Islamic Worldview Shaping Curriculum

Teaching Islamic History within a Global Paradigm and Integrated Curriculum

Susan L. Douglass

Teaching History in Schools

The task of laying out approaches to teaching history, and within it, Islamic history, requires us to look at existing models on several levels. Curriculum development occurs within constraints at each level, from the lower to the upper grades. At the highest level is the paradigm of school subjects. Schooling has been structured and assessed almost universally according to isolated subjects. The next level is the divisions within the subject areas. Even these tend to be compartmentalized according to disciplines rather than integrated. At the implementation level, teachers are trained to teach single subject areas; school administrations, processes of lesson planning, and the flow of scheduling all reinforce this separation.

Despite this ingrained structure of separation, progressive educational thinking has, for decades, emphasized making connections, interdisciplinary thinking, and the cross-cultural curriculum goals of teaching thinking skills, research and analytical skills. In the twenty-first century, the complex and seemingly intractable nature of global challenges have raised awareness of the need for creative, collaborative, interdisciplinary thinking - “thinking out of the box.” Without systematic training in interdisciplinary thinking and integrating knowledge acquired throughout education systems, it is unrealistic to expect humanity to achieve this valued ability across the educated population. As will be discussed later in this chapter, this integrated, holistic model is very much in keeping with an Islamic educational paradigm.

This chapter concerns teaching the sub-discipline of history within social studies curricula. This set of challenges stems from the legacy of history education over the past two centuries at least, the need to reflect recent pedagogical research, and to be aware of the new directions that history as a field has taken. Schooling has lagged behind both the state of the knowledge field and of history pedagogy. The fact that history education is a highly politicized subject - especially in government-sponsored schools - has been a further drag on forward movement.

Teaching History within the Social Studies

History is part of the teaching field called Social Studies, sometimes History and Social Science. Social Studies as a subject includes the core disciplines of history, geography, civics/government, and economics, as well as political science, international relations, sociology, and anthropology. The social sciences are seldom taught separately in schools, but their methodologies and content feature in many courses.

Social Studies can be a focal point for integrating the curriculum across school subjects beyond the field itself. This fact is not particularly controversial, and like interdisciplinary thinking in all subjects, it is encouraged when it happens. For example, students learning about a period of history might naturally study literature and art from the period, but ideally, it would not end there. Mathematics features in statistics about history, and apart from the history of science, much recent historical evidence relies upon sophisticated sciences and technologies. Humanities are closely linked to historical studies and are appreciated and understood through careful curricular integration with national, Islamic, and world history studies. Geography should be a strand running throughout the K-12 program and not reserved to stand-alone geography survey courses. Economics and civics/ government are often boring and abstract when taught in isolated courses, but take on meaning when linked to ancient or recent historical developments.

Teaching across subject areas occurs most often in the elementary grades, especially in self-contained classrooms; multi-subject teacher collaboration requires time and effort often not well supported by administrators. A hindrance to integration is that in middle and high school, the need for depth of coverage often overshadows the need for integration of the disciplines. Unfortunately, the dividends of integrated learning would be greatest for secondary students, whose cumulative knowledge would allow them to make connections across disciplines. If they have been trained to think (and significantly, to be assessed) within subject area guardrails, it will be difficult to make the leap.

What are the obstacles to integration of the disciplines within and across school subjects? Curriculum and textbook development are siloed activities in all of the settings where they occur - at the level of education departments or ministries, in commercial textbook publishing houses, and in school districts and individual schools, where administrators fail to provide lesson planning or summer curriculum development time or agendas that encourage collaboration. Academic standards have tended with few exceptions to be developed and approved in subject-area isolation - even within the four core disciplines of history, geography, civics/government, and economics. With the exception of a few progressive educational settings in public and private school systems, integration as a universally desirable goal of education gets short shrift in the implementation. We will return to the subject of curriculum integration after discussing challenges in social studies curriculum, which affect the extent of integration that is possible and likely to occur.

Politicized History Education and Culture Wars

History education is roughly divided into two categories that are reflected in school curricula everywhere - national and world history. Since the advent of nation-states, national history has been a dominant aspect ofschooling. Benedict Anderson, in his seminal work Imagined Communities, identified national history as a factor underpinning unification around the story of nations’ unfolding. The founders, the milestones, and even the conflicts form the narrative of remembering and “remembering to forget” (Anderson, 2016, pp. 187-206). For the purposes of this article, we need only elaborate on Anderson’s observations in terms of the way in which national history is structured into the school program. Typically, this program includes multiple repetitions of the story of the nation in elementary, middle, and high school. The content is concentrated into a year’s course (in the United States, at grades 5, 8, and 11) in which little reference is made to how the nation’s history is situated in the global context. To students receiving such instruction, it could seem that each nation is a planet unto itself, although the origins of modern nation-states are incomprehensible without global context.

