Islam (submission to Allah).[28]Muhammad's worldwide mission was to establish universal peace under the Khilafat. The Khilafat ensured security of the lives and property of non-Muslims under the dhimmi system. This status was originally only made available to non-Muslims who were "People of the Book" (Christians, Jews, and Sabians), but was later extended to include Zoroastrians, Sikhs, Hindus, Mandeans (Sabians), and Buddhists. Dhimmi had more rights than other non-Muslim religious subjects, but often fewer legal and social rights than Muslims. Some Muslims, however, disagree, and hold that adherents of these faiths cannot be dhimmi. Dhimmi enjoyed some freedoms under the state founded by Muhammad and could practice their religious rituals according to their faith and beliefs. It should be noted that non-Muslims who were not classified as "people of the book," for example practitioners of the pre-Muslim indigenous Arabian religions, had few or no rights in Muslim society.

Muslims and Muslim theologians attend at many interfaith dialogues, for example at the Parliament of the World's Religions with whom in 1993 also Muslim theologians signed the Declaration Toward a Global Ethic.[29]

Religious persecution is also prohibited,[Quran 10:99–100 (Translated by Yusuf Ali)] although religious persecution in Muslim majority states has occurred, especially during periods of cruel rulers and general economic hardships. Pre-Islamic religious minorities continue to exist in some of their native countries, although only as marginal percentages of the overall population.

Over the centuries, several known religious debates, and polemical works did exist in various Muslim countries between various Muslim sects, as well as between Muslims and non-Muslims. Many of these works survive today, and make for some very interesting reading in the apologetics genre. Only when such debates spilled over to the unlearned masses, and thus causing scandals and civil strife, did rulers intervene to restore order and pacify the public outcry on the perceived attack on their beliefs.

As for sects within Islam, history shows a variable pattern. Various sects became intolerant when gaining favour with the rulers, and often work to oppress or eliminate rival sects, for example, the contemporary persecution of Muslim minorities in Saudi Arabia.[30]Sectarian strife between Shia and Sunni inhabitants of Baghdad is well known through history.

Forced conversion[edit]

Many Muslim scholars believe that Quranic verses such as "Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error" (Quran 2:256) and (Quran 18:29) show that Islam prohibits forced conversion towards people of any religion.

The meaning of verse 9:5 has however been a subject of discussion amongst other scholars of Islam as well (see At-Tawba 5). This Surah was revealed in the historical context of a broken treaty between Muslims and a group of idolaters during the time of Muhammed. Regarding this verse, Quranic translator M. A. S. Abdel Haleem writes: "In this context, this definitely refers to the ones who broke the treaty,"[31] rather than polytheists generally. In addition, according to Sahih Al-Bukhari although clear orders were given to kill everyone who broke the treaty, Muhammed made a second treaty before entering Mecca and spared even Amar who was responsible for his daughter Rukayya's death and the person who killed his Uncle Hamza.

According to historian Bernard Lewis, forced conversions played a role especially in the 12th century under the Almohad dynasty of North Africa and Andalusia.[32] He is however also of the opinion that other incidents of forced conversions have been rare in Islamic history. He adds that "In the early centuries of Islamic rule there was little or no attempt at forcible conversion, the spread of the faith being effected rather by persuasion and inducement."[33][34][35] A few well-known examples of forced conversion are:[34]

  • Anusim of Meshhad, Jewish community forced on pain of death to convert in 1839 under Safawid rule. Most continued Jewish practices in secret and many of their descendents returned to Judaism in the early 20th century.[36]
  • Francis Bok—Sudanese-American activist, from Christianity; later returned to his Christian faith.[37]
  • Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig—forced to convert at gunpoint by terrorists of the Holy Jihad Brigades.[38]
  • Sabbatai Zevi—convert from Judaism, 17th century mystic, pseudo-Messiah and the self-proclaimed "King of Jews." Converted ostensibly of his own free will, while in prison. Although, some speculate that he may have been executed for treason had he not converted.[39] Muslim authorities were opposed to his death.[40]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ abFriedmann (2003), p. 35
  2. ^Friedmann (2003), p. 18
  3. ^"Murtadd", Encyclopedia of Islam Quote: "A woman who apostasizes [sic?] is to be executed according to some jurists, or imprisoned according to others."
  4. ^W. Heffening, in Encyclopedia of Islam
  5. ^Encyclopedia of the Quran, Apostasy
  6. ^ abEsposito, John. 1998. Islam: the Straight Path, extended edition. Oxford university press, p.17
  7. ^The Cambridge History of Islam, pp. 43-44
  8. ^Jacob Neusner, God's Rule: The Politics of World Religions, p. 153, Georgetown University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-87840-910-6
  9. ^Esposito, Islam: the straight path, extended edition, Oxford University Press, pp. 10-11
  10. ^Yakov Rabkin ""Perspectives on the Muslim Other in Jewish Tradition""(PDF). Archived from the original(PDF) on 2012-03-27.  (126 KB)
  11. ^Sidney H. Griffith: Disputing with Islam in SyriacArchived 2006-07-16 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^Zoroaster and Zoroastrians in IranArchived 2005-11-22 at the Wayback Machine., by Massoume Price, Iran Chamber Society, retrieved March 24, 2006
  13. ^J. T. Walbridge (1998). "Explaining Away the Greek Gods in Islam", Journal of the History of Ideas59 (3): 389-403
  14. ^ abcdeWilliam Montgomery Watt (2004-04-14). "BĪRŪNĪ and the study of non-Islamic Religions". Archived from the original on 2009-02-10. Retrieved 2008-01-25. 
  15. ^Seyyed Hossein Nasr (1993), An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines, p. 166, State University of New York Press, ISBN 0-7914-1516-3
  16. ^Mohamed, Mohaini (2000). Great Muslim Mathematicians. Penerbit UTM. pp. 71–2. ISBN 983-52-0157-9. OCLC 48759017.

