The Seminar’s Scope

“Muslim lenses on the American experience help us understand American history better. Muslims have been part of the building of the United States at least since slavery, and in the seminar, we got to read primary sources every day that painted a diverse and humanized picture of Muslim participation in our country. Getting to immerse myself in that kind of scholarship and storytelling equips me to show students (and colleagues) how we know that Muslims are a dynamic and internally diverse group.” –2017 Participant

Omar ibn Sayyid
In 1831, Omar ibn Said, an enslaved African American, wrote the first Arabic-language memoir in the United States

Muslim Americans have become the most racially and ethnically diverse religious community in the United States. This seminar aimed to introduce K-12 teachers to both their past and their present.

Below you can find a summary of the seminar content. But if you would like to learn more, please download the full grant application narrative.

The seminar explored the narratives of enslaved African American Muslims such as Abd al-Rahman Ibrahima, who visited John Quincy Adam’s White House and toured the country as an antislavery speaker. It looked at about Gilded Age Muslim immigrants such as Mary Juma, a homesteader born in Ottoman Syria who moved with her husband to Ross, North Dakota, and helped to build a little mosque on the prairie in the 1930s. Finally, scholars learned why thousands of African Americans converted to various forms of Islam in between World War I and World War II, and how African American Muslims such as Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali became singularly important figures in the era of civil rights and the Vietnam War.  

The second unit of the seminar then examined the Muslim American present, answering questions that many American students and Americans more generally have about Muslim American life. These questions include: how do Muslim Americans view their country, and what are their attitudes toward participating in public life? How does gender affect the lives of Muslim American men and women, especially in the mosque? How do Muslim American actually practice their religion—from teaching their kids about God and going on pilgrimage to Mecca to making end-of-life decisions and applying their ethics to family financial decisions? 


Our readings included thirty primary source documents, most of which are compiled in the Columbia Sourcebook for Muslims in the Unites States.  We encountered a wide variety of genres: poetry, speeches, missionary tracts, interviews, newspaper articles, song lyrics, memoirs, blogs, jokes, and religious rulings.


We also studied Kambiz GhaneaBassiri’s History of Islam in America, which offers a sweeping, but detailed history of Muslim communities from the colonial age to the present. By reading this secondary account alongside the primary source documents, our seminar became a space where teachers could think critically about the Muslim American experience.

Field Trips

“The highlight of the seminar… these visits not only put faces with the people and movements we were studying, but also allowed us to challenge or affirm ideas put forth in the readings” –2015 Participant

In addition to discussing assigned primary source documents and academic monographs, seminar participants made two field trips to two different mosques for Friday congregational prayers. One mosque is located in the heart of Black Indianapolis; the other is situated in suburban Fishers. 

Teaching Tools

Finally, throughout the three-week seminar, participants worked on individual teaching tools that they could use in their classrooms. These projects, many of which are now posted on the project website, included original AP U.S. history assessments on Muslim America, math and music units for elementary and middle school students, numerous ideas on how to teach Muslim American literature, and social studies lesson plan on various Islamic religious practices.