World history, or the study of human activity across the globe and through time, holds a lesser place than national history in school programs. Students used to receive their first survey of the world in upper elementary grades, and then perhaps take survey course in high school. Some school programs substitute world geography courses over world history. In contrast to national history, requirements to learn world history are not universal. Worldwide, it is difficult to ascertain how many countries actually teach some configuration of world history, ranging from scant mention in elementary grades, to 1-2 year secondary survey courses. A recent study was unable to gather information on all countries, but identified trends in European, Asian, and a few other regions, where world history exposure lags far behind national history and is not seen as crucial for identity formation in youth, nor national unity, and classroom time is seen as being in competition with national history. Where it does exist, the Eurocentric legacy of world history study, and post-colonial, nationalistic responses to it, are prevalent, with few exceptions (Girard & McArthur, 2018). In some secondary education systems separated by humanities and science tracks -in the Middle East and former British and French colonies - only humanities-track students might be exposed to world history after middle school, or it may not be required at all.

Where world history survey courses are required, there are further divisions in approach. The legacy of teaching world history in mass education lies in the early nineteenth century. The “civilization” was the only unit of human society deemed worthy of inclusion, and prominence was given to the sequence of civilizations viewed as the West’s civilizational heritage - a fusion of Biblical and classical, medieval, and pre-modern history. As Europeans became aware of ancient civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, and China through discovery of texts and archaeological sites, they felt compelled to compare them to Europe’s sense of its own progressive state of “civilization” - a term that gained enormous currency during the period. Apart from excluding human societies not considered worthy, civilizations were thus graded in terms of the stage of development or decline they were perceived to represent. School history textbooks and survey curricula adopted this basic framework, which endured well into the twentieth century (Douglass, 2016, pp. 30—38).

The state of teaching world history today is characterized by three basic variants: World history courses that are based on a linear sequence of civilizations with Western civilization at the center of the narrative, and world cultures courses that include multiple cultures, which may also be taught within a geographic rather than historical framework. The “multiple cultures” model arose in the middle of the twentieth century as a result of demands to broaden the Eurocentric curriculum to be more inclusive of diversity in the student population. The third variant has been called “the New World History,” and represents a paradigm shift in framing and teaching about the world (Dunn, Mitchell, & Ward, 2016). It is a chronological study of the world organized around a series of global eras. It emphasizes the making of global connections among peoples and societies as a long-term historical process, not just a phenomenon of the past century. Its premise is that the grand sweep of the past lies not just in the histories of nation-states or civilizations, but of human societies at various levels. At the largest scale, a variant mode of teaching called “big history” incorporates “both scientific and humanistic disciplines to locate the history of our species within large scales of change up to the scale of the entire universe, and to pose large questions about human evolution and cultural development” (Dunn, 2008). The third among these models is the most closely aligned with recent scholarship, and has been gaining wider currency, but the first two models are deeply entrenched in textbooks and academic standards, and are widely taught.

The following is a summary and evaluation of approaches to teaching about the world that will help define desirable frameworks for the study of Islamic history in Muslim educational settings. The need for this is reflected in the fact that Muslim school curricula are reliant upon curricula used in the countries where they are located, due to national testing systems for college admittance or regulations that require adherence to centralized curriculum. In countries where subsidies for private schooling exist, that funding may come at the cost of curriculum requirements. In the United States, private schools are not under such constraints (with the limited exception of some charter schools with state funding); however, Muslim school administrators in the United States cite the pressure of tuition-paying parents, interpreting the schools’ need to follow “mainstream” curriculum and textbooks as arising from their mandate to prepare students for college admittance. In terms of the latter two arguments (parents and college preparation), schools that lack curriculum development resources have often failed to consider either the quality of their local or state curriculum, nor have they investigated available creative alternatives. Add to this timidity the fact that social studies is a low-status subject in comparison to mathematics, science, and English learning. Thus, a large percentage of Muslim schools adhere to local government school curriculum to a degree that no prestigious private school in their country would ever consider doing.

Models for Teaching about the World

Before turning to recommendations for structuring Islamic history into the curriculum, it will be helpful to evaluate the two major models for teaching world history. Content is important, but course structure is essential, especially in a course about the history of humanity, which is jam-packed with possible topics. Such a course must be highly selective regardless of the model used. Beyond that, we will see that while the structure of each individual course is important, the way those courses fit within a K-12 program offers important choices as well. Here, we will look at which discipline leads interdisciplinary integration in social studies courses and overall programs.

