Growing up, I didn’t always have an easy time identifying myself as Muslim. I attended public schools that would host class parties for every single holiday, except Ramadan or Eid. Before my town became as diverse as it is today, my name was always the odd one out. During Ramadan, my friends couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t just eat something, “no one can see you”, they would say. But because of my Islamic upbringing, I knew that Allah was always watching me and held firm in my fast. However, I hated that feeling of being ostracized even though I was born and raised in California. Outside of family and Sunday school, my Muslim identity didn’t flourish until many years later in my life.
As a mother, I want my daughters to grow up with a strong sense of self through their own personalities, their culture, and their religion. Living in a non-Muslim country has its challenges, but I hope with these following 5 tips they can establish well-grounded and well-rounded Muslim identities.
Establish an Islamic identity at home
The most important place to begin in shaping a child’s Muslim identity, is in the home. Does your family routine and home reflect your beliefs and convictions? What is it about your home that differentiates itself from your non-Muslim neighbor’s home? How much of Islam is part of your daily rhythm? Children need tangible items that connect them to their faith. Ad’han should be heard from your PC or smart phone. Let them see you make wu’du and pray. Have prayer clothes and mats specifically for them. Cook with pure, healthy foods, teaching them about Sunnahs of the Prophet pertaining to food and drink. Designate a jar to collect money for charity. Make sure you have plenty of Islamic children’s books, along with their favorite children’s stories from the library. Excite their spirit by decorating for Ramadan and Eid. On my blog LittleLifeOfMine.com, I share crafts and activities to engage children in Ramadan and Eid. We must give into their childish tendencies in order to touch their hearts with the beauty of our faith.
Be active in the Muslim community
I have found that the easiest way to make a child feel like they belong, is to surround them by their peers. Being around other Muslims, specifically children, gives them the opportunity to feel safe in an environment of individuals that have the same convictions. They will be able to participate in activities and events that don’t compromise their beliefs. They can freely eat from foods without worrying about unlawful ingredients. Even something as simple as having their Muslim name recognized, pronounced correctly, and not deemed “weird,” will make them more confident.
There are multiple opportunities to expose our children to such environments. For instance, attending an Islamic school is an ideal option for many families. Children are able to learn in depth, matters of their religion as they pertain to science or history. Islamic holidays are readily recognized and celebrated. All the while, Islamic values are instilled to exemplify exceptional student behavior. Another great choice is being involved in a Muslim Girl or Boy Scout troop. During weekends, children can gather with other Muslims to engage in a fun, productive manner. A scouting troop will also give your child an opportunity to share their public school experiences with fellow students that will understand their issues and struggles. If neither choice is an option, one can always rely on participating in community events held at the masjid. If possible, attend Jummah prayer with your children. Attend family friendly events, making sure to socialize with other families and set up play dates. Don’t forget to make the effort to attend Eid prayers and festivities.
Make a place for yourself in society
Once our children feel comfortable within our Muslim community, we should expand into our community as a whole. Volunteering is an excellent way to teach our children to be productive citizens. Doing good for others, Muslim or not, gives children a sense of accomplishment. Relate to them Hadith, sayings of the Prophet (pbuh), or Qur’anic verses that encourage and command us to be helpful and kind to our neighbors and those in need. Show them that being a good Muslim means being a compassionate, productive, and law-abiding citizen.
If your child attends a non-Muslim school, offer to teach their class — or the whole school — about Ramadan and Eid. This will give your child a sense of pride in their celebrations and help their friends form an understanding of our beliefs. Just as Christian and Jewish holidays are recognized, lobby for Muslims holidays to be readily recognized and acknowledged as well. Hosting an open house event at your local library is also another great way to inform people in your community about Muslim holidays and basic beliefs.
Validate questions or concerns
Children may be small, but their questions are big! Validate their concerns or questions they may have about Islam. Try to answer them in a way that is simple for a child to grasp. This isn’t always easy, but you do not want to dismiss their questions completely. If a child is left feeling unsatisfied or confused, they will not have strong convictions. When they are able to understand a concept, it becomes easy for them to accept and love their faith. A fantastic new Islamic children’s book series by Emma Apple, beautifully answers children’s questions about Allah in a way that’s simple and awe inspiring.
Give your children a nonjudgmental space to vent about their frustrations. They have valid issues. Being Muslim in this heightened age of Islamophobia is trying, even on adults. Again, return to Qur’anic verses and hadith that remind the believer of the reward of following Allah’s path.
Lead by example
As parents, we know that our children are watching us all the time. Are we, ourselves, confident in our Muslim identities? I have found that when I show excitement in following my beliefs, my daughters will follow lead. Many times while getting ready, they too will ask to wear hijab. For prayer, they rush to roll out their adorable child-sized prayer mats. I regularly lead them in du’a, supplications, to ask Allah for help solving a problem, to improve a loved one’s health, or the happiness of our friends. I use dhikr, remembrance of Allah, during times of frustration and anger to calm myself, hoping they too will rely on that in their dark times. Ramadan and Eid are times of pure delight and celebration!
I find great personal joy and satisfaction in contributing to our Muslim community through events like Eid toy drives or attending fundraising dinners. As a co-leader of a Muslim Girl Scouts troop, my hope is that they see embracing our roles as Muslims is what helps us serve our community better. Through it all, my daughters are watching, taking it all in. Though they are still young, their Islamic identities have already begun to blossom and grow.
Editor’s Note: Amnah Ibrahim writes for her blog, LittleLifeOfMine.com, where she chronicles her life as a crafty, stay-at-home mom to four rambunctious girls. In addition to recipes and project ideas, her blog helps mothers find humor and magic in the mundane. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow her on twitter @LLifeOfMine. The views expressed here are her own.