A few months back, I was sitting with my wife on a gloomy winters’ day, we looked at each other and almost in unison said: “Do you think it’s time for a holiday?” Whenever we talk to our kids about holidays they always opt for Tunisia. Our last family holiday was to Port el Kantoui, in Tunisia. The weather was hot, the hotel backed on to the beach and best of all it was all inclusive, including the ice cream! However, there are currently no flights to the beach resorts in Tunisia due to the beach shootings that took place last year.
We would love to go on Umrah, but with four kids, it is way beyond our budget. After that we were looking into Istanbul in Ramadan. We have never experienced a Muslim country in Ramadan and we heard that there is an amazing family atmosphere near the Blue mosque at iftaar time. Again, recent bombings in Ankara and Istanbul itself had got us rethinking that option. We had even thought about Belgium. My wife was very keen, as part of a home school geography project, in visiting Europe. Brussels has a landmark called Mini Europe which is a miniature version of the major landmarks of Europe. Last weeks’ events in Brussels have also eliminated that possibility for now.
Whilst my children wonder about whether we will go away this year, we can clearly see that world events impact us all and the impact is more than just planning a holiday. Our experience has highlighted the need for children to be politically aware of the world around them.
The Politics of Fear
There are some fears that I, and I imagine many other parents share when it comes to discussing world events with our children.
Firstly, the news and world events are not enjoyable viewing. Yes I want my children to understand and appreciate the suffering of other children around the globe, but I don’t want them to be scared and scarred by the images they may see on the television screens. The reality of the world often agrees with the saying ‘no news is good news’.
At the same time, we cannot bury our heads in the sand. There is a human face behind every catastrophe and behind every image there is a story. It is important that, from time to time, we take our children out of the bubble that surrounds them and expose them to the reality of the world in the 21st century.
Secondly, in the current climate, we may become fearful that our children’s views and opinions get misconstrued as a sign of radicalisation. The governments ‘Prevent’ agenda together with the CTS legislation has placed a responsibility on teachers to report any signs of radicalisation to the relevant authorities.
Children can say the strangest things. Sometimes the most innocent of statements can be taken the wrong way. Not a week goes by without some report about a child being reported to the ‘channel’ programme. Last year almost 4000 people were reported as part of the governments channel program, a proportion of which were children under 10. The media recently reported on the child that wrote ‘terrorist house’ instead of ‘terraced house’. However, what was more disturbing was the little 4 year old boy from Luton who innocently said ‘cooker bomb’ instead of ‘cucumber’ . He found himself reported, even though his mother pleaded with them that it was a mistake.
When you read her story, as a parent I can imagine the anguish and fear she felt. The fear of your child being labelled and reported to the ‘channel’ program can lead parents to avoid talking about the world events with their children. This fear can lead to self-censorship or creates split personality children, which is not healthy for both the child and the society.
Islam and Politics
Unfortunately there is a perception amongst some Muslims that Islam has nothing to do with politics and you should only worry about yourself devoid of the affairs of others. This view contradicts the Islamic text, Islamic history and the example of the Prophet (pbuh). Politics is looking after the affairs of others and in that regard the Prophet (pbuh) was also a politician as he organised the affairs of the citizens of Madinah in line with the revelation.
Allah (swt) informed us: “Alif Lam Ra. (This is) a Book which We have revealed to you that you may bring forth men, by their Lord’s permission from utter darkness into light – to the way of the Mighty, the Praised One.” [TMQ Ibraheem:1]
The Prophet (pbuh) worked to bring people out of the darkness into the light of Islam through calling them in Makkah and seeking to expand his authority in Madinah. This necessitated him (pbuh) being aware of the political reality of the time.
The Prophet (pbuh) was aware of the reality of Abysinnia and the justice of the Negus. Hence he (pbuh) advised his companions to migrate during the persecution in Makkah. The Prophet (pbuh) would keep himself abreast of the affairs of the superpowers, the Romans and Persians as well as the affairs of Quraish after the migration to Madinah.
As Muslims, we have been commanded to have love and concern for one another
The Prophet (pbuh) informed us: The example of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.” [Bukhari / Muslim]
The body of the believers now crosses continents in fragmented states and often we find that various parts are in pain and fever. To be concerned and want better for them is an integral part of our faith and hence should be an integral part of our children.
Building a politically aware child
1. Being a politically aware parent
The first stage of building a politically aware child is being a politically aware parent. As parents, we need to start pursuing the news so that we have some awareness of the daily events. Having concerns for others is built upon having some awareness about their situation and that necessitates pursuance of the news. Our interests will rub off on our children and they will ask us ‘what are you reading? / what are you watching?’ and quickly gain an interest themselves. In the current era of rolling news channels, satellite TV, internet and social media, all available on your smart phone, being acquainted with current affairs has never been easier.