Ceography-Dominant Model for Learning about the World

One approach introduces the world through a geographic lens. Students learn about the continents and acquire rudimentary geography skills in elementary grades, but a geography-dominant approach to teaching about the world emphasizes stand-alone geography courses. These resemble a tour of world regions, country by country. Geography, unlike history, is not politically charged, but there are two contrasting approaches: One is based on facts, figures, countries, capitals, resources, and topography, usually mixed with a smattering of cultural studies; other is an inquiry approach designed to foster understanding of the complex relationship between human societies and their environment.

Organized around themes and essential questions that emphasize meaning, it helps students to acquire information-gathering and analytical skills. In the United States, the standards document Geography for Life, published in 1995, built 18 standards around 6 essential elements. It was adopted without controversy and still forms the basis for most state academic standards.

  • 1. The World in Spatial Terms
  • 2. Places and Regions
  • 3. Physical Systems
  • 4. Human Systems
  • 5. Environment and Society
  • 6. The Uses of Geography (National Geography Standard Index, n.d.)

Geography for Life, a nationwide collaboration between geographers and K-12 educators, envisions integration of geography skills at every grade level, gradually building depth of understanding and breadth of knowledge. It does not envision accomplishing its goals in single or multiple stand-alone geography surveys. It calls for integration of geographic education across the curriculum, based on the belief that: “Geographic literacy will ... be necessary for ... enhancing economic competitiveness, preserving quality of life, sustaining the environment, and ensuring national security. As individuals and as members of society, humans face decisions on where to live, what to build where, how and where to travel, how to conserve energy, how to sustainably manage scarce resources, and how to cooperate or compete with others.”

Stand-alone geography courses as a structure for teaching about the world, in contrast, are inefficient, overloaded vehicles. Built around a region-by-region survey of the world’s geographic regions, their objective is to understand the contemporary world. These courses give young students their first exposure to study of the world, however, so they must also provide a smattering of historical background on each region. The courses carry a double burden of knowledge objectives from both contemporary and historical time, along with the obligatory descriptions of physical geography, contemporary economy, and politics. They combine absurdly quick summaries of ancient and medieval civilizations, and then attempt to survey the entire modern world and its complex issues. Many of these courses contain a mininarrative of Western civilization from Mesopotamia to World War II as the only “coherent” historical sequence in the textbook. Other world regions are covered in a disjointed manner that cuts them oft'from global historical developments. India, China, Africa, the Muslim world, and Southeast Asia are often covered chapters and chapters after the survey of Europe (months in the school year), fully detached from any connective narrative. We can assume that many classes never complete most of the chapters by the end of the year. Even if they do, students will gain the impression of static culture regions, each running its own movie.

This approach in fact violates accepted learning and skills objectives of geographic education itself. While geographers recognize that the meaning and configuration of regions changes with time and disciplinary perspective, these courses are structured around contemporary divisions of the post-colonial world. In fact, not only do these regional designations represent strategic economic and military divisions, but they evolved out of the Cold War division into First, Second, and Third World (capitalist, communist, and underdeveloped or developing world). Modern regions are treated deterministically as if they had always been thus. This is in distinct contradiction to the geography standards’ learning objectives on the definition of “region” as a flexible, dynamic aid to comprehending the world from different perspectives. The elastic, poorly defined and named region called “The Middle East” is a prime example. Definitions of the Middle East in textbooks, maps, and curriculum projects vary wildly in boundaries. They may include a range of countries from Mauritania to Kazakhstan, or any configuration in between. Simplistic sketches of civilizations in these regions often harbor factual errors and misconceptions, foster stereotypes, favor political over sociocultural history, or skip over pre-modern history altogether. The impression is of a fragmented, static world. Historical developments did not follow patterns based on modern political or strategic regions today, nor did they stop at the borders of continents. This regional geographic approach to the world is like peering into a series of opaque tunnels: No tunnel allows the viewer to see what was happening in other tunnels at the same time or to see the spaces between the tunnels. Students might be led to imagine that around the world, non-Western cultures arose and reached a dead end in modern underdevelopment. This model gives students no idea how we got here from the past.

At best, a stand-alone geography survey might be beneficial if offered after students have a grounding in both world and national history. Then it would approximate a Global Studies or Global Issues research course at the high school level. The heart and soul of geography studies is to foster understanding of the dynamic relationship between human activity and the physical world, changing human perceptions of physical space that vary with time, location, and learning about multiple, lived cultural perspectives. Stand-alone geography courses do not fulfill the geography standards when substituted for integrated learning over time.

