Arab and Muslim Americans

The Middle East is made up of many communities that encompass different ethnic groups, cultures, religions and languages. Sometimes these identities overlap but there are also important distinctions, which can be difficult to distinguish. Both Muslims and Arabs represent significant portions of the diverse American population. They played vital roles in industries that made the nation what it is today and their cultural contributions are far-reaching and profound. Since the September 11th terror attacks, a constant spotlight has been centered on Muslim and Arab populations, both here in the United States, and across the world.
Depending on where you live, your classroom may highly diverse, or perhaps you or your students have never met a Muslim or Arab. Either way, it’s important to teach students of all ages about the realities of the Arab and Muslim experience in America (often very different than how it is portrayed on TV!) so that they can be thoughtful and informed members of your community. Refer to our resource guides on Islam and Islamic Terrorism (upcoming) if questions come up about extremism. If you have Muslim or Arab students in your class, take care to ensure that they feel comfortable and they do not feel compelled to speak for their entire cultural or religious group.

Before beginning this conversation in class, click here for resources on how to address difficult topics in the classroom, including guidelines for educators on countering intolerance and discrimination against Muslims, an audio conversation with educators about teaching controversial issues, and more. Also, read this article from The New York Times on how to encourage civil classroom discussion on difficult issues. Finally, click here for a list of vocabulary terms about the Middle East, which can be helpful to have on hand when teaching these topics.

 


Recommended Topics to Discuss
  • Arabs vs. Muslims; who are American Arabs and Muslims?
  • The history of Arab and Muslims in America
  • Violence against Arabs and Muslims
  • Prejudice against Arabs and Muslims following terrorist attacks
  • The ways in which Arab and Muslim Americans embody American values while maintaining their cultures
  • Emphasize to students that the incredibly vast majority of Arab and Muslim Americans are not violent
Background Information
Lesson Plans and Teaching Materials
Films & Documentaries
Tip: check out Kanopy for additional educational films, available through libraries and universities
  • Amreeka — A Palestinian woman and her teenage son cope with culture clash and more as they try to build a new life in rural Illinois (1h 37m; available on Amazon Prime Video)
  • 30 Days: Muslim in America — a Christian man from the Bible Belt of America lives with a Muslim family in Michigan for a month, drastically changing his perspectives of Muslims and Islam (45m)
  • American Arab — “Filmmaker Usama Alshaibi sheds light on the multifaceted Arab-American experience in post-9/11 America” (1h 3m; available on Amazon, YouTube, and iTunes)
  • The Iranian Americans — “chronicles the underreported history of a diverse group of immigrants finding refuge, overcoming adversity, and ultimately creating new lives in the United States” (52m)
  • The Arab Americans — “paints a portrait of the Arab-American immigrant experience through the stories of people who, like all Americans, immigrated in pursuit of the American Dream”
  • Arab American Stories — a series with each episode profiling an average Arab American
  • PBS: Born in the USA – Muslim Americans — “challenges the misrepresentations of Muslims in America. It follows a Muslim American doctor and teacher in a post 9-11 world” (1h)
  • The Guardian: Dearborn, Michigan— documentary about the Muslim community in the town with the largest mosque in the North America (17m)
  • I Exist: Voices From the Lesbian and Gay Middle Eastern Community in the U.S. — groundbreaking documentary that gives voice to a group that has long remained silent out of shame and fear of ostracism — (57m)
Series/Shows
  • Ramy — a comedy series that follows “a first-generation American Muslim who is on a spiritual journey in his politically divided New Jersey neighborhood. It explores the challenges of what it is like being caught between an Egyptian community… and a Millennial generation” (available on Hulu)
  • Dalya’s Other Country — “tells the nuanced story of members of a family displaced by the Syrian conflict who are remaking themselves after the parents separate” (PBS)
YouTube Videos
Podcasts
Books
Several of these books specifically address the anti-Muslim statements and policies of Donald Trump. We encourage educators to decide for themselves if they would like to recommend these books to students.
  • A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi — follows a teenage Muslim-American girl living in a post-9/11 world that is highly intolerant of Muslims
  • This Muslim American Life: Dispatches from the War on Terror — the author “exposes how contemporary politics, movies, novels, media experts and more have together produced a culture of fear and suspicion that…threatens all of our civil liberties in the present”
  • Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age Story by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh — “a harrowing and candid memoir about coming of age as a Muslim American in the wake of 9/11, during the never-ending war on terror, and through the Trump era of casual racism”
  • Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed — “an Indian-American Muslim teen copes with Islamophobia, cultural divides among peers and parents, and a reality she can neither explain nor escape”
  • Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan series by G. Willow Wilson — “Kamala Khan is an ordinary girl from Jersey City — until she suddenly gains extraordinary gifts. But who is she now? Teenager? Muslim? Inhuman?”
  • Mariam Sharma Hits the Road by Sheba Karim — “Three Pakistani-American teenagers, on a trip through the land of pork ribs, mechanical bulls, and Confederate flags”
  • How Does It Feel To Be A Problem? by Moutsafa Bayoumi — “A study of the Arab- and Muslim-American experience as reflected in the lives of seven young men and women in Brooklyn evaluates their encounters with prejudice and their relationships with friends and family members in the Middle East”
  • Love Thy Neighbor: A Muslim Doctor’s Struggle for Home in Rural America by Ayaz Virji and Alan Eisenstock — A powerful true story about a Muslim doctor’s service to small-town America and the hope of overcoming our country’s climate of hostility and fear”
Local Resources
  • Are you looking for someone local to talk to your class about Islam – maybe a local faith leader, organizer, or imam? Search IslamicFinder for a database of mosques and Islamic center in your area, and consider reaching out. Many people are happy to come share their religion and culture with a classroom!
Need more info? Click here for a list of National Resource Centers on the Middle East.
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