Raising children is a challenge, regardless of location, nationality, or faith. Furthermore, raising children who grow to love Islam and adhere to its tenets can be difficult, no matter where your family resides. But the challenge takes on a unique presentation when Islam is the minority religion.
AboutIslam spoke with two different mothers living in the United States about their experiences raising their children. Here is what they told us.
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Sister Rachel lives in Michigan and has three children: Hajira, aged 7; Nasser, aged 3; and Mina, aged 10 months (at the time of the interview). Rachel has lived in Europe and in a state in the southern US, but she spoke to AboutIslam about her experiences in Michigan.
“I think the most challenging thing about raising a Muslim child in USA is navigating the non-Muslim world and Muslim world,” she said.
“On one side, I must try to give my children an identity to be proud of. And the other side, I must protect my children from the things we consider un-Islamic, while also allowing them freedom of expression.”
While some Muslim parents may attempt to achieve this by avoiding difficult conversations, Sister Rachel takes the opposite approach. She does her best to involve herself and her children in the local Muslim community and encourages their inquisitiveness.
“We have open conversations. We attend the mosque for children’s functions, Ramadan activities and I help run a Muslim playgroup,” Rachel tells AboutIslam.
Michigan has a large Muslim population, especially in the Detroit area, but that doesn’t mean Islamophobia has never touched the lives of Rachel and her family.
She added, “I had an incident at a park splash pad where a little boy wanted to play with my children and a Muslim woman’s children with whom I was sitting. He was really sweet but his parents called him over and yelled at him not to play with [us] … The boy came by and said ‘I’m sorry, I’m not allowed to play with you.’ He was almost in tears.”
Hopefully this boy will remember the interaction he had with the kind Sister Rachel, who responded, “It’s okay, hon. It’ll get better someday.”
Sister Sidrah lives in Kentucky. Her children are Haadia, aged 6; and Hajira, aged 2.
Unlike Rachel, who is a convert, Sidrah was raised Muslim and is also facing the challenge of preventing her children from losing Urdu.
“It is much harder, if not impossible, to keep up the same level of proficiency in our mother tongue … as the kids find it much easier to speak English,” she tells AboutIslam.
In terms of fostering an Islamic upbringing itself, Sidrah comments, “Inculcating Islamic values in children requires a much more active involvement than it would in our home country.”
“The most important thing for us has been staying an active part of the local community of Muslims,” Sister Sidrah tells AboutIslam on how she is maintaining a strong connection to Islam.
However, far from being insular in her children’s exposure to Islam, Sidrah says that her family has a diverse group of friends.
It can be extremely beneficial to children to see that Islam is practiced in a variety of ways and that many different kinds of people are Muslim.
Sidrah comments, “The most important thing for us has been staying an active part of the local community of Muslims. We do that by getting together with the other Muslim families for potlucks and play dates. This helps create a sense of belonging to a special community in the kids.”
“They see the Islamic way of life being practiced in many different ways by Muslim families with varying cultures and countries of origin. This normalizes Islam for them and creates pride in them for being a Muslim,” she adds.
In contrast to Rachel’s story, Sidrah says that they have not had any incidents of Islamophobia. “Around us, Muslims [are] generally treated with acceptance and respect.”
Both sisters interviewed for this piece have some very beneficial methods to raising their children. One hopes that many Muslim families across the country and other Muslim-minority countries are taking a similar approach.
Living harmoniously with one’s neighbors and also raising children with a strong foundation in Islam are not mutually exclusive. Sisters Rachel and Sidrah truly seem to embody this.