History-Dominant Models for Learning about the World

History-dominant social studies programs position history as the discipline that drives the social studies curriculum, meaning that geography, economics, the auxiliary social sciences, and humanities, are integrated into history. The most ineffective

but typical structure of history-dominant programs, however, is alternating mandatory, repetitive national and world history surveys in elementary, middle, and high school. This is probably the reason so many students abhor history studies; they are shallow and jammed with facts and mind-numbing assessment strategies. Critiques of this outdated but pervasive model suggested improving the historydominant approach with the concept that national and world history surveys be chronologically “draped” across three grade levels. National history can be divided into periods corresponding to elementary, middle, and high school, with review units that fill the gaps between courses. World history surveys may begin at upper elementary level with pre-history through classical times, middle school from post-classical to the Enlightenment, and high school world history on modern history.

The value of the sequential, draped programs for teaching about the world is that (1) they allow sufficient classroom time to concentrate on topics in depth; (2) they integrate various realms of history into a coherent narrative framework rather than switchbacks from one topic to another; (3) draped courses allow for integration of geography, economics, arts, and humanities as tools for learning about history; and (4) they allow time to develop analytical and critical thinking skills and research skills. In history-dominant programs, interdisciplinary learning is incorporated into its varied historical rather than theoretical context, using the disciplines to illustrate dynamic trends in human development.

The Building Blocks of Teaching about the World

Structural differences in curriculum framing come into sharpest relief in world history. As we have seen, the geographic approach is organized around modern world regions. Among history programs, the building block or organizing unit of the traditional approach is the “civilization.” The new world history paradigm is organized around a sequence of global historical periods called “eras.” This section explains and evaluates these two, leading to the implications for teaching Islamic history.

The "Civilizations" Approach to World History

The model that emerged in the nineteenth century, which is still reflected in many textbooks and academic standards, is to organize around a linear sequence of discrete civilizations. The core narrative in such courses has been the sequence of civilizations viewed as leading to European/Western civilization. Western civilization is seen to emerge in the Near East, taking in the Biblical story across the region, then traces the classical heritage of Greece and Rome, followed by medieval history of Christendom, the Renaissance, and the modern rise to global dominance, from industrialization to the twentieth century and today. Figure 7.1 illustrates the basic scheme of this model of covering civilizations on which many textbooks are based.

Traditional world history model

FIGURE 7.1 Traditional world history model

Decades of protest against this Eurocentric model and the pressures of increasing knowledge of so-called “non-Western” cultures resulted in the addition of civilizations to the traditional sequence. Therein lies the model’s flaw: In order to be added to the curriculum, a topic or region must qualify as “a civilization,” a very fraught process with overtones of racism and stereotyping already present in the fact that these courses developed concurrently with nineteenth century Western imperialism.

Gradually, the Far East, India, “Islam,” Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Americas were added to these courses. The resulting survey content overload led to a backlash against “too much” study of “non-Western cultures.” The problem was not the number of “cultures,” but their poor integration -spliced into the existing survey course. Single chapters on China later became two or three chapters, as did India, Russia, Islam, Africa, and the Americas. Using the civilization as a building block left huge geographic gaps and omitted regions that did not host a major civilization. Central Asia is a prime example; this region of intense history seemed empty except for the meandering Silk Road and the gallop of Mongol horsemen.

The core Eurocentric narrative was left in place, and coverage of the “nonWest” faded after 1500 CE or was seen to decline and fall under the sway of European colonialism, then arrive at a modern state of underdevelopment. These structural flaws make it unlikely that students can meet the high expectations placed in these courses. They convey factual information, but sharp chronological switchbacks hamper the narrative flow. The dynamic cultural interactions such as trade and the spread of religions and historical processes such as migration and the flow of technologies are lost in checklists of civilizational achievements. Geography is a backdrop rather than the main stage. Periodization like calling the medieval period “the Dark Ages” assumes that the Western civilization narrative is universal, violating the historical thinking skill of seeing multiple perspectives. Admittedly, the Dark Age myth has faded recently in the face of overwhelming evidence of advancements that later reached Europe from elsewhere.

These limitations in the model exclude recent advances in world historical scholarship, such as cross-cultural and hemispheric trends in economic, social, environmental, and intellectual history. This outdated course structure does not meet the goals of widely accepted skills mandates.