2. Maturity and exposure specific
Any discussion should be maturity and exposure specific. So I would not expect my children to sit with me and watch Question Time or be interested in reading a political magazine. Anything I expose them to needs to be specific to their age and maturity and this is something that every parent needs to evaluate for themselves. Being home educated, my children’s exposure to world events is limited to what I choose to expose them to. As a result, previously we purposefully chose to shield them away from certain realities they would find difficulty comprehending. Now my eldest has turned 9, we feel that it is appropriate to expose her to more, as she is mentally capable of digesting the information and linking it to her viewpoint on life.
My wife and I have recently introduced her to ‘Newsround’ which we collectively watch as a family. It’s only 10 minutes, but builds the notion of pursuing the daily events. Afterwards we ask them what they understood, clarify any confusion they have and fill in any missing previous information. Rumaysah also loves reading and our discussions about her books have also given us opportunity to make her aware of certain realities. For example when she read the classic ‘The Railway Children’ we were able to link the father’s arrest on suspicion of espionage to the arrest of Moazzam Begg . In our project on hijab we were able to also bring in, how in many countries across the world hijab is banned in public places. As the children grow, we need to raise the depth of discussion as well as incorporate more politics into our home education projects.
3. Do not sugar coat
It is important not to sugar coat our discussions. The world is a dangerous place and we need to prepare our children for growing up and living in this world. Unfortunately life is not like a fairy story where everyone lives ‘happily ever after’. Often the news is inundated with images of killing, destruction, poverty, death and so on. Without wanting to scare our children, we need to explain the events as they are and not twist the events in order to produce a happy ending. It is essential that our children gain a true sensation of the reality, if we desire them to become politically active.
4. Giving an Islamic narrative
Whilst pursing the news with our children, it is vital that we also give them a perspective by which to view the events. The news is just information. Your perspective on that information is shaped by the narrative that accompanies it. A child living in America in the 80’s would have a very different take on news events, than if that same child was living in the Soviet Union. Islam is a comprehensive creed that gives us a very specific viewpoint on life. As parents, we need to link that viewpoint to the news events. For example, Islam values the life of all innocent civilians, whether that life was killed by a bomber in Paris or Brussels, or a drone in Yemen or Pakistan. So we speak out against the atrocities of ISIS, but we don’t seek to airbrush the history of the colonialists. Our children will undoubtedly gain a narrative on events. If we don’t give the Islamic perspective, then our children will take the perspective from the secular society which often involves casting doubt on Islam and religion in general.
In Islam we have very clear concepts, such as belief in a creator, submission, accountability, the afterlife, life and sustenance being determined by Allah and much more. By linking these concepts to the daily events, not only do we give the correct viewpoint, but it also shows the strength of and reinforces the Islamic concepts over other false ideas and thoughts about life.
5. Confidence and political activism
As a parent, not only do I want my children to be politically aware, I also want them to be politically active. The absence of Islam, as a way of life, has left much injustice in the world. As Muslims, we need to be at the forefront in speaking out against injustice and advocating change.
However there is an atmosphere of fear generated around Muslims when they speak out against injustices. Muslims speaking out against Israeli aggression has gone from anti-semitism to being on the path of radicalisation. In a similar manner, Muslim opposition to bombing Syria can be construed as tacit support of the ‘terrorists’. This makes us fearful of speaking out and the collective fear becomes a form of self-censorship. It may be that our child comes home from school having engaged in some debate and discussion that has been misconstrued. As parents how should we respond?
As parents we need to take confidence in the example of the Prophet (pbuh) and His companions who spoke out against the injustices in Makkah. They spoke out against the false worships of Quraish and the false practices such as burying the infant daughters alive. There were consequences for them speaking, as we saw with the likes of Bilal and Abdullah ibn Masood. But they were confident, completely submitted to the creator and as a result did not censor themselves in the society.
If we allow fear to overtake us, then we will just watch the world events like spectators, lament the situation whist staying silent and having no impact on the world. If I want my child to leave a lasting mark on the world and change the status quo then I need to be confident and build confidence in them. We should encourage our children to express themselves, be that poetry highlighting the injustices, producing small video blogs in support of children facing oppression, engaging them in charitable acts to increase awareness of the plight and solutions or even simply getting them to make dua for the Ummah.
The Prophet (pbuh) informed us: “Whoever of you sees an evil must then change it with his hand. If he is not able to do so, then [he must change it ] with his tongue. And if he is not able to do so, then [he must change it] with his heart. And that is the slightest [effect of] faith.” [Muslim]