Muslim Parents on How They Talk to Their Children About Hatred and Extremism
(Original article: Hanna Ingber, New York Times, Dec. 15, 2015)
A Muslim parent in Tokyo tells her children to “work 100 times harder” and “be 100 times kinder.” A father in Ontario advises his teenagers to be wary of anyone reaching out to them over the Internet and claiming to be Muslim. “ISIL is trying to recruit you,” he tells them, referring to the Islamic State.
Parents around the United States tell their children that they can be both American and Muslim — no matter what anyone says, they do not need to choose between the two.
A wave of recent attacks by extremists acting in the name of Islam — including in San Bernardino, Calif., this month — has contributed to a rise in anti-Muslim speech in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. We asked our readers who are Muslim how they talk to their children about these difficult times.
More than 200 people responded. Many wrote about how they try to teach their children that terrorists do not reflect them or their faith.
Here is a selection of the responses; they have been edited and condensed.
We hope to hear from more Muslim parents about how the rise in both anti-Muslim speech and attacks by Islamist extremists is affecting you and your family. How are you explaining these issues to your children? Please join the discussion in the comments.
Modern America Is Compatible With Islam
Sammer Lashin in Fremont, Calif.
Children ages 11, 9 and 6
I home-school my three children. Our Muslim kids personally identify with how the Christian pilgrims came here, cut off from everyone and everything they knew, simply to be able to adore God how they thought fit. Our children study how our founding fathers knew that our Creator sees all men as equal, although the fathers themselves fell short of this ideal. At the same time, they study how the Prophet Muhammad could not sleep until any money or food in his home was shared with the less fortunate.
The best inoculation against all the negative rhetoric is for our children to have a deep understanding of what America and Islam truly stand for.
No Need for a Caliphate
Nadeem Ahmed in Mississauga, Ontario
Children ages 18 and 16
People always fear the unknown. Just like you are afraid to go down to a dark basement — you fear what you don’t know. People fear Islam and Muslims because they don’t know us.
It is up to us to first condemn acts of terror, work hard to expunge it from our communities and reach out with peace, kindness, generosity and understanding.
I tell them, be wary, ISIL is trying to recruit you. They want you to feel like you are not at home here and this is not your country. It is. They want you to hear the racist voices of the few and think that represents the majority of the U.S. and Canada.
You need to be very careful of anyone reaching out over the Internet claiming to be a Muslim. You need to come to a parent right away.
There is no war with the West; the West and Islam are compatible. In fact Islam is more compatible with the ideas of freedom, tolerance and equality than most countries that call themselves Muslim are.
There is no need for a caliphate; we enjoy religious freedom here. No one there does.
Terrorists Are Not Representative of Us
Karla N. Evans in Duluth, Ga.
Child age 16
Those carrying out acts of terror in the name of Islam are not representative of who we are or what we believe as Muslims in any way.
I do not tell my son that they are not Muslim, but rather that they have an extreme mind-set and would likely be extreme no matter their religious tradition, and that there is nothing inherently violent in the teachings of Islam.
A Lesson From Le Petit Prince
Sarah Eltabib in Oyster Bay, N.Y.
Child age 9
Since we are a family that focuses education on global citizenship, and I myself am a human rights historian, I tend to give her a more worldly view and expose her to different types of literature. So, I read her one of my favorite “Little Prince” excerpts, then talked about what it means:
Il y avait des graines terribles sur la planète du petit prince… c’étaient les graines de baobabs. Le sol de la planète en était infesté. Or un baobab, si l’on s’y prend trop tard, on ne peut jamais plus s’en débarasser. Il encombre toute la planète. Il la perfore de ses racines. Et si la planète est trop petite, et si les baobabs sont trop nombreux, ils la font éclater.Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “Le Petit Prince”
Translation: There were terrible seeds on the little prince’s planet… they were baobab seeds. The planet’s soil was infested with them. Now, a baobab, if you set about it too late, you can never get rid of it. It takes up the whole planet. It pierces it with its roots. And if the planet is too small, and if there are too many baobabs, they will make it burst.
Be Gentle, Soft-Spoken and Kind
Bibi Voyles in Tokyo.
Children ages 10 and 5
I tell my children that they must work 100 times harder, be 100 times kinder, and always be well groomed, just to gain public acceptance in these trying times.
I tell them to always be gentle, soft-spoken, and kind so that they cannot be associated with the growing global paranoia around “extremist Muslims.”
Explaining Islam to Toddlers
Aiza Siddiqi in Baltimore.