"Global" World History: Eras Model

The paradigm shift in teaching world history is embodied in recent world history research and pedagogy. Its unit of organization is both geographic and chronological. World history can be schematized as a simple but elegant graph: The horizontal axis is the surface of the globe and the vertical axis is a chronological sequence of historical eras from the ancient (or even geological) past to the present. The area of the graph can be imagined as a set of x, y coordinates that represent people, places, events, and societies. Any survey course will be highly selective, but the model has the potential to be comprehensively inclusive. Students will not, in one year or three, learn about everything that happened across the globe, but when they learn something new in the future, they have a scheme for locating it in time and place.

The possibilities for teaching world history based on the global eras model are profound. Instead of a self-contained survey of each major civilization in the traditional model, the world history model considers regional societies, empires, or civilizations in the context of the era in which they emerged and traces them through subsequent eras. This allows for greater chronological coherence instead of climbing up and down chronological ladders to pick out new civilizations after dropping others. History is the lead discipline for integrating geography, economics, humanities, and the other social sciences, including themes such as technology, trade, religion, and government. We can teach about interactions among societies as a topic of study, trading the checklists of cultural achievements for dynamic cross-cultural processes such as the exchange of ideas, technologies, arts, and scholarship, showing students primary sources.

Those who bemoan the lost dominance of the Western narrative in this model should realize that the history of Western Europe and national histories make much more sense in their world-historical context. Because global coverage is

more even, non-Western societies’ history has depth and meaning in the global narrative, not just a token presence or brief Golden Age. The implications for questioning racist categorizations of people and cultures are obvious, starting with the story of human migration out of Africa and continuing through colonialism whenever it occurred. Figure 7.2 illustrates the contrast between the traditional model in Figure 7.1, and shows how a model based on global eras in chronological sequence allows incorporation of themes and continuity among regional societies over time.

Comparing the two history-dominant models presented here, it is important to note that the new world history “global” model is integrative, whereas the civ-ilization-by-civilization model is additive. Under the global model, by studying interactions among societies, by tracing historical processes common to multiple societies, and by grouping societies and topics within eras, it becomes natural to mention multiple societies together, rather than as isolated stories. Integrated learning facilitates acquiring historical thinking skills, gathering information, analyzing evidence, and comparing historical perspectives. Finally, Patrick Manning, a leader in world history scholarship and pedagogy, summarized the significance of the new world history: “(1) World history helps make sense of globalization; (2) World history demonstrates our expanding knowledge about the past; (3) World history shows links from national history to the rest of the world; (4) World history sustains citizenship” (Manning, 2006).

Muslim School Models for Teaching History

Muslim schools must decide how to balance teaching “Islamic history” within social studies and Islamic studies curricula. First, they need to overcome bias against social studies as a school subject, in contrast to mathematics and sciences. To be sure, learning about Islamic history is seen as essential to identity formation. Traditionally, however, Islamic history is part of full-time schools’ Islamic Studies curriculum and includes stories of the prophets, the sirah nabmviyya (the biography of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him), and the rise and spread of Islam. Additional emphasis is placed on the Islamic Golden Age, including sciences, arts, and architecture. In Muslim majority countries, Islamic history sometimes takes the place of world history (though not world geography), and may be taught from a triumphalist perspective, emphasizing Islamic civilizational glories as a reaction to outdated Eurocentric views of Western triumphalism. Surprisingly, some post-colonial national education systems followed the outlines of the Western-centered narrative and even used translated textbooks, but staked out firm positions on the importance of their civilizational past. Thus, Islamic history exists alongside national history in Muslim majority countries as a separate, supra-national history. None of these components of “Islamic history” is well integrated into world history as a whole, but seems geared toward building a firewall of cultural confidence in students’ identity against claims of western cultural superiority (Douglass, 2016).

These same pedagogical critiques extend to teaching Islamic history in immigrant communities, which are not immune to traditional immigrant mind-sets. The current generation of school leaders in countries with Muslim minorities, however, places a high value on integrating youth into the societies where they live and teaching Muslims to participate as global citizens. These factors make it important for Muslim educators to be aware of recent developments in history scholarship and pedagogy outlined above and the detrimental effects of poorly conceived models that are widespread in their adopted countries.

There are many ways to avoid the trap of default adoption of local government school curriculum. The local curriculum may be adequate, but without study of alternatives, school leaders cannot know. Without leaving behind the mindset that a Muslim school should follow the same sequence of content, textbooks, and testing regimes as government-sponsored schools, there is no way to assess what they are missing. Is the reason for adopting local public school curriculum really that the parents insist on it or have the school leaders not done the research to make informed choices, and then make the case to parents and board members? Even adoption of programs such as the International Baccalaureate

(IB) requires a critical eye as to how they will be implemented if chosen. IB has enhanced its global outlook, but its legacy is the British system; the critical discourse around it should factor into decision-making.

