Debunking Stereotypes About Muslims and Islam

This activity will help students identify similarities and differences between the U.S. Muslim population and the entire U.S. population. It will also help dispel common stereotypes about Islam.
Grade Level


Activities will help students:

  • Read and interpret charts and graphs
  • Recognize differences within the U.S. Muslim population
  • Identify similarities and differences between the U.S. Muslim population and the entire U.S. population
Essential Questions
  • What are some common stereotypes about Islam? How can we dispel them?
  • How does learning about differences within a group help to dispel stereotypes?
  • How does learning about similarities among groups help to dispel stereotypes?


Many religions have things in common. At the same time, each is unique. In the shared category, Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, descends from the first five books of the Bible. That’s why some people refer to members of all three religions as “followers of the Book.” Some people also call the three religions “Abrahamic” because they all descended from Abraham. In the unique category, Jews were the first to believe that there was one God; Muslims believe that Muhammad was God’s messenger and Christians believe that Jesus Christ was the Messiah.

In the same way that religions are both alike and unique, so, too are the members of those religions. In this activity, students learn more about Muslims in the United States and practice graph-reading skills.


For information and educational materials about Islam, as well as a speakers’ bureau, visit the Islamic Networks Group. 


Part 1: Stereotypes


Before you can debunk stereotypes, you need to be clear about what they are. In this section, you will define the term, identify some stereotypes and discuss what makes stereotypes harmful.


1. Begin your work by discussing stereotypes. As a class, define the term. Then identify some stereotypes that you sometimes experience because you are a student. For example, do people sometimes make assumptions about you based on your age or on the school you attend? What is wrong about those assumptions? Generalize from your discussion by answering the question: What makes stereotypes destructive?

2. Divide the class into small groups to explore Debunking Misconceptions About Muslims and Islam. Have a group member read aloud the first misconception. Have each group member take a turn answering these questions: Have you heard this stereotype before? Did you believe it? Then have the same group member read the explanation on the handout of what makes the misconception inaccurate. Consider the other stereotypes one at a time, following the same procedure. When your group has debunked all four stereotypes, formulate a group statement that completes this prompt: In this activity about stereotypes, we learned ___________. Have each group share its statement.


Part 2: Beliefs


One way to dispel stereotypes is to understand that there are variations within any group. You may, for example, know about differences within some religions. In Christianity, some Catholic practices differ from some Protestant practices, for example. Some Orthodox Jewish practices differ from some Reform Jewish practices. The same is true of Muslims. Within the American Muslim community—about 2.5 million people—there are subgroups defined by their different approaches to their faith. Sunni Muslims, for example, believe that the first four caliphs, or leaders, of the religion are Muhammad’s successors. The majority of the world’s Muslims are Sunni. Shiites, on the other hand, reject the first three caliphs and believe that Ali was Muhammad’s successor.


1. The two graphs you will study in this activity provide information about differences of belief and religious commitment within the U.S. Muslim population. Both are based on data published in 2007. Look at Graph 1: U.S. Muslims’ Beliefs and answer the questions that follow.

2. Look at Graph 2: Religious Commitment Among U.S. Muslims and answer the questions.

3. When you have finished working with both graphs, write one or two sentences about what you have learned from them and how knowing that information affects any stereotypes you had about Islam and U.S. Muslims. 


Part 3: The U.S. Muslim Population


Just as there are similarities and differences within the U.S. Muslim population, there are similarities and differences between the U.S. Muslim population and the U.S. population as a whole. Just as learning about the differences within the Muslim population can help dispel stereotypes, learning about the similarities and differences between Muslim Americans and the general U.S. population can help dispel stereotypes.


1. The table U.S. Muslims and the Larger U.S. Population provides data that compare the two groups. Look at the table and answer the questions that follow.

2. When you have finished working with the table, discuss as a class what you now know about U.S. Muslims that you didn’t know before, and how knowing that information affects stereotypes you had about Islam and U.S. Muslims.


Extension Activity

1. Look for more recent data about U.S. Muslims and compare the newer data with the 2007 data you used in these activities.

2. Compare and contrast the data you have used in this lesson with data from a 2009 Gallup Poll study, “Muslim Americans: A National Portrait.” Pay particular attention to the different methodologies used by Gallup and by Pew researchers. How do different methods and different ways of organizing data affect your understanding?

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