By Ammarah Usmani
Over the past decade and a half, after every horrific incident around the world, it seems as if time stops for a couple of days. Mental energy is at an all-time low, and if we’re not busy commenting and posting updates about the crisis or having passionate discussions with relatives and friends, we’re sitting on our couches, numb and mindlessly flipping through news channels, blood pressure rising and falling as we see again and again what we fear.
The first blow comes when the death toll pops up, steadily increasing. The second blow comes and we prepare ourselves for the list of condemnations.
Once again, Muslims are the culprits.
Throughout this whole scenario, we often forget about the young, innocent minds that are quietly observing their elders cope. Now, with the recent Paris attack, it’s crucial to know how to explain the situation to kids, whether elementary-age or teenage. Being too explicit about the event should be avoided, as well as being completely quiet. Teachers and other students might question your kids about their feelings at school, so you need to help them properly understand. Bullying is also a common occurrence nowadays, unfortunately.
These tips are specifically for the Paris attack, but can be molded according to any tragedy involving Muslims:
1. Show them how a Muslim properly reacts to any tragedy
It’s easier said than done, especially with the mix of emotions that came this time around – sadness, anger, frustration, confusion. For kids who aren’t school-aged yet, it’s still important to control and monitor your own reactions in front of them. Kids can fully sense anger and frustration. And how they see you react now will determine their own reactions, as they get older.
It’s okay to let out some emotions, which shows them that it’s a serious matter, but at the same time, it’s wrong to go into denial and act like everything is normal. Don’t
leave the news channel open all day. It’s not healthy even for adults to be completely consumed by the media, especially during this time. You need your children to be relatively aware, but you also don’t want them to lose the innocence of childhood.
It’s fine if they see a few tidbits, if it’s not too graphic. But instead of showing them that all you can do is sit and worry and write angry posts, show them positive
Make Dua with them after prayer. Sit down after Salah and supplicate out loud for the victims, for the affected, for their families, and for protection for Muslims around
We’re not always the best at this, but we need to be unbiased when it comes to any tragedy. No matter if the victims are Muslims or not, we need to open our hearts and grieve for all, as Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, did.
Muslims’ frustration at the double standards in media is justified of course, but it’s important to be emotionally intelligent. Those who lost loved ones are not at all at fault for the way media gives preference to one tragedy over another, and no matter how many angry comments you make and infographics you post about other countries, the media isn’t going to change its agenda. So be smart and show your children as well, that when tragedy strikes, anywhere in the world, you stand by
them as Muslims.
After a few days, you can point out the discrepancies and spread awareness about other tragedies in the past that weren’t equally covered, but, again, be tactful, be respectful, and choose your words wisely. Otherwise, your children will mimic your anger, and they might say insensitive things to others who might be in pain over the attack.
2. Emphasize what being Muslim really means, and that those who do wrong aren’t following Islam
For kids who do comprehend, their biggest question is – Why do these Muslims do bad things? Are we also like them? Does Islam really call for killing infidels wherever you find them? The older they are, the more complicated their questions may be.
Explain to your kids that ISIS, or any other group falsely claiming to follow Islam, are far, far from the truth. You need to emphasize that you and your spouse, as parents, are raising them to be good Muslims that spread humanity and not hatred. Allah is angry with anyone who kills an innocent human being. Just as there are good and bad people in other religions, unfortunately there are also people who call themselves Muslims and still do horrible things.
With older kids, you may need to open the Quran and point out the verses that people misinterpret, and explain their actual meaning with context, because they will most probably either question it themselves or will be questioned about it in school.
As well, for those kids in high school or older, as well as those who are interested in understanding the broader political and historical root of the problems Muslims are facing, be ready to discuss this with them. It is crucial that they understand that the Ummah is not in turmoil but in a struggle for freedom, justice, and peace.
But it’s not enough to just show what a Muslim is not. You need to also give examples of Muslim role models, Muslims who have done great things for our world, in the past and the present. They need to have a clear picture of a true Muslim, so whenever someone claims to be Muslim and commits heinous deeds, they can immediately tell they’re not following Islam.
3. Help them formulate general responses to questions and reactions from others
After you’re sure that their minds are at ease about their own identity, tell them how they should respond to any kind of question. Some would be common sense for them, but others require a bit of thought. For example, tell them to be honest when someone asks them how they feel about the attack – sadness at the lives lost and anger at the ones who committed the crimes. Tell them it’s also okay to say they’re a bit afraid, of being Muslim and having others assume that they support ISIS and evil acts around the world.
You also need to prepare your child for some negative feedback. In public schools, some non-Muslim kids may unfortunately be fed completely wrong information about Islam and the attack, so they might bully or harass your kid.
You need to have clear communication with your child so he/she would be comfortable in confiding with you. Every kid is different. Some may feel comfortable in responding positively to any negative remarks and clearing up misconceptions, but some kids may feel overwhelmed. If any incident causes too much stress for your child, talk to the principal and/or counselor at their school so they can properly handle the situation.
If you don’t take the right measures and you know your child is being bullied, he/she may even fear going to school.
Even if your kids attend Islamic school, you still need to have clear lines of communication with them. There have been reported minor threats to schools and Masjids after the attack, so tell your children to not wander far from their teachers and to stay inside the building at all times, unless supervised by a trusted adult.
4. Tell them it’s all a test from Allah
When the tension gets unbearable, and the situation is obviously out of our hands, then we need to do what any good Muslim does – leave it all to Allah. Your kids need to see what patience and perseverance really look like. Make Dua for better days, and show them what it means to have good expectation from Allah, that good and bad times are both from Him, and no moment lasts forever.
5. Make it a learning opportunity and chance for improvement
Sometimes, Allah brings forward shocking events to wake us up, shake us out of our dreamlands and jolt us with reality. Those who avail the opportunity can make the best out of any situation. Are we really fulfilling our roles as parents? What can we do to make sure our children can confidently bear the true flag of Islam and spread humanity?
If you’re not already active in the community, both local and Muslim, what better time to make this a priority? Your kids need to see that their parents aren’t complacent complainers, always just blaming others for the miseries of the Ummah, but not being proactive in spreading good.
Let’s try to be better Muslim community members and neighbors.
Everything happens for a reason – we believe this statement as a part of our Deen. Of course there is nothing at all positive about destruction and deaths, but you can help your children take away life lessons from this incident. While parents fear the opposite, this experience can help them gain confidence in themselves as Muslims.
With proper guidance, you can equip them for the tools needed to cope with any hard time. You can show them what it really means to help and support others, what it means to be emotionally intelligent, empathize, and display the essence of Islam and the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, who stood by everyone in their time of need, whether Muslim or non-Muslim.
May Allah protect the Ummah, especially our children, and aid them in spreading truth and humanity to all corners of the world, Ameen.