Last week’s Chapel Hill murders have shaken Muslim families across the nation. Craig Stephen Hicks, a 46-year-old white anti-theist, took away the lives of three young, charitable, and intelligent American-Muslims: Razan Abu-Salha (19), Yusor Abu-Salha (21), and Deah Barakat (23).
The Problem: Kids and Islamophobia
With Islamophobic rhetoric and hate crimes rising in the United States, it is immensely challenging to help Muslim children cope with the situation while encouraging them to remain confident in their religious identity.
Should parents even broach the sensitive subject of three execution-style murders with their children? What approach would work best?
Kids will find out one way or another
When it comes to bringing up the difficult topic of murder to children, parents must be mindful of their child’s age, maturity level, and whether or not they will learn about these events elsewhere.
Saira Siddiqui, who runs a popular online blog, Confessions of a Muslim MOMma-holic, and holds a Master’s Degree in Education, advises, “Generally, parents should talk to their children about this if their kids are likely to find out about it elsewhere, or if they are old enough to comprehend it.”
Parents must make a distinction in age, however. Nicole Correri, Director of Ensaniyaat, an educational consulting firm, explains "Not every age is ready to hear the same information regardless of what they are exposed to elsewhere." Parents must provide developmentally appropriate responses based on their individual child's age and maturity level.
Given that many young Muslim kids will be exposed to this story, it may be strategic for a parent to introduce the issue such that he or she has the ability to deliver the message in a way that is compassionate and is congruent with the child’s comprehension level.
Mean people are the exception, not the rule
It is imperative that children feel safe and are not paranoid of non-Muslim friends and neighbors. Rather, children should understand that those who have negative feelings toward Muslims are a minority.
Habeeb Quadri, Principal of the Muslim Community Center Academy in Morton Grove, Illinois, emphasizes the need to communicate without instilling fear. He says, “In a healthy discussion, we have to explain that there are many people who are very supportive of Muslims. We can’t suggest that ‘all non-Muslims are out to get us’ because that is harmful in the end.”
Though what has occurred to Yusor, Razan, and Deah is nothing short of tragic, children should not feel traumatized when learning about the incident from their parents. This would only cause the child to feel more afraid and grow uncomfortable with their religious identity presently and down the road.
Ignorance as a cause. Empathy as a solution.
When Amnah Ibrahim, San Francisco-based blogger at Little Life of Mine and mother of three, discusses Islamophobia with her daughter, Amnah helps her understand through a math analogy. Amnah explains, “I gave my 8-year-old the example of her math homework. [I tell her] ‘It's like how you hated math because you didn't understand it. Once you learned more about it by studying with your teacher and learning the rules, it became easy and you began to actually enjoy math. A lot of people have never met Muslims, so they don't know that they are actually kind people.’”
Saira expands on this idea, saying, “We must talk about the 'other.’ What compels someone to take this sort of action?” By discussing the root cause of bigotry as a lack of understanding, it not only helps children understand that a solution exists for such crimes, but also facilitates an opportunity to channel angst in a constructive way.
For example, Amnah and her children channeled this discussion into an activity in which the family baked and packaged cookies to deliver to their neighbors. In doing so, they could help their neighbors develop empathy for American-Muslims.
The goal of the initiative, #YourMuslimNeighbor, is not to evangelize Islam; rather, the goal is to help neighbors develop empathy for the normal, everyday Muslim next door. Amnah comments, "They’ve seen me playing in the street with my daughters, but do they know that I make awesome chocolate chip cookies?"
Your children will follow your lead
Ultimately, the manner in which a child’s parents deliver the message and the actions they take immediately afterwards are the greatest determining factors in how a child will respond and behave.
Nicole Correri, Director of Ensaniyaat, an educational consulting firm, explains, “The consistency you demonstrate as a believer in all realms of your life will give your children an excellent model for how to be Muslim in this society.”
If parents are fearful and hide their Islamic identity, their children will also be insecure. But, if they are strong, proud, and actively embrace their religious identity, their children will very likely emulate the same behavior.
Though the Chapel Hill shootings may cause the Muslim community to feel more ostracized or afraid, it is a wake-up call for all American-Muslims, especially parents, to be more aware of Islamophobic events and to increase their civic engagement.
Now, more than ever, parents must do more, be more, and teach more to help create a better world for their children and the next generation of Muslims.
Written by Mahvish Irfan. Mahvish is a writer for Noor Kids and a recent graduate of Rutgers University, where she studied Religion, English and Professional Writing. Follow her on Twitter @MahvishMI
Noor Kids is a Harvard-supported education technology firm that seeks to build confidence in the religious identity of little Muslims through role models, critical thinking, and parent engagement. Since launching, Noor Kids has published eight children’s books that have entered into over 25,000 homes across 25 countries, establishing itself as one of America’s fastest growing Islamic children’s book series.
See a free sample by clicking here.