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Students map, interpret and analyze the growth of Islam here with Google Earth applications and a discussion of GIS in map analysis


Computers & Internet, Language Arts, Social Studies  



Title – Islam: Origin, Expansion, and Division
By – Rebecca Epting
Primary Subject – Social Studies
Secondary Subjects – Language Arts
Grade Level – 9
Time – 2 class periods


    This lesson is the third in a unit on the World’s major monotheistic religions. Students will map, interpret, and analyze the growth of Islam. Students will locate Mecca and Medina and discuss their importance as culture hearths for the Islamic faith. Furthermore, students will discuss the diffusion of Islam through the expansion of the Islamic empire and the appealing aspects of the religion. This lesson will incorporate the geographic concepts of location, diffusion, and population distribution.

Connection to the Curriculum:

    This lesson could best be applied in a history or geography classroom.

South Carolina Social Studies Academic Standards:

    GS 2.2 Summarize the origins and expansion of Islam, including its basic beliefs, the emergence and the spread of an Islamic empire, the reasons for the split between Sunni and Shiite groups, and the changing role of women in the modern world. (H, G, P)

South Carolina Social Studies Literacy Elements:

  • F. Ask geographic questions: Where is it located? Why is it there? What is significant about its location? How is its location related to that of other people, places, and environment?
  • I. Use maps to observe and interpret geographic information and relationships.
  • M. Use tables and graphs to interpret geographic trends and relationships.

Grade Range:

    This lesson is intended for 9th grade Global Studies courses. However, it can be adapted for use in a Human Geography course.

Materials Needed:

  1. Islam Population Distribution Map
  2. Google Earth Map of Middle East (requires Internet access)
  3. Map of Islamic Empire and its diffusion from Mecca and Medina
  4. Choropleth Map illustrating Sunni and Shiite areas by country
  5. Teacher created Islam Worksheet


  1. Students will map the location of Mecca and Medina and explain their importance as culture hearths for the Islamic religion.
  2. Students will discuss the basic beliefs of Islam including the five pillars, gender roles, afterlife, conversion techniques, and the concept of Jihad.
  3. Students will determine the means of diffusion (e.g. relocation, hierarchical, contagious) used by the Islamic empire. Students will use knowledge of the basic beliefs of Islam to explain its diffusion.
  4. Students will analyze a cartogram of the current global population distribution of Muslims and use prior knowledge of monotheism, Christian origins, and Judaism origins to explain the reason for the vast diffusion of Islam.

Procedures – Basic Concepts and Diffusion:

  1. Review and discuss the basic concepts of Christianity, Judaism, and monotheism. (10 min.)
  2. Display cartogram of current Muslim population distribution. Using knowledge from the prior lecture allow students to discuss why they believe the population has distributed so vastly. (10 min.)
  3. Once students have discussed plausible reasons for Islamic expansion, explain the geographic concept of culture hearths and introduce Mecca and Medina as culture hearths for the Islamic religion. (10 min.)
  4. Discuss the basic concepts of Islam including the five pillars, gender roles, beliefs about the afterlife, and the concept of jihad. (20 min.)
  5. Explain how the basic concepts of Islam facilitated the rapid diffusion of the Islamic Empire.
  6. Discuss with students, using the geographic concept of diffusion, whether Islam spread through relocation, contagion, or hierarchical diffusion. Also, discuss the idea that these rates of diffusion can work in tandem. (15 min.)
  7. Distribute a blank map of the Middle East and display a map of Islamic diffusion. Let students transfer the flow lines on the diffusion map to their blank map.
  8. Use different colors to illustrate diffusion under three different regimes: Muhammad, the first four Caliphs, and Umayyad. (15 min.)

Procedures – Division and Assessment:

  1. After discussing the diffusion of the Islamic Empire, begin discussing the current population and the division, development of two sects, in the Islamic faith.
  2. Discuss the reason for the division between the Sunni and Shiite sects. Display the choropleth map illustrating Sunni and Shiite areas by country. (10 min.)
  3. Following the discussion, divide the class into groups of three and provide them with Internet access. Each team should use Google Earth to print a topographic map with borders of the Middle East. (25 min.)
  4. Use this time to briefly discuss the importance of GIS in the geographic discipline. (10 min.)
  5. After printing the Google Earth map, each group should work together to draw borders around the majority Sunni and Shiite areas. This group effort will be included in the final assessment. (10 min.)
  6. Distribute an Islam Worksheet. Allow students to remain in groups and work collectively to complete the assessment. Students may use class lecture notes and confer with other groups. (30 min.)
  7. After completing the worksheet, students should discuss their answers as a class. This discussion should clear up any problems, answer any questions, and prepare students for test questions on the material. (10 min.)


  1. Students will map the diffusion of Islam on a blank map of Southwest Asia/North Africa.
  2. Students will print a topographic map with borders from Google Earth and delineate borders between Sunni and Shiite areas.
  3. Students will complete the Islam Worksheet in groups and then discuss their answers.

Lesson Extensions:

  1. Use a GeoHistogram to compare the Islamic Empire to the other empires growing during the same period (could be incorporated to see the expansion of Christian and Islamic Empires simultaneously).
    1. Distribute a blank GeoHistogram to each student.
    2. Allow students to map the growth and progress of Christian, Islam, and Jewish Empires.
    3. Discuss the overlap that occurs across regions and eras.
  2. Expand on the use of GIS in the geographic discipline and its important role in map analysis.

Materials Provided:

  1. Blank map of South West Asia and North Africa ( in Map Folio)
  2. Islam Worksheet


      Veregin, H. 2005. Goode’s World Atlas. 21st edition. Rand McNally.
      Bergman, F. and Renwick, W. 2008. Introduction to Geography. 4th edition. Prentice Hall.

        This resource contains a brief overview of the Islamic religion, expansion, and division as well as two maps illustrating the diffusion of Islam.

      Education Television, PBS. Islam: Empire of Faith. 2010.

        This resource contains a brief overview of Islam and a detailed timeline.

      Pew Research Center. 2009. Mapping the Global Muslim Population.

        Contains several detailed maps of the current Muslim population distribution.

      South Carolina Geographic Alliance: Center of Excellence for Geographic Education. 2011. University of South Carolina.

      Contains the blank map of South West Asia and North Africa in the Map Folio

Background Information:

  • Christianity and Judaism spread monotheism through the Middle East.
  • The rise of Islam around 610 brought monotheism to a formerly polytheistic, unknown Arabian Peninsula.
  • The rise of monotheism altered the geographic and cultural landscape of the Middle East, but was followed by the rise of religious conflict.
  • Monotheistic religions appeal to the “common-man” resulting in inevitable divisions, sects, within various religious groups.

E-Mail Rebecca Epting !

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