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June 10th, 2008
Suppression or Liberation: Islam, Hijab and Modern Society

Introductory Activity: Understanding the Basics of Islam

Day 1

Step 1: Assessing Prior Knowledge
Explain to your students that you will be examining the religion of Islam and how it fits in with modern society. Begin by asking your students, as a whole class, to brainstorm a list of things that they know about Islam and record their answers. It is possible that they will give answers that are incorrect, but record all items that the students offer. Students are likely to respond: Mecca, prayer, Sharia, Allah, jihad, mosque, Koran (Qur’an), Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, conservative women’s dress. After students have given a list of as many things as they can think of, review the list with them and discuss their views and perceptions of Islam.

It is important to note, however, that when doing this exercise students may give answers that are both factually incorrect, such as polytheistic, as well as answers that may be stereotypes and are not indicative of all Muslims. For example, in today’s political climate it is possible that students may offer Al-Qaeda or terrorist as a response. It is important to hear the stereotypes and preconceptions that students have, and this exercise offers the opportunity for teachers to address these misconceptions. One way in which a teacher could address such responses is to record these responses on a different section of the blackboard. When students are finished brainstorming, address these issues first. Engage the students in a discussion about why they gave these answers. Explain that religious texts and beliefs are interpreted by people in different ways, and that practices vary among members of all religions. If possible, give examples from religions that students may be more familiar with. Also, explain that, sometimes, religious beliefs and political agendas and beliefs are mixed together, but that these political goals are not necessarily representative of the main beliefs of a religion. 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 discuss how some of these groups and stereotypes compare to the main beliefs of Islam.

Step 2: Understanding the Basics of Islam
Explain to your students that in order to examine Islam and Modern Society, they must have a basic understanding of the fundamentals of Islam. Instruct students to go to the Website “Beliefs and Daily Lives of Muslims,” Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, instructing them to read the information on the page and record the answers to the questions on their student response sheets. They are to record the six major beliefs of Muslims and a brief explanation of each, the Five Pillars of Islam and a brief explanation of each, a brief description of the daily life of Muslims, and each of the aspects of the role of women in Islam and a brief description of each. Check for comprehension by discussing the questions and answers to those questions. Students should have listed and described the six major beliefs of Islam, which are belief in one God, angels of God, the books of God, the existence of prophets or messengers from God, the day of judgment, and the divine degree. The five pillars of Islam are the declaration of faith (shahada), prayer (salat), charity (zakat), fasting (sawm), and pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj). Some of the rules for daily life that they will explain are prohibitions, the role of the clergy, and conversion to Islam. They will also list and describe the roles of women is Islam, such as marriage, family life, public life, modesty, and relations between men and women. After you have reviewed this information, go back to the list of brainstormed items and correct any inaccurate items.

Learning Activities: Women, Islam, and Hijab
Step 1: What is hijab and why do Muslim women wear it?
Explain to your students that you will be taking a closer look at women in Islam and the concept of modest dress. This idea comes from various passages of Muslim holy books, such as the Qur’an, and one clothing item which is used is hijab (a veil which covers the head and neck). Instruct the students to go to the Website “The Question of Hijab: Suppression or Liberation?” Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, instructing them to read the information on the Web page and answer the corresponding questions on the Student Response Sheet. They are to record the reasons why women wear hijab, summarize the quotes from the Qur’an that refer to women and modesty, and list and explain the two requirements for a woman’s dress and where these requirements originated. Check for comprehension by discussing the questions and answers with the students. Women wear hijab to maintain modesty. The passages from the Qur’an refer to drawing their outer garments over their bodies when they are among men, that men and women should lower their gazes when with someone of the opposite sex and guard their modesty, that women would not display their beauty or ornaments, and that they should draw veils over themselves and display themselves only to their husbands. The two requirements of women’s clothing are that only the face and hands may be exposed, and that they must wear loose fitting clothing. If any of your students have personal experiences with hijab — either they wear hijab or members of their family or friends do — provide them with an opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences.


Step 2: What does hijab look like?
Explain to your students that now that they know the background of the hijab, they will be looking at different images of them. The extent to which women must cover themselves varies from country to country and among various sects, depending on how strictly or loosely they interpret the passages from the Qur’an. Some women wear hijabs that loosely cover their hair and neck, while other women wear very full coverings that conceal almost their entire bodies. These outfits are not just hijab, but they include other garments, such as niqab (the face veil), chador (a full-body covering that leaves the face exposed), and burqa (a loose-fitting garment which covers the woman from head to toe and covers her face with a mesh weave that enables her to see). Explain to students that they are going to view two Web sites with images of hijab, as well as other Islamic garments: “Fashion Show?” and “ Unique and Modest Clothing” — the buttons for “Hijabs-Square Scarves” and “Jilbabs-Abayas-Burqas”. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, instructing them to view the thirteen images in the fashion show, look at the hijabs, niqabs, and burqas being sold, and write a paragraph about their views of and reactions to the images. They should include specific examples to support their statements. Check for comprehension and have students share their responses with the class. Do they prefer some of the garments over others? Do these garments appear to be comfortable? Practical? If they had to wear hijabs or burqas, how would they feel?

