My children who live in the United States see and hear anti-Islamic statements or are the ‘beneficiaries’ of anti-Islamic policies on a regular basis – and I suspect that is the same for other children living in non-Muslim lands. They hear reports on the news, read inaccuracies in books, overhear an adult conversation, to list just a few examples. It is a fact of life and one that I do not believe parents can or should shelter them from – our children need to learn how to be proud Muslims in the midst of unfair criticisms and negative perceptions.
I remember when I was invited to speak at a conference sponsored by the CDC in Atlanta. I worked in public health at the time and it was the first time my colleagues there were going to see me in a hijab. I was dreading the trip as previous experience taught me that my new look had consequences, mostly negative. I had a mantra that I kept repeating to myself from the airport – to my hotel – on my walk to the lecture – as I approached the podium – and right before I began to speak, “I am a proud and beautiful Muslim woman. I am a proud and beautiful Muslim woman”. We have a right to be proud as Muslims. We have that right because our values and our system of norms are from Allah (SWT).
As an adult it is much easier to be Muslim among Islamophobes, to wear that hijab when you know what it represents to some people, to pray in the parking lot when people are staring, to bring your Qur’an on the airplane even though it may get you kicked off. But for our tweens and teens, that tender age of emotions, peer importance, and the desire to fit in makes it more difficult for many. So what do we do? I certainly am not an expert; my efforts are a continual work in progress – trials and errors, failures and successes, tears and joy. But what I have learned so far from my experience and the experience of other parents is the following:
If we want our children to feel blessed to be Muslim and unafraid to let the world know it, we had also better be. Children are copycats and if anyone sees behaviour or attitudes that she doesn’t like in her children, she should look to herself (and her husband) first. If you are afraid to pray in public when prayer time is running out, it is likely they will too.
Muslim children need to hang out around other Muslim children. That doesn’t mean that they can’t have non-Muslim friends; it means they need close, practising Muslim friends to strengthen their deen.
Knowledge of the deen
If they know their deen, they will be able to recognise the myriad of inaccuracies and outright lies about Islam that persist in an Islamophobic environment and more able to set others straight.
The more they understand the media’s agenda and biases, the more they will not be affected by it and the more they will understand why other people are. My daughter has become a critic of the nightly news. She is learning to question the motives of the source of her information and to wonder what information she is not being told. She wants to hear about issues that concern her. She no longer listens to the news thinking that whatever is said is the truth.
A sense of justice
“But that’s not fair” is something most parents have heard a lot. Children have a sense of justice, and throughout life they will face many things that don’t seem fair, including how they may be treated. Children need to learn what Islam says about ‘justice’, and understanding it in the context of Allah’s (SWT) will and qadr for a proper perspective.
A sense of humility
Being ‘proud’ does not mean that you feel superior to anyone. None of us knows what our end will be.
We all need confidence to speak out against something accepted by the majority or act in a manner not in sync with the secular norm.
Commitment on our part
A parent needs to be committed to creating an environment to counteract anti-Islamic influences. We might have to drive an hour once a week for a play date with a Muslim friend or to don the hijab around disapproving relatives or take classes ourselves so we can teach our children the deen.
This looks like a long list and there are undoubtedly more that could be added to it. But as parents, we are doing these things anyway in other aspects of raising our children, whether it be helping them to succeed in school, promoting loving relationships with non-Muslim relatives, or driving them to a football game. These same efforts just need to be extended towards cultivating in our children a love of Islam such that no matter what anyone says, they are grateful to be Muslim and unafraid to make it known.
O Allah, unto You do I complain of my weakness, of my helplessness, and of my lowliness before men. O Most Merciful of the merciful, You are Lord of the weak. And You are my Lord. Into whose hands will You entrust me? Unto some far-off stranger who will ill-treat me? Or unto a foe whom You have empowered against me? I care not, so You have not wrath with me. But You favouring help – that were for me the broader way and the wider scope! I take refuge in the light of Your countenance whereby all darknesses are illuminated and the things of this world and the next are rightly ordered, lest You make descend Your anger upon me, or lest Your wrath beset me. Yet is it Yours to reproach until You are well pleased. There is no power and no might except through You. (Du’a the Prophet (SAW) made after being rejected and wounded in Ta’if)
J. Samia Mair is the author of five children’s books, the most recent Zak and His Good Intentions (2014) and The Great Race to Sycamore Street (2013). She is a Staff Writer for SISTERS Magazine and Discover, The magazine for curious Muslim kids and has published in magazines, books, anthologies, scientific journals and elsewhere.