Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th-9th Grades

Alternate Activity 3: What's in a Name?

Activity time: 20 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Writing paper and pens/pencils or calligraphy pens, ink, and paper
  • A computer with Internet access or a book with American English names translated into Arabic
  • Images of Muslim art from the Arab world

Preparation for Activity

  • Visit Speak 7 or another Internet site that has common American English names written in Arabic and a chart of the Arabic alphabet. Prepare to show the website to the group. Or, obtain a book with English names translated into Arabic, or invite someone in your congregation or community who is fluent in written Arabic to help you lead this activity.
  • Visit Stock Photos or Google Images and print a few Arabic or Muslim mosaic designs and examples of calligraphy. You might visit a public library to find books on Arabic calligraphy and mosaics.
  • Note: Do not print a calligraphic image of the name "Allah." To casually discard the printed name of God is offensive in Islam; to be respectful you must burn the printed item.

Description of Activity

Youth write their transliterated names in Arabic calligraphy.

Tell the group they will have the opportunity to write Arabic calligraphy.

Explain that calligraphy and other abstract art forms like mosaics are important to Islam because Islam does not believe in representing Allah, Muhammad, or other holy people in images/pictures Ask the group what other religions do not believe in creating pictures of the divine. What religions warn against worshipping images of God? There are no artistic representations of holy figures in Muslim mosques: only calligraphy and mosaics are used.

Explain that calligraphy is a way of making the written word into an art form. Show examples of Arabic calligraphy. Do not include the word "Allah." Tell the group that Muslims do not take the word "Allah" lightly. If you print the word on paper, it is extremely disrespectful to throw it away in the trash. You should burn the paper it was written on.

Tell participants that several years ago, a Danish newspaper published editorial cartoons depicting Muhammad. Many Muslims were angry, seeing this as a direct insult to Islam. Some extremists called for the death of the cartoonist. The situation was made worse when college students from various universities decided to do public drawings of Muhammad on sidewalks. Muslim student groups protested, saying not only was it disrespectful, but that it made them feel unsafe. Remind youth that words and pictures matter.

Invite youth to learn to write their names in Arabic. Show them the chart of the Arabic alphabet. Say that the translation is not literal because the alphabets are different: the translation is based on phonetic similarities. Make sure they understand that Arabic is read from right to left, like Hebrew, to which it is closely related.