On Saturday, November 12, roughly thirty Dumbach Scholars enrolled in AP Art History visited the Muslim Education Center and Mosque in Morton Grove. The visit enabled students to explore another faith tradition in order to better understand and interpret the art and design of sacred spaces.
"We study many different sacred spaces in AP Art History, and students find it challenging to understand and visualize spaces that are outside of the Christian/Catholic tradition," says Director of Dumbach Scholars and AP Art History teacher Mrs. Lesley Shifrin. "The AP Art History curriculum includes a handful of Islamic works of art and architecture. Mosques, in particular, are a challenge for my students because most have never been inside a mosque. This unit has always sparked curiosity among the students, which prompted this visit and our broader Sacred Space Investigation. The Muslim Education Center warmly welcomed us. Dr. Sabeel Ahmed, executive director of the GainPeace Project, talked to our students and answered all of our questions."
While at the education center, Art History students listened to a presentation on Islam and toured the mosque. At the end of the tour, students participated in a Q&A session with Dr. Ahmed. The visit concluded with an observation of the daily prayer, which was a highlight for many students.
During the trip, the inextricable ties between Christianity and Islam were made clear to many students who noticed similarities between the traditions. "I found the field trip to the mosque to be really impactful because it showed me how similar the major religions really are," says John Alznauer '25. "This realization is something I doubt I would have come to without being introduced to Islamic beliefs."
"When our class went to learn about the Islamic traditions at a mosque, I gained a better understanding of how Muslims worship and the many ways our religions are much more similar than I previously realized," adds Ellie Edwards '25. "The teachers and religious leaders were so inviting and, despite our different religions, they never failed to make us feel at home in their sacred space."
By gaining an understanding of Islamic faith traditions, students were better able to contextualize the design and decoration of the mosque, taking their appreciation of the sacred space from "this is how it looks" to "this is why it looks that way."
Next, Mrs. Shifrin and her AP Art History students will visit Sukkot Shalom, a Jewish congregation in Wilmette, in early December. Then, during the third quarter, students will create videos detailing their experiences and insights.