I was very frustrated.
I had great plans about what I would teach my children.
I would introduce them to the Quran, and stories of the prophets. I would read great pieces of literature to them. I would help them master basic maths and set them up for a lifetime of numeracy. But, I found that by the time I was finished completing those tasks that could not be avoided or put off, I was exhausted. I looked at the television and assuaged my guilt for not having the stamina to teach my children by finding all of the age-appropriate educational programmings and letting PBS and Sprout do some of the work for me.
By the time they were old enough to hold a pencil and begin scrawling letters, I switched gears to coloring books and workbooks where they traced their letters over and over again. They caught on fast and filled page after page with poorly written letters and numbers. I made flashcards with numbers on them. One to ten at first. Then to twenty.
I made them turn off the television when I made salat. They didn’t have to join me, but they had to observe the time. For five minutes, five times a day, they had to be quiet while mom prayed. And before I knew it they were big girls, able to stand with me for a few rakat. They were learning to read, but still not old enough to read independently. Bedtime stories were still a big deal.
And so I read.
I read every silly book you can imagine.
I did it when I was tired, and resented it. I did it when I was feeling silly and made all of the voices. I took them to story time at the library and let the professionals do it.
And then I realized that I had missed something.
I had walked them through the zoo and seen all of the animals, but never once mentioned that these too were part of Allah’s creation. I had taught them to say Bismillah before eating and drinking but never explained who this Allah was, in whose name we were eating. I taught them to recite Fatiha, but never explained to them the miracle of the Quran and its importance in my life. I read Quran every day when the house was quiet and I was alone, but that also meant that they never saw it being read.
Teachers told me how respectful and bright my girls were. Strangers told me they were well behaved and articulate. People praised my efforts, another single mom defying the stereotypes. But it occurred to me that Allah swta might not be so impressed with my efforts.
I was frustrated.
There were simply not enough hours in the day to include MORE stuff. I was already stretched to my limit. And then I remembered how my younger sister struggled with reading in elementary school. My mother, also a single mother, also stretched to her limit, would let my sister read to her in the car on the way to and from school or gymnastics classes. It was a good twenty-minute ride each way, and every time they got into the car, if there was still daylight, she would read.
And so I did the same. It started with the “Islam Quiz” game. I would ask them questions about the fundamentals ofIslam and they would giggle in the backseat as they competed to remember the answers.
How many rakat are in asr?
What are the five pillars of Islam?
I wasn’t sure it was sinking in, but we were having fun. As they became independent readers I started sticking simple books int he backseat. Stories of the prophets and books about manners and charity and friendship from an Islamic point of view.
Then, one day not too long ago, they were discussing insects and bugs and how they were interesting to learn about but creepy in real life. Then my middle child said “except spiders. Spiders are good because a spider saved Prophet Muhammad when he was in the cave.”
I am not saying that I am a great mom. I fail that test daily. But I am saying that Islam has to be a part of everyday life if we hope to raise Muslims. We must give it the same attention we give reading and maths and science. It doesn’t have to be dramatic. You don’t need to send your child to madrassah or pay large amounts of money. Children’s minds actively seek out information and challenges. All you have to do is point them in the right direction and answer their questions to the best of your ability.
Sometimes you have to say ” I don’t know, but I am sure we can find out together.” That can be humbling for some people. Especially, if you grew up with a very authoritative parent yourself. But it’s worth the effort.
So, if you are like me and spend several hours a week with your kids in the backseat, do yourself a favor and take advantage of it. Talk to your kids. Sing with your kids. Let them read to you. Don’t waste time. A lifetime of Barakat may be sitting right in your backseat.