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Pedagogy: Islam in Popular Culture by Dr. Rebecca Hankins

Introduction to the Islam in American Website
by Dr. Rebecca Hankins, Workshop Keynote

Muslims are the second largest religious population in the world today, and the Pew Research Forum estimates that the number of Muslims will “increase by about 35% in the next 20 years. In the United States, for example, the population projections show the number of Muslims more than doubling over the next two decades.” [1] Muslims are and have been here for generations.  They are your neighbors, your friends, your soldiers, your doctors, your teachers, your librarians, your grocers, etc., and—most important—they are your students!  


Muslims have had a long association with this country. Muslim-led Morocco was the first country to acknowledge the then-fledgling project that was the United States, in 1777; these two countries maintain one of the longest-enduring peace treaties in American history. Such facts are indisputable, but we learn very few of these positive stories from the mainstream media or from the products of popular culture.


Unfortunately, what we do hear, incessantly, are negative stories about Muslims and Islam, especially since the Al-Qaeda attacks of September 11 and ensuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Regrettably, the attacks seemed to give U.S. media and others the permission to employ sweeping negative stereotypes about Islam and Muslims. The demonization of Muslims as generally backward, violent, and bent on the destruction of America has caused irreparable harm to Muslims and to U.S. society as a whole.  In spite of these generalizations, however, Islam continues to grow in the United States, offering avenues to inform and educate the American public. According to a recent Washington Post article, Islam is the second most followed religion after Christianity in 20 states. [2] One of those is the State of Georgia, where the Muslim population has always been significant.


Communities, and especially schools, benefit from exploring diverse perspectives and thus from admitting a diverse student body. Not only is it intellectually advantageous for students to learn about Islam in this era of globalization, but the economic benefits of understanding and reaching more than 1.6 billion people are immeasurable. Any educational institution with aspirations to excellence have a duty to offer students robust, balanced, and objective views in the study of Islam and Muslims. Now is an opportune time to integrate such learning and to incorporate this content for the benefit of student populations in secondary and higher education.


In 2010 the State of Georgia adopted the Common Core State Standards for K-12  [3] which provides opportunities to integrate the study of Islam and Muslims into the curriculum. Some examples of the Department of Education’s Course Descriptions  [4] for Spring 2014 that can be used to introduce Islamic popular culture to high school students include the following subjects with their approved course numbers:

·         Introduction to Women’s Literature (Course #23)

·         Social Studies (Course #45.008)

·         Theatre Arts (Course #52.01100 and up to 52.08400)

·         Science/Science Research/Astronomy (Courses #40.01700-#40.02100)

These course areas and others offer teachers multiple opportunities for emphasizing the contributions of Muslims to the history, culture, and literary traditions and professions. Introducing students to Islam via popular culture at the high school level can serve as prerequisites at the undergraduate level for deeper and more complex studies of Islam. For example, a course centered on Malcolm X at the high school level could examine race relations and religion in America, but on the undergraduate level students could examine the prison industrial complex and human rights. Other individuals, groups, and themes could be studied, such as Congressman Keith Ellison, Sunni and Shia distinctions and similarities, hip hop/music, women, and Muhammad Ali using this or similar formats. Teachers could structure a course around science fiction, fantasy, and/or comics that draws on creative writing at the high school level and at the undergraduate level study research methods, astronomy and mathematics using Iraj Omidvar and Anne R. Richards’s Muslims and American Popular Culture (Praeger, 2014) as a textbook for assignments.  


The choice of content must be determined in light of the desired outcomes of a course, but there are countless ways in which supplemental works portraying Muslim peoples through film, comic books and graphic novels, literature, games, and other discourse can be integrated into many syllabi.  Pre- and post-testing of knowledge will determine the effectiveness of an approach and can be accomplished through games and puzzles such as those offered on this website. What is abundantly clear is that there is no shortage of resources and opportunities available to assist in teaching about Islam in America.

Enjoy the site!

Dr. Oumar Cherif Diop,
Associate Professor of English

Dr. Diop
Dr. Anne Richards,
Associate Professor of English

Dr. Anne Richards

This page was created by Tamara Powell, 2014, with support from KSU AADS.
Edited by Joy Chibuzo, November 2014.