Child age 2
A few weeks ago, my son’s preschool asked parents to come in and share a holiday tradition with the class. Since my son is the only Muslim in his class, I thought this would be a good opportunity to introduce the young children to Islam and the Islamic holidays of Eid. Then I started reading Facebook posts of friends and acquaintances describing verbal and physical attacks on Muslims in schools, parking lots, and buses.
I began to think: “Do I want my son’s peers and teachers to know that he is Muslim? Will his Christian preschool treat him differently if he identifies as Muslim?” I hated myself for even asking these questions because I have never been one to deny or hide my identity.
I decided to do a presentation for my son’s class on Islam and the Islamic holidays. Not that explaining Islam to a room full of 2-year-olds will drastically win over hearts and minds, but education is one of the best tools we as Muslims have to counter the ignorami who malign our faith.
Show Not Tell
Edlyn Sammanasu in Fremont, Calif.
Children ages 8, 5 and 3
I don’t need to talk to them about extremists. I need to show them what Muslims believe and how it affects our daily lives in good ways and how it affects others in good ways. I show them that Allah loves us, to be generous with our money, our charity, and our kindness. I show them that it’s important to be helpful to our neighbors and our elders. I show them all the good that we’re supposed to do is good for us and each other.
Hopefully (God-willing) my kids will see what Islam teaches and what it means to be Muslim from us and NOT from terrorists. Mostly, I want my kids to be confident Muslims who understand their religion, practice their religion, and are proud to be Muslim AND American. It is possible. I know. It’s true in me.
Make Lots of Friends
“NS” in Lake Oswego, Ore.
Children ages 9, 6, and twins who are 23 months
I remind my two eldest that I was born and raised in America and that we have nothing to fear. I remind them to be good, smile and make lots of friends. Their friends will always know what a good person you are.
I also tell them that everyone struggles for one thing or another and I give them examples of our own struggles. I tell them we need to learn how to overcome our struggles or try to wait them out.
Ahmed Kozanoglu in East Troy
Children ages 10 and 8
I tell them to be patient when they get bullied every day because of their identity at school, and when their teachers tell them to “deal with it.”
Not Your Burden
Tiffany Soule Thiri in Sebring, Fla.
Children ages 8 and 1
We are an interfaith family (Muslim dad, Sufi/Unitarian mom, Muslim daughter and one daughter who was baptized Christian). We explain that it is not our daughter’s burden to explain her daddy’s religion, but she should always feel comfortable contributing to the conversation if she wants to. She is not responsible for defending her Muslim friends and family, but she should always feel proud to be a part of the family that we have created.
We laugh and tell jokes and remember silly moments, just like any family. We celebrate traditions, like Eid al Adha, Christmas and Ramadan, and we read about the history of these practices, and the many wise people, like the prophets and social activists, who have provided knowledge and who have done positive things for other people.
We talk about how a very small group of bad people have done some bad things. We are not defined by the actions of a few people, and we make this very clear to our daughter.
Being Muslim Is Not a Crime
Mehnaz Mahmood in McKinney, Tex.
Children ages 7 and 9
I want them to know that being Muslim is not a crime.
I try to be a strong Muslim woman with good manners; I let them know that I am not afraid to wear my hijab out and that they should be proud of being both American and Muslim.
Be Ready to Fight Back
Aden M. in the Bronx.
Child age 8
I ask him every day to report to me if anything hurtful was said to him or if any adult made him uncomfortable. I tell him to be ready to fight back if someone physically assaults him.
I tell him that some people may blame us for things that other people who claim to be Muslim do. I tell him people are scared and might do things that are wrong, out of fear. I tell him there is nothing wrong with being Muslim.
No Easy Answers
Ossama Elawad in Connecticut.
Children ages 13, 10 and 5
I always tell my kids to not take the news right from the mainstream media, but rather to do their own research and try to find the facts from multiple sources.
We all get offended when the criminals happen to be Muslims and the media calls them terrorists, but no one else is called that name no matter what religion or ethnicity. This makes my children always ask the question why only Muslims are called terrorists and not the other mass shooters or criminals. It is not easy to answer such a question!
The True Tenets of Islam
Mahnaz Chand Tantawi in Franklin Lakes, N.J.
Twins age 9
I am a physician whose parents immigrated from Pakistan, and my husband is a pediatrician. His parents immigrated from Egypt. We are Americans since birth. And we are Muslims. The two identities go together. We have instilled this identity into our mixed children.
I teach my children the core values of Islam. These core values really make you a good person. They help you to be caring, conscientious, community-minded, green, give to charity and spread happiness. These values do not allow you to be oppressive, wreak terror, kill innocents, or impose your faith.
This is how I talk to my kids. Not just as a reaction to what extremists are doing. But so they learn about the true tenets of their Islamic faith.
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