Faculty Feature

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Karam Dana Teaches Teachers about Islam and Gender in the Middle East

According to a 2010 Pew Research survey, most Americans say they know little about the Muslim religion and its practices.  They also lack knowledge about the Middle East as a significant geo-political region in the world. On October 25, 2014, Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences (IAS) Assistant Professor Karam Dana teamed up with Dr. Therese Saliba from Evergreen State College to address this problem by facilitating a free workshop for K-12 teachers on UW Bothell campus. The full-day workshop, Islam, Gender, and the Middle East in Global Context¸ was designed for K-12 teachers as part of an ongoing project to develop cultural competency in teaching on the Arab world and Islam, particularly with regard to questions of gender and contemporary politics in the Middle East. 

Dana, who joined the IAS faculty in 2012, teaches and researches extensively on questions of religion, identity, and politics. He focuses in particular on Middle East political and social development, as well as the political and civic engagement of Muslims in the United States. The workshop brought this focus to teachers, allowing them to explore the historical foundations of and cultural diversity within the Arab and Islamic worlds, the role of Islamic politics in current world events, and the experiences of women in Islamic cultures. The workshop featured four lectures, and a very popular panel of seven speakers, representing five generations of mothers and daughters.  These women publicly reflected on experiences related to identity, Islam, global politics, transnationalism, womanhood, being Muslim in the United States, and stereotypes.

The twenty-four workshop participants included teachers from across the state as well as students from UW Seattle Master's in Teaching program and from UW Bothell’s Master’s in Education program.  Educators walked away with fresh perspectives to bring into their schools and classrooms, and with a binder/tool-kit of resources to help them. 

“I will be much more mindful in my teaching practice of introducing multiple voices when I teach any faith or culture,” noted one participant at the workshop’s conclusion. 

“Muslim women can choose to wear the hijab.  A Muslim woman can also be a feminist,” offered another.

The workshop was organized by the American Muslim Research Initiative (AMRI), which is housed in IAS and of which Dana is the director. AMRI hopes to continue and expand its work and to replicate a similar workshop in Washington D.C. in 2015, focusing on the role of women in local, domestic, and international politics.

“Having facilitated this workshop, I am able to understand the true meaning of intergenerational exchange and transformation. The ‘Mothers and Daughters’ panel was exceptional in the sense that it provided an unparalleled source of information to educators who try every day to teach students the meaning of diversity in ways that transcend the simple of idea of inclusion, but to also expand it to include empathy in the fullest meaning of the word,” says Dana.

Sponsors for the October workshop included the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, School of Educational Studies, the Office of Diversity, the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, and the Purple Crayon Foundation.