Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Shia Ismaili Muslim Girls
Negotiate Islam in the Classroom
Natasha Hakimali Merchant
Curriculum & Instruction, College of Education, University of Washington, USA
This case study investigates the experiences of Shia Ismaili Muslim girls as
they encounter themselves as subjects of social studies curriculums on
Islam. A postcolonial lens is used to examine differently empowered sub-
jectivities and curricular epistimes within the high school world history
context. In an effort to understand their experiences, this study focuses
on how the students position themselves in relation to the curriculum, and
ultimately asks, to what extent do students from minority communities of
interpretation appropriate or resist the authoritative narrative of Islam
offered in their classrooms, particularly around the question, “Who is a
Muslim?” The central finding revealed a paradox of representation and
participation for these students, who found their practice and interpretation
of Islam silenced in the classroom curriculum, and yet felt obliged to defend
Islam and educate others against stereotypes of Muslims. The implications
of this study compel educators to explore decolonial approaches to teach-
ing about the religious other.
According to the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life (2010), most of the people in the
United States say they know little or nothing at all about the religion of Islam, and yet countless
pundits have publicly claimed that Islam promotes violence (Friedlander, 2012). Contributing to this
climate of intellectual poverty is the post-9/11 phenomenon of bifurcating the category of Muslim
into what Mahmood Mamdani
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