Orthodox Diversity

I live in what is labeled, “the safest city in America”- although I’m not leaving my doors unlocked based on this recognition. After living on our little cul-de-sac, I’m convinced that this may be one of the most religiously diverse cities in this nation. Our street seats six homes, each with a family practicing a different religion. Initially when we moved here we were excited to get new playmates for our kids but we sensed apprehension from our neighbors. So we sat back and let the kids work their magic! SubhanAllah, how true is the hadith of the Prophet peace be upon him, which says all children are born in a state of fitra and it’s the parents who make them Jews, Christians or Magians.

Before we knew it, all the children on the street were playing with each other forcing their parents to “get to know” their children’s play buddies. As expected, each family is serious and careful about their children’s friends, share the same values of moral upbringing, and share a strong religious identity. Today, we have Greek Orthodox, Hindu, Muslim, Orthodox Jewish, and Protestant kids who play on our street and go in and out of each other’s homes like their very own! My kids will move their party timings to ensure that chabad is done so their friends can join, while their friends make sure to grill the veggie burgers first before putting on kosher meats, while another remembers to get souvenir T-shirts from their trip that contains no faces/images on it! This truly diverse and tolerant little America is what my four home schooled children were able to conjure up over the past year. Though the rest of the neighbors have lived here longer than we have, different parochial schools, homework timings and mostly fear of what is ‘different’, never allowed these kids to bond like they have now.

Giving children the opportunity to learn from other children who share similar values, but practice them in different ways, has taught my children more than I could have. They ask questions to each other and the parents of their friends, and the answers are refreshing! Whether it is understanding why Krishna is blue in all his pictures, or how the teetsas hanging from the shorts of little Sammy unify him with the rest of the Jews, or why my little ones have to come in at sunset, each family has grown in the area of religious knowledge through experiencing it rather than just dry reading. A textbook may give my children the “what” and “how” of any subject area, perhaps a deeper look into a “why” may also be presented, but in real life situations, the “what if” and “now what” questions get answered as well.

It is heartwarming for me to see all the little kids of our street call my eldest son, bhaiya (older brother in Urdu), like his siblings. It is encouraging to watch all the kids on the street work together to clean out each others parents’ cars, and it is promising to notice how the kids work around each others’ religious restrictions to accomplish their shared goals. But most of all I love that my kids realize how balanced Islam is and how happy they are to be Muslims.  Words that come out of their own mouths after realization of a truth last forever in their minds. They are not blinded by the overly religious glare of any pedagogy to the point of not being able to listen to and acknowledge that there is good in everything. And yet, they have come to the independent conclusion that Islam is the middle way. In the words of my eleven year old, “Allah sure has made it easy for us, but He also cares for us so He does not make it too easy!”  SubhanAllah, isn’t life a better teacher than books?

Shaheen Rasheed

Shaheen  is a homeschooling mother of four, residing in CA. She consults families interested in homeschooling and runs a blog on parenting and homeschooling issues. Check out www.soulfulstudies.wordpress.com to read more of her work.

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