Get Some Perspective!

Addressing questions from multiple viewpoints is vitally important at Wildwood. It’s a kind of learning embedded in the Habit of Perspective, and happens everyday.  In Don Smith and Lauren Sekula’s Divison Two humanities class this week students are gaining perspective directly by experiencing, first-hand, the Five Pillars of Islam—that faith’s central tenets.

Throughout this year all Division Two humanities students study world religions, grappling with questions from a range of perspectives. For this week, the questions are distinctly Islamic: How much of one’s annual income should Muslims give to the poor or charities? What is the proper way to pray to Allah?  What words must a person speak in order to become a Muslim?  To answer these questions, students rotated to three experiential stations, managed by Don, Lauren, and fellow humanities teacher, Sara Kaviar.

7th and 8th grade students practice the form for Muslim prayer, or salat

7th and 8th grade students practice the form for Muslim prayer, or salat

At one end of the room, Sara leads students in salat, or daily prayers. She instructs each student to stand behind large rectangles of red paper on the floor—stand-ins for sajjāda, or prayer rugs. Using a kid-friendly YouTube animation depicting salat, Sara leads the students through each step—from standing, to bowing, to full prostration with foreheads on the mat. After some initial awkwardness, the students delve in and repeat the steps several times. These kinds of experiential moments are essential, Sara says.  “We want our kids to view and experience the kinds of things that they will encounter in their multicultural world,” Sara tells me. “And engaging in the physical movements,” Sara continues, “helps reinforce the prayer’s meaning and allows students to better remember this essential element of the Islamic faith.”

charity pledges, or zakat, made by Don Smith and Lauren Sekula's students

charity pledges, or zakat, made by Don Smith and Lauren Sekula’s students

Across the room, Lauren Sekula leads a discussion about the practice of zakat, or alms-giving. Muslims, she explains, are supposed to give 2.5% of their income to the poor or charities.  Students consider this age-old practice in the context of today’s world by accepting an index card that lists a modern occupation, along with a typical yearly income. After a few mathematical calculations to determine their contributions, students then choose a modern-day charity to “give” their zakat to based on a number of non-profit profiles that Lauren’s provided on a poster.  8th grader, Kiona M., draws her sample occupation: airline pilot, salary $73,000 per year.  “That would mean,” Kiona says, doing her calculations, “that my zakat is $1,825 per year.” That’s how much she would be expected to give, but the conversation then turns to the meanings underlying this Pillar.

A student tries his hand at writing the Islamic creed, shahada

A student tries his hand at writing the Islamic creed, shahada

Examining the third of the Five Pillars, each student is guided by Don Smith through the reading and writing of the shahada—the Islamic declaration of faith. With this, Muslims declare that there is no god but Allah and that the Prophet Muhammad is his servant and messenger. Saying and truly believing the shahada is what it takes for a person to become a Muslim. The experience at this station, however, is that the students need to write the shahada in Arabic script. Don gives them a sample in Arabic, which invites them to re-create it in their own hand with calligraphy pens. Students become engrossed as they appreciate and emulate the script’s flowing curves and lines, proud of their creations when they finish.

7th grader, Olivia F., shows off her completed shahada, or Islamic creed

7th grader, Olivia F., shows off her completed shahada, or Islamic creed

Students rotated through the three stations, and paused to reflect a bit on the Muslim perspective. “If I just read something,” 8th grader Megan B. tells me, “some of it goes in one ear, so to speak, and out the other.”  But, she continues, “when I actually do something like this, it sticks.” Her classmate, fellow 8th grader Sophia S., elaborates. “When I do things like we did today,” she posits, “it makes me even more interested in and connected to the topic when I do read about it.”

Tomorrow, these students will continue to build their Islamic perspective, when their teachers guide them through the remaining two Pillars: sawm, or fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, and the hajj, the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.

By connecting these ideas and actions, and many others through the year, our humanities students are prompted to consider the world from many points of view, now, and, as a habit. In other words, always.

~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning

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