Educational Ideals and Islamic History Education

Returning to the argument at the beginning of this chapter, an innovative, exciting, integrated curriculum should be the goal of Muslim schools and should be the focus of educational reform after so many decades of talking about it. There is not a single global challenge that the next generation will face that does not require seeking solutions in interdisciplinary thinking.

From an Islamic perspective, holistic education is modeled on the Quranic mandate to reflect on God’s Creation in its entirety. To realize the holistic goal of raising children in an Islamic manner is to foster their ability to see, to reason, and to absorb knowledge. It is not served by a bifurcated goal that adds a siloed Islamic studies school subject onto a secular curriculum for worldly success. A holistic Islamic education would embody an encompassing worldview. Muslim scholar Vincent Cornell explains that the Islamic model of pedagogy is “participatory learning based in interleaved reading of the scripture and the created, lived world. It teaches humans about the nature of Divine Reality ... The world is a book to be studied and learned by the person of knowledge. Both the scripture and the world are two registers of divine discourse - the texts of the Arabic Qur’an and the natural world” (Cornell, 2005). In short, education is a seamless process that intertwines “sacred” and “secular” rather than separates them. An integrated Islamic education would produce a person open to the world, neither with a diffused, inconsistent view of Islam’s place in their lives, nor with a fortress-like, “foreclosed” view of Islam that tends toward dangerously brittle, rigid thinking (§ahin, 2013). It would foster curiosity, creativity, and an informed, well-rounded view based on exploration of the inner and outer worlds.

What models of social studies education align with such curriculum goals? The new world history paradigm has the potential to overcome the limitations of narrow history approaches. Placing national history into a global context has also gained broad support in academic and pedagogical circles, and it applies as well to the supra-national task of teaching Islamic history to Muslim students. The new eras-based world history can overcome the limitations of both the outdated, unbalanced Eurocentric approach and the additive Multiple Cultures approach. Its goal is to view Islamic history in the world and the world in Islamic history.

The paradigm described as the new world history is a platform for integrating the disciplines or school subjects. Science and language arts content often crosses over with learning in social studies, tying together related learning. Similar process skills across the core disciplines bring additional evidence that integrating curriculum is necessary and more effective than a fragmented approach. For the first time, precise statements on what students can be expected to know and be able to do allow curriculum mapping that brings many subject areas together toward a connected education. Integration is a more efficient approach that requires some effort to launch, but pays dividends in creating meaningful classroom experiences and global understanding. Academic standards in the core subjects can also serve as a scaffold for integrating Islamic knowledge into the curriculum:

  • • Incorporate Islamic history into social studies programs without overloading the curriculum, by featuring history as the lead discipline in sequential, interdisciplinary courses in national and world history that include the humanities and sciences.
  • • Overcome the myopic focus on Islamic interaction with the West (and too often defensive teaching), and include hemispheric and global interactions in other regions (Africa, Central Asia, the Indian Ocean, for example), which were catalysts to move ideas, technologies, and artistic styles. There are many classroom resources that are helpful in bringing out this multipolar perspective. A current project, entitled the Middle East Pedagogy Initiative (MESPI), can be found at, includes a Secondary Education Module with a copious Teacher’s Resource Guide to practical world history resources (MESPI, n.d.).

The promulgation of detailed academic standards by leading scholars and professional associations in the past few decades provides a road map of content and skills that make up a college preparatory, globally focused curriculum. Such documents are available online in full text versions that can be used to forge a creative curriculum. Muslim educators need to realize that many local government curricula are actually watered-down versions of detailed academic standards and frameworks in the disciplines.

Approaches to Islamic History

Previous sections of this chapter laid out the challenges, existing programs, and frameworks within which Islamic history can be incorporated into Muslim School curricula, and argued for teaching within an interdisciplinary curriculum. It remains to highlight a few historical approaches by prominent world historians that offer refreshing perspectives.

