From the ash-covered streets of Gaza, to the smoldering walls of Iraq, to the hollow mosques of China, the month of Ramadan has been challenging. The screams from Gaza, however, penetrate deeper, because of the role that we – as Westerners – play, through our government.
While no shortage of scholarly and journalistic articles have been published regarding this issue, there is a lack of articles focused on a specific demographic: kids. What do we tell our kids?
Our discussion is in four parts: (a) a rationale for telling children about Gaza, (b) a historical narrative to teach, (c) key topics to discuss, and (d) immediate action items.
Tell Your Kids about Gaza
The foremost question a parent should ask him or herself is, “Why should I tell my child about Gaza?” There are three primary reasons to share this narrative with your children:
(a) Forbidding Evil
Whether on the playground at the hands of a bully or in Gaza at the hands of a violent oppressor, injustice exists. In such situations, it is our duty to forbid evil. As Superman says, “All that's necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing.” The Qur’an agrees, stating that the best of people are those that enjoin in good and forbid evil (3:110).
(b) Inculcate Justice
As a trait, justice – the fair and equitable treatment of others – is perhaps the most noble of all traits. According to the Holy Qur’an, justice is the purpose of divine revelation (57:25). The Gaza narrative is an excellent story to help teach the concept of justice to our children.
(c) The Power of Prayers
Allah (SWT) promises, “Call on me, and I will answer you” (40:60). Prayers are the weapon of believers. Though we, as parents, may sometimes take prayers for granted, it is essential that we teach children this lesson, especially at a young age.
Our goal is to communicate the primary injustice which has occurred to the Palestinians. We do not seek to teach children every detail of the conflict because of the associated complexity.
Engage your children first with an analogy: Imagine that you shared your room with a friend, David, who was unfortunately homeless. The Mayor noticed that you got along well with David. After some time, the Mayor decided to give more than half of your room (along with your toys) to David. And further, every year, David takes away more and more of your toys. You try asking for the toys back, but now David claims that the toys belong to him. This is similar to what is happening in Palestine.
Below are key talking points:
Dealing with a Bully
The notion of an oppressor is perhaps difficult for a child to bear. The notion of a bully, however, is more easily understood. Additionally, providing lessons on how to deal with a bully is more applicable for children. Therefore, we use the allegory of a bully to teach children lessons from the current situation in Gaza.
Engage children with the following discussions:
1. How do you feel when you see someone being bullied?
As humans, we are predisposed to a feeling of compassion. It is a part of our nature, or fitra. By engaging children with this question, we seek to support the God-given nature to oppose injustice and oppression.
In addition to the primary question listed above, ask your child to, “put yourself in the shoes of the bullied.” The practice of empathy supports our capacity for compassion and mercy. As parents, it is necessary to also role model compassion.
2. Why does somebody bully?
At face value, this can seem like a difficult question. But upon analysis, it is simple: worldliness.
As mentioned previously, oppression goes against our fitra. How did a bully overcome this nature? When one becomes fixated to possession, status, and other worldly desires, the compassionate disposition is gradually suppressed.
Ask your children to recall a situation in which they witnessed bullying. What did the bully achieve? Generally, the answers range from gaining property (i.e. toys) to gaining status (i.e. laughs). Use this as a teachable moment to say possessions and power – at the expense of others – is unjust and wrong.
The most significant source from which a child gains a worldly disposition is through us, parents. The next time we backbite or hurt somebody, remember children are learning from our example.
3. What happens if nobody stands up to a bully?
Martin Luther King Jr. famously says, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” If injustice is not stopped, it will spread. If the bully hurt Asad yesterday, and Amira the day before, what guarantee is there that he will not hurt you tomorrow? There isn’t. Therefore, it is our role to take a stand.
It is part of our religion to help those in need. Prophet Mohammed (SAW) says, “One who hears somebody say, ‘O Muslims! Come to my help,’ and does not assist him, is not a Muslim.” The concept of helping those in need is not limited to Muslims, but it includes all of creation. In a narration Prophet Mohammed (SAW) describes a wicked woman who had seen a dog panting of thirst; she fed the dog water and was forgiven for her sins as a result.
As Muslims, we must take action when we see injustice.
4. How should we stand up to bullies?
Try to facilitate change on your own. If that does not work, then speak to others for help. And finally, one should pray with his or her heart. As the Prophet says, “If one of you sees something evil, he should change it with his hand. If he cannot, he should speak out against it, and if he cannot do even that, he should at least detest it in his heart, this being the weakest form of faith.”
5. What role do prayers play?
“Call on me and I will answer you,” guarantees Allah (SWT) in the Qu’ran (40:60). In order to ensure children believe in this message, pre-requisites exist. As parents, we must ensure children (a) understand the unlimited capability of Allah (SWT) and (b) appreciate how Allah (SWT) responds to prayers. These lessons are detailed in our latest book, The Power of Prayers.
Important note: many narrations speak to the incredible power in the prayer of people who are oppressed. Hassan ibn Ali, the grandson of Prophet Mohammed (SAW) was asked, “What is the distance between the heaven and the earth?” He responded, “The cry of an oppressed person in dua.”
Take a Stand Today
Practice the lessons you’ve learned by taking action. This activity will serve as a powerful example to your children that as Muslims, we are responsible for helping the oppressed around the world.
We have authored seven books and over twenty articles. This article, however, was a most challenging undertaking. A child’s mind is where the revolution begins. If there is hope for peace, it is with our children. May Allah (SWT) guide us towards success. Additionally, if you have any additional thoughts, advice, or coaching for parents, please comment below.