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There is a good chance that you may be asked to talk about Islam, either in your classroom or in some other public institution, in which case it is very important to keep in mind important guidelines when speaking about religions in the public square. The First Amendment Center has created guidelines to keep in mind that not only guarantee the freedom of religion but protect one from crossing the line from teaching about religion to preaching religion. These guidelines allow us to educate one another about religion in public institutions while adhering to the separation of religion and state. The following are guidelines for schools when teaching about religion:
- The school’s approach to religion is academic, not devotional.
- The school strives for student awareness of religions, but does not press for student acceptance of any religion.
- The school sponsors study about religion, not the practice of religion.
- The school may expose students to a diversity of religious views, but may not impose any particular view.
- The school educates about all religions, and does not promote or denigrate any religion.
- The school informs students about various beliefs; it does not seek to make students conform to any particular belief.
Talking about Islam is different when you are with friends and classmates from other faith traditions than when you are with your Muslim friends. Not everyone has the same background knowledge that you do, so the way you say something becomes very important.
Here are some tips and pointers about how to present information about Islam and your experience living as a Muslim:
- Preparing for the presentation: Think about who your audience is and what the purpose of your presentation is.
- If you are giving a presentation as an assignment, then it will be a little bit more formal than if you are with some of your friends and sharing information about your respective faiths.
- Recognize that you may be the first person that your classmates or the audience members are hearing talk about Islam, so they may have limited knowledge and many misconceptions.
- Practice what you want to say, and make note cards with the main points you want to cover.
- Begin by introducing yourself with background information and maybe a couple of fun facts about yourself (they don’t have to be related to Islam!) that help to convey the fact that you are just a regular young person like them.
- Present the material that you have prepared.
- If you want to add your own experiences, talk about them in the first person, using “I” statements.
- Once you are done with the presentation ask your classmates and friends if they have any questions.
- If someone asks you a question that you do not have the answer to, you can simply say “I do not know the answer to that, but I will find out and let you know.” Then you should ask someone who can help you find the answer. Check out our FAQs.
- If someone asks you a question that you are not comfortable answering, you can simply say, “I do not feel comfortable answering that question right now.”
Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when answering difficult questions:
Don’t rush to answer loaded questions
- Many questions that are asked of Muslims these days are “loaded” questions, which means they carry a lot of hidden assumptions.
- Rushing to answer a loaded question serves to reinforce and validate the stereotype or hidden assumption.
- Questions like “why are women so abused in your religion?” is a perfect example of that. The assumption here is that women are abused in our religion. They are not.
- For these types of questions do the following before answering:
- Recognize the type of question it is first, bearing in mind that not all questions are loaded.
- If you’re confronted with a loaded question, deconstruct it, by asking, “In what ways do you think women are abused in Islam?”
- Answer/address the specific issue being asked
Know your audience and situation and respond accordingly
- This affects how much detail you want to go into with your answer.
- If you have time and the person asking is close to you and you want to have a long conversation, you can get into the details of the issue.
- Generally, you won’t have a lot of time so keep things simple.
- If you add too much detail you may raise more questions than the one you are answering.
Try to relate your answer to similar issues in other religions
- For example, compare hijab to a nun’s habit or the dress of Orthodox Jewish women.
- Make sure you are 100% sure of the practice or position of the other religion which you refer to.
- When addressing actions done by Muslims, acknowledge that they are human and they make mistakes.
- Clarify that there are millions of Muslims in the world and that they vary widely in interpretation and practice.
- Don’t sugarcoat the truth or defend the indefensible.
Don’t get upset or defensive to questions in response to difficult questions
- This may be their only chance to clear up a misconception.
- Remember the fact that most Americans are exposed to the media and popular culture that for the most part demonizes Islam and Muslims.
- Understanding this will help you exercise patience in responding to questions about Islam.
- Be grateful that they’re asking the question rather than continuing with their wrong assumptions.
- Just as we request tolerance towards our religion and practices we need to be particularly sensitive when discussing other people’s religion or background.
- Be aware of your own potential biases and make an effort to overcome them.
- Be careful when answering questions that you do not insult other people, their lifestyles, cultures or religions.
- This defeats the entire purpose of your efforts and this program.
Using First Amendment Center guidelines, teach don’t preach
- Understand the difference between teaching and preaching and be aware of how well you are able to do the first and when you sound more like the second.
- It is not your job to convert people to your religion or to preach Islam as a “better” or more “correct” religion.
- This will come off as arrogant, preachy and in some instances, is against the law.