Step 3: Views on hijab in modern society
Often, people in modern societies view hijab and other coverings as oppressive. The concept of a woman dressing modestly and covering her hair and face is contrary to images that we are bombarded with in popular culture, such as famous singers and actresses wearing little clothing and exposing much of their body for people to see. Some people see hijabs, niqabs, and burqas as a way of making women invisible and taking away their freedom to choose what to wear. Have students brainstorm, as a class, a list of modern people and ideas that conflict with modesty, hijab, and other coverings. How do they feel about these “modern” people and ideas? Do they approve of these more revealing standards? Do they view these revealing fashions and ideas for women to be liberating, or do they see it as oppressive? Why?

Some women have a different view of these coverings. For them, hijab is not simply a piece of clothing but a symbol of who they are, what they believe, and how they value themselves and their bodies. They see them as liberating garments that force the world to see them as more than a sexual object. Instruct the students go to the Web page “Global Connections: The Middle East — The ‘Veil,’” Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, instructing them to go to the section marked “The ‘Veil,’” watch the related video, “Veiling and Feminism,” and answer the corresponding questions on their student response sheets. They should record a summary of the argument that Barbara Petzen makes, as well as their reaction to this argument. Check for comprehension by having students share their views on Petzen’s argument. Petzen states that some women who wear hijab cover their bodies so that their interactions with people are not based on sexual interactions and feelings. She feels it is a feminist statement because it forces people to see women as more than sexual objects, and gives the woman the right to guard her sexuality. Young women, and those in non-Muslim countries, are also in support of wearing hijab for similar reasons to those that Petzen states. Have students go to the Web site “Young Muslim Women are Reclaiming the Hijab,” Provide them with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, instructing them to read the article by Naheed Mustafa and record a brief summary of the article on their Student Response Sheet. They are to include specific examples that the author uses to make her argument. Again, check for comprehension and let students share their responses to the article. She writes that people often think her strange for wearing hijab and that they do not understand why she would want to do so. She asserts that hijab gives her freedom from being objectified and judged based on how attractive she is.

DAYS 3 & 4

In some countries women are required to cover themselves. For example, in countries such as Iran women must wear a hijab, and some wear a chador. In Saudi Arabia, women must wear a niqab, and in Afghanistan, under Taliban rule, women were required to wear a burqa. However, others feel that the hijab and other body coverings prevent women from being part of a modern, secular world. This is the case in Turkey, where the government outlawed women from wearing hijab in public places. Instruct students to go to the Web site “Portrait of Ordinary Muslims: Turkey,” Provide them with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, instructing them to view the video clip and answer the corresponding questions on their Student Response Sheet. They are to record the reason that the government outlawed hijab, how the women who were interviewed feel about the ban, and how it has affected their lives. Check for comprehension by discussing the answers to the questions. The government created a crackdown on symbols of religion in the secular society. It is a way to prevent Turkey from becoming a country ruled by a religious government. The women who were interviewed are not allowed to wear their head scarves to class or to the library, so they cannot finish their studies. Do they agree with what the Turkish government did? Why or why not?

Culminating Activity: Putting Students’ Point of View into Writing

Step 1: After reading all of the different articles and viewing the various video clips, students have gotten a fuller understanding of hijab and the different views of this practice in modern society. At this point, explain to the students that they are going to be writing in the role of a magazine reporter who is writing an article about hijab in modern society. Instruct them to write an article using the information that they gathered from the various Web sites and recorded on their Student Response Sheets. After they have reported about this idea, they are to include a section of the article in which they share their opinion on hijab and modesty in today’s society, using specific examples to support their argument. Once the students have finished their writing, have some students share their articles with the class.

Step 2: Give the students the opportunity to discuss what they have learned. How did they feel about hijab when the lesson began? Do they feel differently after reading the articles and viewing the video clips? Why or why not? Do they see a difference between hijab, niqab, and burqa? Do they feel any of them are more or less oppressive or liberating than the other? What factors in their lives affect how they choose to dress? Are they affected by television and magazines? Religious beliefs? Cultural beliefs? Would they make any changes to the standards of dress in their society? Why or why not? Which changes would they make?

Cross-Curricular Extensions

Law/ Government
The issue of religious freedom and the right to practice that religion can conflict with laws and practices of modern society. One example of this is the recent lawsuit in Florida in which a Muslim woman, Sultaana Freeman, charged that the state was violating her civil rights because she was required to remove her veil for her driver’s license photograph. Have students research this case and others like it. Have them write a persuasive essay about religious freedom and rights and the extent to which it should or should not be limited in this country.

World Cultures/ Comparative Religion
Have students research other religions and learn about their standards of dress and modesty. Students will then create a project that illustrates the similarities and differences within these religions in relation to fashion and modern society.

Sociology/ Culture/ Religion
Religious practices are often at odds with what modern society dictates. Have students research these other examples, such as Judaism and the observance of Shabbat or the Amish and their view of education.

Community Connections

  • If possible, have your students meet with Muslim women in your community to learn about their religious practices and views, as well as the different roles of women in Islam.
  • Have students contact various Muslim women’s groups around the world, such as the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA —, through letters or email. Students can gather information about the governmental requirements for women, modesty, and dress in specific countries and the effects of these requirements on the women who live there

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