Since Sunday, October 8, many families have reached out to us and asked: “Brother Amin, how do we talk to our kids about what is going on in Gaza right now?” And to answer that, we've unfortunately actually had to do a lot of research on this tragic circumstance dating back to 12 years ago.
5 Critical Recommendations for Parents When Talking about Israel Gaza WarThis is not the first time that Gaza or the West Bank has gone through such challenges. And of course, the events that happened in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the murder of Muslims in London, Ontario are similarly heartbreaking.
As a result of managing these unfortunate events, we have developed a perspective on how to talk to children during times of tragedy, like the current Israel Gaza war. And much of that is informed by the work that Dr. Rania Awaad, the Executive Director of Maristan, has shared with us.
- Start With Yourself
When you are on a plane, the pilot says, “In the event of an emergency, put a mask on yourself before you help other people.” The same is true with respect to our conversation with our kids related to this topic.
Realize that you as a mom or a dad are the most important role model in your child's life. They're looking to you for cues on how they should feel anger, sadness, hostile hostility, or fear. And so for many of us, including me, this is incredibly difficult to process.
If I am on social media or have the news on all the time, that can really impact my own feelings. So before we push our feelings of fear, anxiety, or anger onto our kids, we need to process our own feelings.
- Pay Close Attention to Age
We have to realize our kids’ brains are like sponges; whatever goes in has the opportunity to come out. For kids that are six and younger, these traumatic events, the specifics of the situation, and feelings of fear can be extremely overwhelming. And we should seek to protect the innocence of these kids in light of the Israel Gaza conflict.
I'll be honest with you, as a 35-year-old man, when I hear about two million people who do not have water or electricity or food, who are trapped with no way out, and whose homes, schools, and hospitals are being destroyed, I have a difficult time processing this. So just imagine what it’s like for the youngest members of our community. We should try to spare them from the details and be extremely sensitive with respect to how we talk about the situation, if at all.
- Listen First
Often, as parents, we may want to push our own feelings onto the kids. But for our kids, even those younger than six, we should start by listening and asking open-ended questions. “What have you heard?” “How do you feel?” “What's on your mind?” “What are you worried about?” This allows our kids to first tell us what's in their hearts, what's on their minds, and what they've heard before we introduce new information to them.
- Validate and Then Correct
Our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) reportedly said that our ummah is like a body. If the eye hurts, the whole body hurts. If the head hurts, the whole body hurts. It's in our nature. It's our fitrah, the way Allah created us. When we see other people hurting, especially those in our own community, we hurt. We feel sad. We feel mad.
As we listen to our kids in an event like the Israel Gaza conflict, the first step is to validate those feelings and say, “I understand that you feel angry. That's normal.” “I understand that you feel scared or sad. And that's normal. That's what you're supposed to feel.” Validating those feelings allows us to stay balanced. And it allows us to feel okay.
It’s also true that we have to correct ideas more often than not, especially for younger kids. What they hear is sort of true but a little bit fantastic as well. They might have heard: “And then they're going to come for us,” which, of course, is not true. So you can create a sense of safety for them. As parents, we must be really quick to correct.
On that note, it's also important that, as parents, we don't characterize people in generalities and labels, like “all Jewish people”. That, of course, is not the case. We as Muslims have tremendous respect for people who are Jewish. We have tremendous respect for people who are Christian. We have tremendous respect for everyone who is human. Our issue is with oppressors.
- Find Productive Ways to Channel These Feelings
This isn’t just for our kids. Frankly, it's with us. What do we do with these big feelings?
Our Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) reportedly said that if someone sees injustice, they should seek to first fix it with their own hands. If they can't fix it with their own hands, they should speak out against it. If they can't speak out against it, at a minimum, they should feel bad about it in their hearts.
As parents, we have a really unique and compelling opportunity to actually do something. Here are three ideas get us started:
We can take action. We can pick up the phone and call our congressman, congresswoman, or state senator. We can simply say, “Hey, this blockade that's happening in Gaza is not okay. It’s unacceptable to prevent water and food from reaching innocent kids.” We can do that. And we should.
You can find your congressman or congressman here. And you can find your state senator here.
- We can speak out against it. It's important for us to use our voices to say that violence of every stripe is unacceptable, especially when it's done without regard for human life and dignity. And we can do that via social media. We can do that by attending events at our masjid.
We can make dua and pray to Allah. Our Lord tells us, “Call on me, [and] I will answer you.” [Qur’an;40:60].And He (SWT) tell us, “We will surely test you with a measure of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth, lives, and fruits; and give good news to the patient—those who, when an affliction visits them, say, ‘Indeed we belong to Allah, and to Him do we indeed return.’” [Qur’an; 2:155-156]So when we are afflicted with tragedy, we should patiently persevere. We should remember our connection to God.
In times like these, we should engage in prayer. If you are not someone who often prays, this is a great opportunity to start. If you don't go to the masjid to pray, then pray in congregation at home. After salat al-maghrib, raise your hands and pray as a family for the people who are oppressed.
We pray for the best for the oppressed and we ask Allah (SWT) to grant them immediate relief.