As salamu `alaykum sister,
Thank you for your wonderful question, sister. In many ways, you have asked the million dollar question for many Muslim parents living in the West. Unfortunately, there is no substitute for an Islamic environment and all the things you mentioned – father, school, community, friends, family – all comprise that all-important environment. Looking at your situation, it is highly understandable as to why you are both concerned and struggling with your daughter’s situation there.
First off, there are, indeed, many good references on the Internet for Muslims to continue their Islamic education. I strongly urge you to explore them.
Resources aside, there really is no substitute for a healthy environment for children. Healthy, in your case, includes one where the child receives not only ‘hard’ knowledge of Islam, but is also surrounded by examples – adults and peers – that apply the knowledge they learn. Islam is an applied science. Book knowledge alone is not enough. The great Imam al-Shafi’i said that knowledge is not found in books, but is what benefits. Thus, real knowledge from an Islamic perspective requires the experiential element, reflected in Allah’s stress on the importance of good deeds.
As for your daughter’s situation specifically, I think you can approach the matter by first increasing your own knowledge of Islam, which can then be used to help your daughter understand. You are right to honor your daughter’s natural curiosity and desire to know the truth but you need the ‘ammunition’ if you will – the knowledge and wisdom – to be able to respond to her questions in a way that is both true and relevant to her young life. As such, try to draw on examples from your family life as well as her personal life to make whatever points you need to. That will make it much more real for her.
As for the schooling situation, that is another difficult issue. I understand why it would be easier for you to leave her in her current school, but there is also a need for her to be exposed to Islamic knowledge, and peers that share the same values and lifestyle. It will undoubtedly lead to a cultural clash at some point, I would imagine, and you need to be prepared to deal with it.
Also, her not having any Muslim friends could be a problem in the sense of socialization, and learning how to do so as a Muslim, which can be different than with non-Muslims. The environment is a huge influence on a young person’s lifestyle and they will in most cases reflect their environment in their own behavior and lifestyle. These are issues that all of us parents have to deal with, so know that you are not alone. This is all the more reason to search for and find, other Muslim parents out there; even if it’s over the Internet – for support and ideas.
Do your best to monitor her friend networks and see that she is socializing with girls who share similar values at least. Help her with her schoolwork in a way that infuses the Islamic perspective. This will help to broaden her understanding of whatever topic she is learning and lay the groundwork for enhancing her ability to think about such matters on different levels. Try not to preach so much as to teach – encourage her to ask questions and when you don’t know the answer, contact a scholar and seek the answer. You can even turn this into an activity that you can do together, learning and seeking knowledge that can in sha-Allah increase the strength of the bond between you.
As for the situation with your mother and church, this is a really difficult one. Of course, we must maintain positive relations with our family especially our parents, but if you sense that your mother is trying to push Christianity on her, then you may want to find a nice way to manage the situation so that at least your mother will not be able to take your daughter to church.
For a girl so young growing up in a non-Muslim environment, going to church on a regular basis will no doubt create much confusion in her mind – all the more reason why you have to be knowledgeable yourself so that you can provide meaningful answers to her queries. Furthermore, if your mother insists on taking your daughter to church with her, then I would say that you need to have a heart-to-heart conversation with your mother about the situation, and why it is detrimental to the child’s healthy development being so confused at such a young age. If she cannot accept your being Muslim that is one thing, but your mother should respect the fact that it is YOUR child and that you, as her parent, have the right to raise her how you see fit. Try to get this point across – in as respectful a way that you can – to your mother.
Lastly, do your best to understand that what’s most important at this stage is that your daughter begins to develop the foundations for believing in Allah and His Messenger. Don’t focus so much on learning advanced fiqh (jurisprudence), for example, at this age but focus on the basics first. Use everyday examples and opportunities to teach her. One way is to open up and let her see how you see things.
Don’t try to intellectualize it so much, but focus on things like the magnificence and wonders of the natural world, the orderliness of creation, the wonders of the human being, the great variety and persity that Allah creates, how Islam facilitates peace and order in our lives, the straightforwardness and purity of Islam as compared to other religions, etc. Use the experiences from your everyday life as examples, as they will be the most meaningful to her. And perhaps most important, your daughter has to see how important Islam is to you and how it adds to your life in so many positive ways. Finish your prayers with a big, warm smile and even a hug and kiss for your daughter. When she asks “what was that for?” you can explain to her the overwhelming sense of gratitude, love and blessedness you feel as a result of your prayer.
Make the most of the situation you have been given. Last but definitely not least, make lots of du`aa’ for your daughter and your little family. Pray that Allah keeps her and you guided and close to Him and ask Him to surround you with people that He loves and that love Him. Do your best and don’t panic. In sha-Allah through your sincerity, efforts and good example, Allah will provide in ways completely unexpected.
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