The first is a perspective developed by Marshall G. S. Hodgson, whose work The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization, became a pillar of the emerging world history paradigm and a departure from Orientalist views (Hodgson, 2009). Hodgson forged a path toward a view of social and intellectual history that went beyond the view of Islam as empire, and beyond the “golden age and decline” formula to place Islam in its global context. Generations historians of Islamic history have taken direction from Hodgson’s (2009) work. Richard Bulliet, a versatile scholar who studied early Islam in Iran, went on to describe and quantify the process of conversion to Islam in the first four centuries (Bulliet, 1994). Bulliet moved away from the typical political history approach to advocate “the view from the edge” of Islamic history (Bulliet, 1994; Bulliet et al., 2004). By leaving behind the view from the political center, which viewed Islamic society from dynastic palace walls, Bulliet explained the forces that sustained Islamic civilization after the end of empire, especially the ulama’, or Islamic scholars. For the study of Islamic history in the classroom, this fertile approach highlights the many interconnections of Muslims within Afroeurasia and the world and illustrates the dynamic qualities of Muslim society.

It was the botanist Andrew Watson who, while studying the migration of food, fiber, and medicinal plants across the eastern hemisphere, characterized Muslim society as “a medium for diffusion” (Watson, 2008). Watson noted the almost unimaginable movement of people, crops, and technologies that resulted in the spread of what became global cash crops and irrigation methods through migrating farmers, diplomats, merchants, and pilgrims along the growing trade routes linking Afroeurasia from the seventh century on. His work points the way to applying this concept of Islam as “a medium for diffusion” more broadly.

Another world history innovator and student of Hodgson is Edmund Burke III, historian of modern Islam. Burke conceived of a model for understanding the world-historical process of collective learning and its significance. His article “Islam at the Center: Technological Complexes and the Roots of Modernity” (2009) describes a set of technological complexes or “toolkits” that accumulated over millennia in the sciences, mathematics, governance, and writing—technologies such as textiles and metallurgy, which formed the foundation of modern world civilization. Muslims absorbed and took part in advancing these technologies, which are the result of its openness to innovation, its sustained contributions, and its role as a medium for diffusion. This approach takes students of history far beyond the approach of multicultural textbooks that feature token checklists of “What WE got from THEM.” Instead, students learn about the gradual emergence of essential technologies and their complex pathways of transmission. This is not an Islamo-centric view, but an opening to understand the significance of human collective learning over time, and to appreciate how cultural interactions moved this knowledge production among civilizations in pre-modern times across the hemisphere, making up the technological complexes that eventually enabled “modernity” and the modern technologies that were once taught as gifts of European genius alone.

Burke’s concept is a departure from both the Eurocentric perspective on modernity and the pedagogical reliance on multiculturalism as a corrective to it. Instead, it offers students complex narratives based on exploration of evidence tracing the multiple pathways of “contributions” to the world we have today, with all of its challenges. This world historical perspective is multi-polar and takes in large historical processes. It is more inclusive than stories of grand civilizations. Together, these examples illustrate the potential for teaching Islamic history as a complex, sustained movement beyond political history, beyond an imperial golden age, viewing it as an open society that absorbed influences, contributed achievements and radiated influences in turn.

To reiterate, what I have attempted to outline is this chapter is the following:

  • 1. Integrated, interdisciplinary curriculum is the most pedagogically sound aspiration on which to build a holistic educational experience.
  • 2. Within social studies, we need to overcome ineffective, biased structures for teaching about the world that are rooted in the rise of mass education in Europe during the imperial period and have persisted for over a century, in favor of a global model that is more equitable and more academically sound - the New World History.
  • 3. Having accepted an innovative model that is preferable to these older models, teaching about Islam benefits immeasurably by making use of the work of scholars of Islamic history (world historians both Muslim and other) whose research-based ideas and frameworks give us a better window on Islamic history within the global model I have argued for; pasting this scholarship onto the old Golden Age of Civilization model does not work.
  • 4. Select approaches shared in this chapter illustrate what a difference they make in perspective versus either Orientalist approaches or counter-approaches by Muslims defending against the Western or Orientalist notions of Islamic history.

Building upon these innovative historical approaches, a wealth of teaching materials (some of which are included after the Reference List) have been developed to illustrate these concepts with historical evidence in the form of primary sources from disciplines across the curriculum (see (MESPI, n.d.)). Building a curriculum around these and other approaches based in historical scholarship invokes not only skill development but also a sense of Muslim identity that needs no firewall; it views Islamic history in its generous global, human context, and invites Muslim students to make their own generational contributions as responsible global citizens.


Anderson, B. R. (2016). Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (revised edition ed.). London:Verso.

Bulliet, R.W. (1994). Islam:The View from the Edge. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Bulliet, R.W. (2005a). The Camel and the Wheel. New York: ACLS History E-Book Project.

Bulliet, R.W. (2005b). Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers: The Past and Future of Human-Animal Relationships. New York: Columbia University Press.

