My alarm clock is set to play NPR in the morning because it's how I know what's going on in the world. This morning, I was shocked to hear the words of a bigoted presidential candidate — I don't even want to give him more legitimacy by naming him — lobbying to put a halt to Muslim men and women hoping to enter our country. Because I have two kids who are up before my alarm, they hear the radio too. They hear quotes about Muslims, and terrorists, and refugees, and they don't always know the context. I don't want them to absorb the inflammatory statements that scare me so much. I want them to know the real Islam. I want them to know about its rich culture, and its many followers, but I struggle with exactly how I should teach my children this. Should I read my children books about Islam? Should I take them to visit mosques? Though they're much too young to understand what's said on the news, but should I let them watch it anyway?
In an effort to prepare my children for living on our planet (which I'd argue is most parents' number one goal), I seek out diverse narratives to share with them. So one of the ways in which I plan on combatting so much of the negative images we are forced to absorb (whether we agree with them or not) is to read them books. I want to provide them a context outside of the rhetoric of the news. I want them to be able to learn, understand, and digest on their own terms without outward opinions influencing their own personal opinions. I want to give my children a fighting chance to become who they are without the media's influence shaping them. As children, they're inclined to believe what they hear — from TV, from their friends, from their teachers, and (arguably most importantly), from us, their parents.
I don't want my children to grow up believing the notion that a religion is bad or yields bad people. I don't want them to draw parallels that don't exist, and my partner and I certainly don't want our son and our daughter to think it's OK to discriminate against a person or people because of what they believe. Islam is the religion of the Muslim people, and according to this Muslim mom raising her kids in the U.S., this is what she's taught her children of their religion:
All he knows of Islam is that kindness only beautifies a thing and that all the prophets of God, from Adam to Noah to Jesus to Muhammad, were on earth to teach it. He imagines the prophets were superheroes given superpowers by God and loves each story, because that is the language of good guys and bad guys is the one he understands.
So in an effort to give my children the tools and resources they need, I took to Twitter to ask for recommendations for books that depict Islam correctly.
These are some of the books I plan on reading with them (or reading myself):
'My First Ramadan'
Karen Katz is a familiar author/illustrator in our house. I've read Counting Kisses at least a hundred times. In My First Ramadan, we follow a little boy who is embarking on the first day of Ramadan now that he's old enough to fast. In between beautiful imagery, you learn along with the main character about the prophet Muhammad and how he taught his followers.
'The Magic Words'
The Magic Words bedtime book by Lisha Azad and illustrated by Azra Momin tells the story of a little girl who is trying to fall asleep. She tries counting sheep, but it just isn't working for her. Her mother teaches her to recite dua'as (prayers) to try to sleep. These dua'as are magic words.
'Golden Domes And Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book Of Colors'
Written by Hena Khan and illustrated by Mehrdocht Amini, Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors is a richly illustrated book and a great read for teaching colors, but also for learning about some of the cultural aspects of Islam such as the Quran, the prayer rug, the hijab, and the generosity of zakat. My kids loved looking at this book, and experiencing Muslim traditions through the eyes of a little girl.
'Moon Watchers: Shirin's Ramadan Miracle'
Moon Watchers: Shirin's Ramadan Miracle is the story of a Persian-American girl living in Maine. It's written by Reza Jalali and Illustrated by Anne Sibley O'Brien. When Shirin feels left out because she's too young to fast for Ramadan, her grandmother tells her she can participate in other ways: by doing good deeds.
'The Hundredth Name'
Told by Shulamith Levey Oppenheim and illustrated by Michael Hays, The Hundredth Name tells about a boy, Salah, and his camel, Qadiim. This book depicts prayer and Salah's daily life in Egypt while also weaving in tradition and religious beliefs.
'My Name is Bilal'
Written by Asma Mobin-Uddin and illustrated by Barbara Kiwak, My Name Is Bilal is a picture book shows which depicts the struggle of being the new kid that doesn't feel like he belongs, especially when his sister is teased for wearing the headscarf. Bilal wants to hide the fact that he is Muslim, so decides to go by "Bill." Only when a teacher takes him under his wing, does Bilal learn the proud history of his name.
I've read other books by Rukhsana Khan (Silly Chicken, and King for a Day) and have loved them! The Muslim Child book shares stories and poems of children living a Muslim life. In some cases, the children struggle with their identity in non-Muslim societies. In other stories, kids are celebrating holidays and practicing other tenets of their faith. There are sidebars that explain terms and traditions, which are sure to be educational for kids and parents alike.
'Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal'
Created by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal reboot of a Marvel super heroine features a Muslim Pakistani-American girl named Kamala Khan. She idolizes the original Ms. Marvel and soon discovers that she's imbued with powers herself. Who doesn't love a good superhero comic?
'Does My Head Look Big In This?'
Randa Abdel-Fattah's Does My Head Look Big In This? about a Muslim teenaged girl, Amal, who decides to wear the traditional hijab full time. Everyone has a different reaction, and she does face some prejudice, but Amal remains true to her faith and her identity. It's a funny book, not preachy by any means. It's an excellent glimpse into what it's like to be marginalized.
'Written in the Stars'
Aisha Saeed's critically acclaimed young adult novel Written in the Stars explores what it's like to be growing up in America with strict immigrant parents. Naila is facing an arranged marriage, and when she falls in love with someone not of her parents' choosing, her parents travel back to Pakistan to explore their roots.