Lesson Summary


The foundation of Islamic religious practices is the Five Pillars. These basic duties -- belief, worship, fasting, almsgiving, and pilgrimage -- guide Muslims in their daily life and their worship of God. Through the materials presented in this lesson, students will explore and understand the basic beliefs of Islam and the Five Pillars. They will view segments from Religion & Ethics Newsweekly and information from Internet sources to look closely at each pillar. Then, as a culminating activity in groups, students will create posters about the Five Pillars for classroom display.


  • Describe the basic beliefs of Islam;
  • Explain the meaning of each of the Five Pillars of Islam;
  • Compare and contrast the Five Pillars of Islam with the duties of other religions with which they are familiar.

Grade Level:


Suggested Time

Three to four 45-minute class sessions

Media Resources

Use these resources to create a simple assessment or video-based assignment with the Lesson Builder tool on PBS LearningMedia.


Handouts for each student:


  • Major Beliefs of Islam
    This page from the PBS FRONTLINE Teacher Center gives a clear description of the basic beliefs of Muslims and the Five Pillars of Islam.
  • Islam's Customs (The Five Pillars)
    This BBC website clearly defines each of the Five Pillars, and offers a detailed description of each.

Before The Lesson

Prerequisite: Before beginning this lesson, be sure to do the Introductory Activity from the Religion and the First Amendment lesson with your class.

The Lesson

Part I: Introductory Activity

The Basic Beliefs and Practices of Islam

  1. Explain to your students that they will be learning about some of the basic beliefs and practices of Islam, the religion followed by Muslims. Ask students to begin by brainstorming a list of things that they know about Islam. Have students record their thoughts about Islam privately, without discussing the responses as a class. Ask students to hold on to their responses (or you may collect them). Explain to them that throughout the course of the next activity they will learn more about the basic beliefs and practices of Islam, and that after they complete the activity they will have time to review and revise their responses.

  2. Explain to students that in this lesson they are going to learn about the basic beliefs of Islam and focus on learning about the core duties of Muslims, the Five Pillars. Divide the class into pairs and direct students to the Muslims Teachers Guide FRONTLINE PBS website. Provide them with a focus for media interaction, instructing them to read the sections: "Beliefs of Muslims" and "Major Practices/Duties of Muslims" and record, on their Student Response Sheet 1: The Five Pillars of Islam, the six major beliefs and the name of each of the Five Pillars and a description of that pillar. After students have recorded this information, review the major beliefs and the Five Pillars as a whole class, addressing any questions, such as vocabulary and definitions, during the discussion. Record a list of the Five Pillars on the board during the class discussion so students have a clear visual reference to all of the pillars throughout the rest of the lesson.

Part II: Learning Activity #1

  1. Explain to students that you will be looking at each pillar in detail beginning with the first pillar, which is Shahadah or belief. To begin, go to the BBC website Have students read about what it means to proclaim faith or belief as a Muslim. Have students, individually, silently read the Shahadah. Ask the students to think about what the Shahadah means. Why do they think that this statement is a significant part of being a Muslim? Record their thoughts on their Student Response Sheet 2: The Five Pillars of Islam handout, and discuss these questions as a class.

      How is this statement of belief similar to other religions? How is it different? Some examples are the Shema Israel and the Thirteen Articles of Faith in Judaism or the Nicene Creed in Christianity.

Part III: Learning Activity #2

  1. Next, students will look more closely at the second pillar, which is Salat or prayer. Have students watch the Muslim Prayer video as well as read the information from the BBC at and and watch the two streaming video segments about prayer preparation and the set of movements for prayer. Provide them with a focus for media interaction, instructing students to view the segments and record answers to the following questions on their Student Response Sheet 2: The Five Pillars of Islam.

    • Describe the process that Muslims go through to prepare to pray.