Bulliet, R. W. (2006). The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization. New York; Chichester: Columbia University Press.

Bulliet, R.W. (2011). Cotton, Climate, and Camels in Early Islamic Iran: A Moment in World History. New York: Columbia University Press.

Bulliet, R.W. (2014). Conversion to Islam in the Medieval Period.An Essay in Quantitative History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press,

Bulliet, R.W, et al. (2004). Views from the Edge: Essays in Honor of Richard W Bulliet. New York: Columbia University Press for the Middle East Institute, Columbia University.

Burke, E. III. (2009). Islam at the Center: Technological Complexes and the Roots of Modernity. Journal of World History, 20(2), 165-186. Retrieved 7 21,2020, from https:// www.jstor.oig/stable/pdf740542756.pdf.

Burke, E., & Mankin R. (2019). Islam and World History: The Ventures of Marshall Hodgson. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Cornell, V. J. (2005). Teaching and Learning in the Qur’an. The Journal of Scriptural Reasoning; JSR, 5(3). Retrieved 7 21, 2020, from

Douglass, S. (2016). Teaching the World in Three Mass Education Systems: Britain, Egypt, and India, 1950-1970. Fairfax,Virginia: George Mason University. Retrieved 7 21,2020, from https://search.proquest.eom/openview/7a00aabl5c0873fce2a90b23180d8b94/l. pdf?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750&diss=y.

Dunn, R. E. (2008). The Two World Histories. Social Education, 72(5), 257-263. Retrieved 7 21, 2020, from

Dunn, R. E„ Mitchell, L. J„ & Ward, K. (2016). The New World History: A Field Guide for Teachers and Researchers (Vol. 23). Oakland; California: University of California Press.

Girard, B., & McArthur, L. (2018). Global and World History Education. In Metzger, S. Alan, & L. M. Harris (Eds.), The Wiley International Handbook of History Teaching and Learning. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley Blackwell.

Hodgson, M. G. S. (2009a). The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization (Vols. 1-3). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Retrieved 7 21, 2020, from

Hodgson, M. G. S. (2009b). The Venture of Islam, Volume l:The Classical Age of Islam. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Hodgson, M. G. S. (2009c). The Venture of Islam, Volume 2: Conscience and History in a World Civilization. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Hodgson, M. G. S. (2009d). The Venture of Islam, Volume 3:The Gunpower Empires and Modern Times. Chicago :The University of Chicago Press. FullRecord.aspx?p=432239.Manning, P. (2006). Presenting History to Policymakers: Three Position Papers. In P. Sudhir, & D. Darlington (Eds.), Perspectives on History. Retrieved 7 21, 2020, from perspectives-on-history/march-2006/presenting-history-to-policymakers-three-position-papers.

MESPI. (n.d.). Resource Guide. (MESPI) Retrieved 7 21, 2020, from MESPI Middle East Studies Pedagogy Initiative:

§ahin, A. (2013). New Directions in Islamic Education Pedagogy & Identity Formation. England: Markfield.

National Geography Standards Index, (n.d.) (N. Geographic, Producer, & National Geographic Society) Retrieved 7 21, 2020, from National Geographic: https://www.

Tucker, J. E., Abi-Mershed O., Burke E., Clancy-Smith J. A., Granara W., Matar N. I.. & White J. M. (2019). The Making of the Modern Mediterranean: Views from the South. Oakland, California: University of California Press.

Watson, A. M. (2008). Agricultural Innovation in the Early Islamic World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Additional resources for educators

Bridging Cultures Bookshelf/Muslim Journeys at is a companion website for a project by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Library Association and the Center for Global Islamic Studies at George Mason University, featuring books and films with scholar essays, summaries, background articles, related resources and art videos and given to 953 libraries in the United States.

Georgetown University’s Education Outreach programs host teacher resources at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies teaching-resources/ and Alwaleed binTalal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding

Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean at is a set of six curriculum modules spanning pre-history to the present on integrating the Mediterranean in world history.

Institute for Religion and Civic Values (formerly the Council on Islamic Education) has released its extensive collection of curriculum materials for download at

Middle East Pedagogy Initiative ( for the Secondary Education Module at and MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Resource Guide for Secondary Teachers at for a categorized, extensive list of curriculum materials online. Other features of the site include Critical Readings for Educators: and the Database of Standards on the MENA (Middle East and North Africa): https://

Unity Productions Foundation has a teacher portal with streaming and extensive curriculum resources to accompany its documentary films on Islamic history and contemporary issues at

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