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On Being a Muslim Parent

By Eboo Patel


Last year, as I was unpacking my son’s school backpack, I found the children’s book on the Prophet Muhammad that my wife and I read to him at night. He had brought it to school without telling us. “It was for show and tell,” he explained to me.

You might think that my first reaction would be happiness. One of my goals as a Muslim parent is to help my kids feel connected to their faith. Clearly my son felt close enough to his religion to bring a book on the Prophet to share with his class.

A Muslim child – Photo:  Aman Ahmed Khan  / Shutterstock

A Muslim child – Photo: Aman Ahmed Khan / Shutterstock

What I actually felt was a shock of fear shoot down my spine. It was an immediate, visceral reaction. A whole slew of questions raced through my head. What did his teacher think of Muslims? What about his classmates? Would somebody say something ugly or bigoted about Islam during my son’s presentation? Would his first taste of Islamophobia come at the age of 5 during show-and-tell?

My fear at that moment is one small window into what it feels like to be a Muslim-American parent at a time when Muslim extremism is on prominent display and Islamophobia in America continues to spread.

My wife will not let me watch news shows inour home for fear that one of our kids will saunter by during the segment discussing Muslim terrorism (and it seems to be a regular feature of the news these days) and ask what’s going on.

The truth is, I would not have a good answer for them. I am doing my best to get two kids under 10 years old to love and identify with their religion in a secular urban environment. I don’t have a way of explaining to them yet that there are some people who call themselves Muslim who do stunningly evil things. When the TV talks about Islam, mostly they talk about those people. Moreover, when some Americans think about Islam, all they think about are those people.

I wish I could say that I see this situation improving sometime soon, but I don’t. The emergence of groups such as ISIS who are equally adept at medieval brutality and 21st century communications suggests that Muslim extremism will continue to dominate the public discussion about Islam. That moderate Muslims refuse to denounce such groups is simply a lie. We do, with frequency and intensity. After all, it is our religion these murderers seek to deform, and it is moderate Muslims who they kill first.

There is little doubt that segments of the Muslim world are in crisis right now, experiencing everything from civil war to spasms of extremist violence. All religions go through crises. Those historical moments passed, and so will this one.

How can Americans who are not Muslim help? By learning more about the actual core principles of Islam — monotheism, mercy, ethical living — and recognizing that the vast majority of Muslims are doing their best to hold to these.

Turns out, that’s precisely what my son experienced during show and tell.

“What happened when you showed your class the Muhammad book?” I asked gingerly.

“Everybody liked it,” he said. “They said it was cool, all the different stories about how the Prophet helped people.” And then he took off to play with his Legos.

A good lesson for me, that most of the Americans we come into contact with do not harbor ugly prejudices. And a good lesson for them, that their Muslim classmate is a normal kid, trying to have fun, do his best in school, and love his religion. 

Reprinted with permission from Sojourners, (800) 714-7474, www.sojo.net