    • Describe the process of praying in Islam. How many times each day, and when, do Muslims pray?

    • What do the prayers sound like?

    • What do the movements look like?

    • In which direction do Muslims pray?

    • Why do they face this way?

    • What are some of the things Muslims say during prayer?

    • Why do Muslims pray?

    • How is prayer in Islam similar to prayer in other religions?

    • How is it different?

    • Why is prayer important in Islam

Part IV: Learning Activity #3

  1. Next, students will examine the third pillar, which is Zakaat or almsgiving. Have students watch the Zakaat video and read the information about Zakaat at Provide them with a focus for media interaction, instructing students to view the video segment and record answers to the following questions on their Student Response Sheet 2: The Five Pillars of Islam:

    • What is Zakaat?

    • What is emphasized in Zakaat?

    • Why do Muslims make donations?

    • How much money is a person expected to give to charitable causes?

    • What is the relationship between prayer and money?

    • How is zakaat different from ordinary charity that Muslims might give?

  2. After students have viewed the segment and the website, discuss what they have learned about Zakaat. What other religions ask believers to donate money? How is this similar to other religions? How is this different.

Part V: Learning Activity #4

  1. Next, students will examine the fourth pillar, which is fasting or Sawm. Have students watch the Ramadan is Here video and read the information at Provide them with a focus for media interaction, instructing students to view the video segment and record answers to the following questions on their Student Response Sheet 2: The Five Pillars of Islam:

    • Why is Ramadan described as "expecting a month long guest?"
    • Explain the guidelines for fasting during Ramadan. When is eating allowed? At what age does a Muslim begin fasting? Does fasting only occur during Ramadan? Are there other rules?

    • Describe some of the challenges one might encounter when fasting during Ramadan. Describe some of the benefits.

  2. After students have viewed the segment and read the information on the website, discuss what they have learned about Sawm. How does fasting from eating and other activities affect people's spiritual state of mind? What other religions include fasting? How is Sawm similar to fasting in other religions? How is it different?

Part VI: Learning Activity #5

  1. Finally, students will examine the fifth pillar, which is pilgrimage or Hajj. Have students view The Hajj: Islamic Sacred Pilgimage video from WGBH. Provide them with a focus for media interaction, instructing students to view the segment and record answers to the following questions on their Student Response Sheet 2: The Five Pillars of Islam:

    • What is the goal or focus of the Hajj?

    • What is the purpose of the special garments that the pilgrims wear?

    • How do these American Muslims react to the Hajj? In what ways is it a meaningful experience for them? What unanticipated responses did they have during their journey to Arabia?

    2. After students have viewed the segments and recorded information, discuss this questions with the class. What do they think it is like to be a pilgrim in Mecca? Why do they think Hajj is one of the Five Pillars? What other religions incorporate the idea of pilgrimage?

Part VII: Culminating Activity

  1. After students have looked more closely at each of the Five Pillars, divide them into pairs. Instruct each pair to create a poster about the Five Pillars to be displayed in the classroom and around the school to help educate their schoolmates about Islam. Drawing on the information they gathered and recorded on their Student Response Sheet as a resource, each poster must include: a listing of the Five Pillars, a description of each of the practices and how people fulfill these obligations, and illustrations or images that relate to each of the pillars. (For the illustrations and images, it may be helpful for students to view the segments and Web sites again, looking specifically for prevalent visual images and symbols, if they do not remember what they have seen previously. They can also look at the sites below for imagery.) Have students share their completed posters with the class, discussing the information and images used on the posters. To visually enhance their poster, students can use PBS LearningMedia to search for images of Islamic Art. Alternatively, students may wish to create a PowerPoint presentation, infographic, or video.
  2. Ask students to take out the list they brainstormed in the introductory activity. Ask them to review and revise the list based on what they've learned in this lesson. How have their conceptions of Islam changed?


World Cultures/ Comparative Religion

Have students research other religions, such as Judaism and Hinduism, and learn about their basic practices and duties. Students will then create a project that illustrates the similarities and differences among these religions, and Islam, in relation to practices and duties.

Sociology/ Culture/ Religion

Leading a religious life and fulfilling religious duties can sometimes seem to conflict with modern life and society. Contact local mosques or community centers and have students speak with Muslims in their community about how they fulfill their duties as outlined in the Five Pillars and how these practices fit into their busy lives with work, school, and family. If students cannot speak with Muslims in their community, use resources such as Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, the BBC, and NPR, which have features on Muslims and their daily lives and practices.

Community Connections

If possible, have your students meet with Muslims in your community to learn about their religious practices and views. Interview Muslims who have participated in Hajj, and talk to Muslims during the month of Ramadan to learn about fasting and almsgiving. Contact religious leaders or scholars to learn more about prayer and belief. Be sure to clarify the difference between teaching religion and teaching about religion in the classroom for any presenters.

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