Defining the World, Defining You, My Son

  My eldest, who is fascinated with lists comparing largest tsunamis or most populated cities in the world, one day asks me at the dinner table, “Mama, what is the tallest building in New York City?” I look at him and hesitate, “Well, umm, it used to be these two buildings called the Twin Towers….” and I can see his eyes transfixed on me as he sees the caveat coming….”but it’s now the Empire State Building.”  And now he’s stopped eating and the inevitable question, “what happened?” I stare at him for a good, long moment. What and how do I tell him about 9/11?  And so, I decide not to shy away from this moment.  “Something terrible happened almost 10 years ago…” and I briefly, in about three sentences, tell him what happened. I leave out the part about the perpetrators of this crime.  He prods on with a few more questions and then begins narrating his own made-up version of something that occurred in his imaginary country of Carolina (yes, he has an imaginary country, off the coast of Madagascar no less!).  And I know this to be his way of understanding and assimilating what he learns about the world into his mind.

  And then, I am immediately saddened for my son. How will I one day tell him that 9/11 was perpetrated by so-called Muslims, people belonging to his faith? How will I tell him that some segments of the larger society blame his religion for this tragedy? How will this innocent boy of mine take in the language, images, rhetoric, and persons of anti-Islamic sentiment?  How will I assure and teach him that while there is much that is wrong with the world, there is a role for you to play in it to make it better?   

While he’s moved on to talking about other things, I keep looking at him and so many thoughts continue to cross my mind.  I think of the many struggles that lay ahead as he will have to carve out an identity that is, inshaAllah, strong in faith but not removed from a larger society that will be at odds with his values. I think, well, I experienced the same challenge, growing up here as the first generation of immigrant parents, we’ll help him, his father and I.  But of course I realize his upbringing will be different in so many ways.  For him, I know he doesn’t yet have a notion of being “different,” a refreshing lens to look through from a child.  I wonder how he will make sense of his dual-ethnic background, an upbringing that prioritizes Islam as the defining force in his life (inshaAllah), and numerous cultural sways.

I catch myself.  It will be a struggle, no doubt.  There will be internal turmoil, outwardly changes, and tears.  And we will go through it together. 

Rasul (s.a.w) in a hadith (paraphrased) called for glad tidings for the ‘strangers.’  His companions asked who they were.  He (s.a.w) said that Islam came as a strange religion and there will come a time when it will be deemed as strange and those who follow it also as such – so give glad tidings to them. 

May Allah (swt) guide us in our endeavors to raise righteous, balanced children who will be proud to belong in this world as contributing citizens and in the hereafter as the Ummah of Rasul (s.a.w). Ameen.

                                                                                                                                       Fariha Khan

 Fariha is mommy to three children (5 1/2, 3 1/2, and 1) and lives in Maryland.  She loves the outdoors, reading, and spending time with family and friend

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