I can’t remember exactly when I started reading to my oldest, but he couldn’t have been more than a month old. Books have always been an important part of my life, and I wanted them to be part of my sons’ lives also.
When they were little, finding books for them was easy. I read books about cars and trucks and farm animals. Even that got me into trouble once, though. Our family had traveled to an Islamic gathering in a different state, a very conservative Islamic gathering. My husband and our oldest son went to the men’s meeting place. They left me at the house of one of the women, a house where other women also came to learn.
The experience started off badly for me because I had burned myself on the way there. I was holding my second son, who was still a baby (okay, no car seat–but we didn’t have a car and rarely rode in one), while also juggling a hot cup of tea someone had passed me. The tea started to spill and I moved the baby so he wouldn’t get burnt, but my lap was badly burned.
So I walked into this strange woman’s house, in pain, and immediately the other women started talking about the importance of making dhikhr and such. But throughout the weekend no one ever asked me about my burn or offered to help. In fact, the only direct communication I remember from any of the other women was when one rebuked me because I was reading to my son. The book was about animals and I skipped the pig but did talk about the horse going neigh and the cat going meow and so on. This woman stopped me and told me I shouldn’t be teaching this to my son. I should only be teaching him about Islam. I still don’t understand how learning about the creation could ever be seen as unIslamic.
Anyway, except for that one incident, the books my children had in the early years were never controversial. We read about Curious George and Babar the Elephant and Harold with his purple crayon. As they got older their interests expanded. One of mine was very curious about dinosaurs when he was young and memorized the names of all of them. Another loved stories about Winnie the Pooh.
Finding books for my kids got to be harder, though, after the age of 10 or so. I did find Invincible Abdullah at an Islamic conference and gladly bought up some copies. I wanted them to develop their Islamic identities, but there wasn’t much else available to help them do that.
At first I read every book they read, to make sure it was Islamically acceptable. I did that until Harry Potter came out. Regardless of what anyone thinks of this series, I could never get involved in it. The books are long and, I think, boring. They’re just not my thing. I don’t do fantasy. It’s a personal choice but, anyway, there was no way I was going to use some of my precious time to read a 500 page book that I had absolutely no interest in. So I told my kids to go ahead and read Harry Potter, but to remember that magic is not part of Islam. None of them has expressed a desire to attend Hogwarts (is that the name?), and we don’t have any Harry Potter stuff in our house, so I guess I did a good enough job guiding them through that. (Though one of my sons does write fantasy, with an Islamic flavor.)
My experience as a mother of Muslim teens, as well as a teacher of Muslim teens, inspired me to start writing books my own kids could read.
(To Be Continued)