Summary - We are introduced to Sophia in the 21st century. Indicators of her being an American Muslim and her family dynamics are shown as well as her being a hypochondriac. Hypochondria is not exactly an Islamic disposition for a person to have but also not uncommon for someone of any background, that Sophia carries these fears around with her is something that transforms in her with her character’s development in the book, it is also illuminated that there are omniscient reasons of benefit for it concerning other characters when she goes back in time. So teaching about hypochondria before reading the chapter is smart and will help students answer the 6th and 7th questions on the Ch. 1 questionnaire in a more sophisticated fashion. Here is an article that explains it succinctly that could be used to teach it or the wording used in a presentation.
Points of connection for Muslim students
“their small Islamic school” - we learn Sophia attends an Islamic school (and this relates to question 2 on the Ch. 1 questionnaire). This means a private school. Yes there are several private Islamic K-12 schools through the country, in the Twin Cities Al Amal school is a well know one in the Muslim community. Looking for educational alternatives to the standard public schools is quite commonplace for Muslim families in America for a myriad of reasons not least of which is wanting to have greater protection and control over the social influences of their kids. In the Twin Cities this also manifests itself in the many charter schools that cater to the East African community. It is not unlikely at all that your students may have some experience with these schools, or knowing kids who go to such schools, or having had their families consider sending them to such a school (or perhaps you are teaching them at such a school). Homeschooling is also common amongst higher class Muslim families in the Twin Cities.
"Sr. Azza" - this means "sister azza" it is common for Muslims to refer to one another as brother or sister and sometimes when talking about a Muslim in the third person one might refer to them as sister (sr.) so an so or brother (br.) so and so. Later on in the book a prominent character gets referred to as Br. Ibrahim
“Huda” - the name “Huda” means “guidance” in Arabic it is a common girls name (For somali girls the name is often rendered as “Hodan”) Huda is also one of the honorifics given to the Qur’an. In Minneapolis there is a rather well known mosque names Masjid Al-Huda in the northeast neighborhood on Central Ave. across the street from Holy Land restaurant. Muslim names tend to have deep meanings and it is cool to point that out to people and it makes the Muslim students feel honored.
“making dhikr and du’a” - the word dhikr means “remembrance” in Arabic, in Islam it most often specifically refers to saying the phrases Subhanallah (glory to God) Allahuakbar (God is Great) and Alhamdulilah (Praise be to God) 33 times each. It is a regular practice to “make dhikr” after the Islamic prayers and students will most likely be familiar with this. Du’a means “to call” in Arabic, it refers to making invocation and supplication to God, Islam has formal and specific arabic du’as to be made in specific situations (such as beginning activities, when sick, when waking up in the morning) but du’a can also refer to asking God for whatever is good. A very common du’a that all Muslims know is saying bismillah before eating. If you ask students to share, “what du’a do Muslims make before they eat something?” they ought to know. Bismillah means “In the name of God” and Muslims can say it at the start of anything really.
“His will” - as was also done in Christian writing, when referring to Allah by pronouns the standard practice is to capitalize those pronouns. This talk about all things being by his “will” refers to what is called qadr in Arabic which means “ultimate divine decree” - Qadr is a tenet of belief in Islam, the belief that all things, good and bad, come about by God’s decree and God has ultimate knowledge of everything. However, qadr is NOT a fatalistic belief in Islam as Islam interprets life as a test of ones choices, beliefs, and actions. When I taught this with my Muslim students I found that they knew what qadr was but they did not know how to express it English terms, and they appreciated learning the words “divine decree” and “predestination” which are the best English renderings on the meaning. Providence is another word that means the same thing and this word will be related later in the book when Sophia goes back to the 19th century. Islamic authorship, however, usually does not use the word Providence when translating qadr as it has a more overtly Christian connotation to it than the words “divine decree” or “predestination” - this is a worthwhile point to bring up when Providence is used in Chapters 7 and 8.
“His will involves tests and trials” - this is referring to the term fitnah in Arabic, which means tests or trials and is a well known concept in Islam, again, when teaching this book to students I found that they knew the word fitnah but did not know how to best render it into English.
“Damascus, Syria” - so it appears from Chapter 1 that Sophia is the daughter of an Arab immigrant from Syria and a woman from a small town in Kansas who is likely a convert to Islam, I believe this mirrors the background of the authors actual daughter. If you are in the Twin Cities and have many Somali students Damascus is one of the many places in the Somali diaspora where Somalis have emigrated to, it is not at all unlikely that your students may have family members there and you could ask if anyone has family members or cousins, aunts, uncles, in Damascus - not a given that they will, but likely enough that it is a fair question to ask.
“insha’Allah”- This is of course defined in the glossary in the back of the book, it means “God willing” in Arabic. Of course Muslims say it all the time, it is a littler lesser known and understood that Muslims are actually commanded to say it whenever they speak about what may happen in the future in the 23rd verse of the 18th chapter of the Qur’an where it says: ““AND NEVER SAY OF ANYTHING, ‘I SHALL DO SUCH AND SUCH THING TOMORROW.EXCEPT (WITH THE SAYING): ‘IF ALLAH WILLS!’? AND REMEMBER YOUR LORD WHEN YOU FORGET” A common part of the experience of code-switching for Muslims in their interactions with non-Muslims is having to render commonly used Arabic phrases into secular English terms that do not come off as weird sounding or out of place to their non-Muslim acquaintances. Often times this is a skill are our K-12 Muslim students have not fully developed. For example, when speaking with a non-Muslim and a situation comes up that would trigger my mind to say “insha’Allah” I will instead say “hopefully” or “hopefully it works out that way.”
The linked to article above on code-switching may be something to share with your Muslim students, or some education not the concept, as it is something they pretty much all do but are unaware of the academic categorization of it as a psychological phenomenon.
“AsSalaamu Alaikum. Wa Alaikum AsSalaam” - This is of course an exchange of the Islamic greeting which means “Peace be upon you” and the reply is “and upon you be peace” - Muslim students will know this, it is a nice thing to bring up and translate as it illuminates something nice about Islam and it can also be connected to Christian Sunday mass/services which involve a specific moment in which congregates turn to one another and say “Peace be with you” or in a Spanish mass they say “La Paz” to one another- this connection with the Christian Sunday services is something the Muslim students will likely not know about and if you are in a religiously heterogenous classroom this in an entry point for sharing and identifying inter-religious commonalities - of which there are many of course. A note here, I have come across some reading that indicates the Catholic liturgy has recently changed the respondent’s phrase from “and also with you” to “and also with your spirit” deeming that this is a more authentic translation of the original latin liturgy.
“Now he thought Subhanallah was a greeting…” - that Sophia’s parrot thinks and treats saying Subhanallah as greeting is basically funny, you could maybe ask the Muslim students if they would think it is funny if someone greeted them saying it. Towards the very end of the book Sophia refers back to this so it is not a bad point to highlight in the beginning as it will help the students remember when they are reading the final chapter.