Lessons

Sectarian Tensions and Their Impacts

islamic_monthly.jpg

Al-Azhar Mosque and University. Image from Islamic Monthly magazine, courtesy of Flickr. Egypt, 2016.

Al-Azhar Mosque and University. Image from Islamic Monthly magazine, courtesy of Flickr. Egypt, 2016.

Sectarian Tensions and Their Impacts

This lesson is designed for an early high school classroom on a 100 minute block schedule with access to computers. As alternatives teachers may assign the articles and questions for homework or provide printed copies of the articles for the students to read in class or as homework.

 

Objectives:

Analyze why religions have internal conflicts and what the effects may be.

Understand if these conflicts are truly religious in nature

 

Background before the lesson:
Ask students to come to class having read the following articles “Ireland’s Troubled History”http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/longterm/nireland/overview.htm (this only goes to April 1999 and only explains political and religious) and “In the Shadow of the Walls”https://www.pri.org/stories/2009-07-02/shadow-walls?page=0%2C0 (this is from July 2009 and explains the religious and economic factors)

As they read they should put any evidence for what is causing the tension between England and Ireland they find in the following chart

Factor Causing Conflict or Tension

Evidence from the sources

Religious

 

Economic

 

Political

 

Warm Up Activity:

This could actually take a whole class period if it is a 45-50 minute block.

 

Ask students to get in small groups (3 or 4) and have them choose a recorder. Give them about 10 minutes to brainstorm the following ideas:

  • Think of conflicts in our world’s history and write down as many as you can.

  • What caused those conflicts? Write down as many reasons as you can think of.

 

As student groups report out note if they came up with religion for any of the causes. Because of the homework they did they may say England-Ireland but see if they connect any other conflicts to religion.

 

In this whole class discussion ask if they think events like the Crusades, Israeli-Palestinian tensions or ISIS based terror are truly religious in nature. Follow their responses in an open discussion. Ask them to base their responses on their homework chart if that has not already come up. Facilitate their realization that conflict is rarely about any one thing and religion can seem part of it but usually coincides with several other factors.

 

Transition into looking at how religions can fight within themselves.

  • Ask students if they know any differences in the different sects of Christianity.

The teacher can go into as much detail as he/she wants depending on how this lesson is fitting in their unit. It could be part of a Protestant Reformation lesson within the context of European history and then extends into modern issues first with England/Ireland and the Protestant-Catholic tensions and then connecting to the Egypt/general Arab world and the Sunni-Shia tensions. If this is a unit containing the Arab Spring there could be more emphasis on the Middle Eastern Islamic content and the Christian background can just be used to explain that Islam is not the only faith dealing with sectarian tensions.

 

By tying their homework chart and classroom discussion together students should be able to have a better understanding of how the division in Christianity relates to the objective: Analyze why religions have internal conflicts and what the effects may be.

 

Give the groups time to come up with a paragraph reflecting on the objective:Analyze why religions have internal conflicts and what the effects may be based on what they understand so far about Christianity. Ask a couple groups to read their responses aloud and follow up as needed.

 

Connecting Activity:

This may be a second day as the teacher may have run out of time after completing the Christian background activities.

 

The teacher should now explain the connection between how different Christian sects have tried to deal with their differences either violently or peacefully to how Islamic sects are now trying to figure out the same relationships.

 

Ask students in those same small groups to make their way through the longer (5 pages) article and answer the related questions “Egypt: The Religious Root of Conflicts in the Middle East”

http://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/egypt-religious-root-conflicts-middle-east (This is a challenging reading and could take up to 45 minutes when reading and answering the questions depending on the grade level. The teacher will need to circulate and aid students when they get stuck on concepts or historical events referred to in the article which they may not have a background with.)

 

“Egypt: The Religious Root of Conflicts in the Middle East” questions.

As your group reads through the article answer the following questions. Note that the answers will not be found in any one single spot of the reading and can be found throughout the entirety of the source.

 

1. What are the theological differences between Sunni and Shia?

 

2. Historically how have these differences (sects) affected domestic or international relationships in the Arab world?

 

3. How have leaders in the Arab world used these differences for their own gain?

 

4. Explain how the Arab Uprisings affected sectarianism.

 

5. How does identity relate to sectarianism?

 

6. What has the growth of sectarianism done to the possibilities of democracy in some predominantly Arab nations?

 

7. What does the author argue will happen to the current borders of the Middle East because of the growth of sectarianism since the Arab Uprisings?

 

Once the groups have completed answering the questions scramble the groups into new groups. Ask the new groups to discuss what they have learned about sectarianism in the Middle East and have them write a paragraph reflecting on the objective:Analyze why religions have internal conflicts and what the effects may be based on what they understand so far about Islam. Ask a couple groups to read their responses aloud and follow up as needed.
 

Conclusion:

Direct students back to how this lesson began and one of the objectives: Understand if these conflicts are truly religious in nature. They originally brainstormed conflicts and their causes. Does this activity add to their understanding of conflict? Are sectarian differences really what cause internal or international tensions?

 

For homework :

Through these activities students have gained a better understanding of where sectarian differences come from and how they have affected domestic or international relations. The most challenging aspect of these issues is trying to come to some sort of peaceful co-existence.

  • For homework students could be challenged to write up their own ideas of how peaceful cooperation can be attained when sectarianism is part of the causes of tension.

 

Resources:

“Ireland’s Troubled History”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/longterm/nireland/overview.htm

 

“In the Shadow of the Walls”

https://www.pri.org/stories/2009-07-02/shadow-walls?page=0%2C0 (From Pulitzer site)

 

“Egypt: The Religious Root of Conflicts in the Middle East” http://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/egypt-religious-root-conflicts-middle-east (From Pulitzer site)

 

Educator Notes: 

This lesson connects historical sectarian Christian tensions with historic and current sectarian tensions within Islam. 

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