Monday, 20 June 2016

Raising a Muslim Child in a World Where "Muslims Are Terrorists"




In some ways, life was simpler when I was growing up. Despite it being the tail-end of Apartheid in South Africa, I grew up in a neighborhood surrounded by White, Afrikaans neighbors and attended multi-racial, multi-religious schools without ever feeling judged for being Muslim. I grew up having friends of all races and religions. I never felt like I was treated any differently by friends of other backgrounds and if Islamaphobia existed, I was blissfully unaware of it. In fairness, this was the era before social media, before people's Facebook statuses and rants on Watsapp groups gave away their true thoughts.

Then, towards the end of my high school years, 9-11 happened. Paradigms shifted. Suddenly, Muslims were the bad guys. In short, things changed. Yes, I still have friends of all races and religions but in this day and age I sometimes feel like I need to be careful of what I say or do for fear of being labelled a terrorist, even though the most violent thing I have ever done was shoot a toy water pistol. 

Since then, time and time again, we have had to face attacks on the world by so-called Muslims (I cannot identify them as Muslims in my own mind because the religion that I know is one of peace and tolerance and would never condone the acts of extremists in this day and age). The religion that I know strongly condemns suicide in any form and never allows the killing of civilians, even in times of war. The Islam I know teaches the strongest respect for Christianity and Judaism, being rooted from the same principles.

As an adult Muslims in the Western world, I myself sometimes grapple with issues of how to react to this hatred. In fairness, I cannot blame the bulk of non-Muslims from having the impression that they do about Muslims. The image portrayed in the media of Muslims is not a pretty one and organisations like ISIS scare me just as much as they scare any non-Muslim. I don't know why a cowardly few commit atrocities supposedly in the name of religion or even if these people are really Muslim but they sure do make life difficult for us regular Muslims.

For now, my children are blissfully unaware of the prejudice shown towards Muslims. However, I know that at some point, they are going to become aware of the complexities of this world. How do I explain all this to my children? Do I explain it to them at all? How will it make them feel? Will they be saddened, embarrassed, or worse, ashamed to be Muslim? There are of course, no easy answers to these questions, especially when I myself do not have all the answers. 

For now, I don't think it is necessary to tell them anything. I need to do what I have been doing- raise them to be good, responsible, kind human beings who are willing to help others and make a difference to society. I refuse to raise them to be ashamed of their religion. Rather, I need to introduce them the peaceful brand of Islam that I know. I need to teach them not to take things at face value so that later on they can make their own, informed views about what they have learned about religion. As they grow older, I would like them to learn to be able to use their discretion when listening to things in the media and to do their own research on things, both pertaining to religion and  other areas of life as Islam in fact does teach one to think and to question. I am confident that they will come to the same conclusion that I have- that this really is a peaceful religion. I hope and pray that our future generations will hold the solutions for finding a peaceful existence for individuals of all races, nationalities and religions and that they will not have to grapple with these issues.