“Are all Muslims terrorists?”: My child’s Muslim identity
by guest Blogger Valarie Budayr, co-founder of Multicultural Children’s Book Day
“Why isn’t our religion the same as everyone else?” my seven-year-old son Omar asked. “Nathan came up to me and said I was going straight to H-E-double toothpicks, AND he’s sure of it. Momma, am I going to the hell fire?” He said this in his most perfect southern accent. “What did I do wrong? Why will God not let me into heaven?”
Religion can be a very sensitive topic. When you match the topic of religion with race, politics, and terror all while living in the buckle of the bible belt, it opens up doors of opportunity for exploring, sharing, discovery, communication, and community building.
We are a Muslim family living in a very small town in Tennessee, in a very conservative county. My family is from Sweden and I was raised Lutheran. My husband is from Lebanon and is Muslim. We made the decision to raise our children Muslim so they would have connections to both sides of the family and continue the faith tradition of my husband and his family. Since we live in the US, my children have access to my family and so are easily connected to them. It was very important to both of us that our children were bi-lingual in Arabic and English, and practice the traditions of both sides of their family.
Step one in our “not going to hell” campaign was to celebrate what we have together through our diversity.
“Omar, how could we share being Muslim with your classmates? What ideas can we come up with that will leave people feeling happy to know us regardless of what we believe?” I asked.
“Could we bring a book to read for the reading corner?”
“Ah ha that’s a great idea. What story would you like to bring for the reading corner? Would you like me to come and read it ? We could bring the snack that day, too, if you want ?”
“Yes!!!” was his reply. “Can I bring the book about Ramadan?”
“Yes and why don’t we bring some Ramadan cake, too.”
Because of the age of my son I had to arrange everything with the teacher who was really happy to have me come and read to the children and I made a Lebanese traditional dessert that we eat during Ramadan called basbousa.
After reading Ramadan by Susan Douglass, I spoke very briefly about the religion of Islam and opened it up for questions. Some of the questions were difficult such as “Are all Muslims terrorists?” and “Do you know any terrorists?”
“Well,” I answered. “I don’t know any terrorists and Muslims follow the religion of peace. The religion doesn’t accept terror but values kindness. There are people who claim to be Muslims who do horrible, bad things.”
Taking a tape measure I pulled it out to 100 inches. “This represents all of the Muslims in the world. There are 1.2 billion Muslims around the world. Every country in the world has at least one Muslim in it. That’s a lot of people.”
On the board I drew the number of one billion, 1,000,000,000. At that time, the number of people saying they belonged to Isis was 25,000. I lowered the tape measure down to half a line, barely a line at all. “But of all the Muslims in the world, the people who are creating terror (not only to Christians but to other Muslims as well) are so few that they do not even count for one line.”
The children were so surprised. “One of the most important personal traits that someone can develop in Islam is kindness. What kind things can we do for each other and to each other to make your classroom a wonderful place to study?”
Step by step, Omar’s teacher made a list on the board of all the kind things they could do to make their learning community a kind place.
“Say kind words,” one little girl said.
“No put-downs,” another child chimed in.
“Pick up after reading or playing with the toys,” a boy shared.
Then, a very quiet little girl spoke up and said, “Let everyone be who they are. It’s perfect that way.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Valarie Budayr is Co-Founder of Multicultural Children’s Book Day, celebrated on January 27th of every year. She is an award winning author of 5 titles and CEO and publisher at Audrey Press and its imprints. She blogs over at Jump into a Book where she inspires families to pull books off shelves and stories off of pages with her creative book reviews and original book extension activities. She has many interests and hobbies including traveling, gardening and garden design, photography, music and knitting.
Multicultural Children’s Book Day’s website is a treasure trove and a great resource of multicultural books based on a variety of topics. Each year, bloggers review multicultural titles and we host a huge twitter party at 9 pm hosting big book bundle giveaways. Along with our resources, we host two very popular classroom kits, one dealing with kindness and the other dealing with empathy in regards to refugees and immigrants. Our classroom book program enables classrooms to receive a free book. Please join us as we celebrate our diversity and uniqueness through books on January 27th 2018. Please feel free to share what you’re reading and how you’re celebrating by using the #ReadYourWorld.