• When I moved away from Kenya and had children, I discovered that incorporating religion into our lives needed a lot more effort. (Maskot)Source: Maskot
Bringing up Muslim children in Western countries presents a real struggle for parents because we often face resistance from kids, there’s a lack of time and we are trying to juggle multiple things.
By
Rashida Tayabali

17 Aug 2020 - 9:18 AM  UPDATED 17 Aug 2020 - 10:11 AM

There’s a popular Swahili proverb that goes, “It’s easy to give birth, the difficulty comes in raising children.” Parenting is a tough gig. Add teaching religion to children in the mix, and it becomes even more challenging.

I experienced Islam differently growing up in Kenya and living in a Muslim town. There were markers to reinforce my identity, like hearing the call to prayer five times a day, seeing my dad wear his white prayer clothes, and praying as a family frequently. I didn’t experience any conflict between the life I was living and the religion I followed, even though I went to an inter-faith school. Despite not fully understanding what I was doing, I did it anyway because that was the expectation.

When I moved away from Kenya and had children, I discovered that incorporating religion into our lives needed a lot more effort because there were multiple demands on my time.

When I moved away from Kenya and had children, I discovered that incorporating religion into our lives needed a lot more effort because there were multiple demands on my time.

Bringing up Muslim children in western countries presents a real struggle for parents because we often face resistance from kids, there’s a lack of time and we are trying to juggle multiple things. Children may also be exposed to negativity among their peers and the media and experience it in a different way to what their parents did.

From experience, my husband and I have taken a more mindful approach to including religion in our daily lives. We have chosen to include it as part of the children’s upbringing because it’s an important part of our identity. We’ve aimed for a natural integration into our lives, with understanding, rather than something that’s enforced on occasions, or enforced without any explanations.

In the early years we started off by introducing the concept of God, who he is and how to pray to him. The Adventist school my son goes to also emphasised similar values and teachings so that helped reinforce what we taught at home.

I went out and bought children’s books that talked about Allah, his creations and his love for children. For many years, we sat together and read my son books and answered any questions that came up.

I went out and bought children’s books that talked about Allah, his creations and his love for children. For many years, we sat together and read my son books and answered any questions that came up.

We explained basic concepts using age-appropriate language and tried to incorporate the idea of doing charity on a regular basis and helping others without expecting a reward. From a young age, my son was encouraged to join us in prayers, even if he sat there and watched us pray. If he showed an interest in a particular thing, we explained the hows’ and whys behind it.

We found success in building a consistent habit e.g. at prayer times all devices get switched off and the entire family comes together to pray. We’ve also encouraged him to ask questions confidently, without fear of being rebuked, and we’ve answered them patiently and to his level of understanding.

There are always lessons that we highlight in any life experiences, trying to get him to see it from a humane and Islamic point of view. We’ve also chosen to use inclusive language and helped him feel comfortable in both his worlds, rather than emphasising one over the other.

There are always lessons that we highlight in any life experiences, trying to get him to see it from a humane and Islamic point of view.

Now at age eight, he’s learning how to read and recite the Quran. To help him understand and apply what he’s learning, we often sit together and read the English version of the verses he’s learning. It helps him understand in a language that’s familiar to him.

Being at home during Ramadan (because of COVID-19 restrictions), we made time to break our fast together, to talk about Islam and the fasting month. I searched through YouTube for children’s videos that explained why Muslims fast, the significance of the fasting month and the type of values that make a good human being. Often, by explaining to him why we do certain things, doing them ourselves, motivates him to take part too.

We hope that by adopting a more mindful approach to including Islam in our children’s lives, it will help them develop a better understanding of how it can enrich their lives.

Rashida Tayabali is a creative storyteller and freelance writer.

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