Beliefs

What to say when your Muslim child asks about Peshawar

Members of the USC Pakistani Student Association mourn the 146 lives lost at a elementary school for children of the Pakistani military. RNS photo courtesy of Neon Tommy/Flickr.

(RNS) The massacre of 145 people, nearly all of them children, at a Pakistani school on Tuesday (Dec. 16)  is almost too horrible for adults to talk about, much less children.

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Members of the USC Pakistani Student Association mourn the 146 lives lost at a elementary school for children of the Pakistani military. RNS photo courtesy of Neon Tommy/Flickr.

But what if your Muslim child brings it up? What if you want to open the discussion?

Does the fact that the gunmen — members of the Pakistani Taliban — consider themselves devout Muslims make the conversation more difficult?

What about the fact that some people are going to blame Muslims in general for atrocities committed by a few?

This is not the first time militants have targeted children. Among other incidents, in 2012, they shot teenager Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani champion of girls’ education, who survived, and in April, the extremist group Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 Nigerian girls, also because of their objections to educating girls.

We asked Muslim parents how they handle these conversations with their children. Here are some of their answers:

Teach them about Islam

Muslim parents want their children, and all children, to understand that Islam does not condone such horrific violence — just the opposite. When the news shows a beheading or suicide bombing committed in the name of Islam, you don’t want to have to start explaining your religion. Better to give them a good Islamic education from the start.

“It’s critical to teach children the facts about their faith,” said Dr. Saud Anwar, a pulmonologist and the mayor of South Windsor, Conn.

Corey Saylor, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said his children, 12 and 14, responded to the massacre in Pakistan as any decent human beings would — with revulsion. The children were taught that no religion — or serious philosophy of life — could call these killings an act of faith.

That’s because, Saylor continued, his family has been having serious talks about these topics since the girls were small. “At my house, everybody has to be at the dinner table, even if you’re not hungry, because that’s where we discuss these things,” he said.

Pray

“As Muslims we are taught when we see such tragedies to pray for the souls of the deceased,” said Saima Sheikh of Dallas, spokeswoman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the U.S.  That’s what she tells her 16-year-old-son, who is the age of many of the students killed at the Pakistani school. When violence erupts — perpetrated by the Taliban in Pakistan or by a mentally ill gunman at a Connecticut elementary school — Sheikh encourages her son to “increase his prayers.”

“Prayer is a weapon that protects us from sin and at times of great peril like now, we should pray more fervently for peace,” she said.

Don’t underestimate your kids

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Members of the USC Pakistani Student Association mourn the 146 lives lost at a elementary school for children of the Pakistani military. RNS photo courtesy of Neon Tommy/Flickr.

The topic is horrific, but that doesn’t mean older children can’t have a straightforward and calm discussion about it, said Saylor. So talk to them, he said, but listen to them too.

“I’m always impressed by children’s ability to understand things at levels that sometimes parents don’t give them credit for,” he said. “So I talk directly with my children and then listen and answer their questions in a manner that respects their age and also respects the fact that they are human beings who can think for themselves.”

Provide perspective

While the newspapers are full of stories about violence committed in the name of Islam, it’s important for children to understand that evildoers “are not limited to those who claim to be part of our faith,” said Nihad Awad, CAIR’s national executive director, and the father of three grown children.

That may seem obvious. But it can be frustrating for a parent angry about a horrific act of violence to also have to deal with a backlash against Muslims generally. Saud’s advice: Check your anger, because it doesn’t help to carry that around, “and draw the lines between right and wrong.”

YS/MG END MARKOE

About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)

13 Comments

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  • What to say when your Muslim child asks about Peshawar

    They shouldn’t have to ask! They should have already seen their parents break down in tears as I did upon hearing about this horrific, inhumane act. They should see their parents in chorus with all other Muslims all over the world who don’t agree with the radical interpretation of their faith speaking out, no screaming loudly, enough is enough. As long as the majority of muslims sit quietly by while these radical murders represent their faith to the non-muslim world through these inhumane actions, they will be by default conceded how islam is defined.

  • I will say to my kid that the followers of the historic terrorists, the like of Abu Bakir, Omar and Aisha have been committing these kind of atrocities for 1400 years. To safe guard the future of our kids, the world is urgently in need to unite in their action to criminalize this ideology that takes historic terrorists as roll models.

  • I will say to my kid, read the valuable book called, PESHAWAR NIGHTS. This is a must read book. This book was written back in 1927. It exposes this dangerous ideology concocted by historic terrorists, the likes of Abu Bakir, Omar and Aisha. It is a great book to inoculate your kids against this dangerous virus called Bakri/Omari/Aishi idiology.

  • That is an incredibly ignorant statement to make. Countless Muslims loudly condemn such acts of radical murderers, and you say they sit quietly by? The truth is that you are either not paying attention or perhaps intentionally ignoring these voices. And that’s a reflection on you…not on Muslims. Once you bother to look, you find what I have found … that a very large number of Muslims and Muslim leaders have continued to condemn and speak out against acts of violence committed by Muslims. Let’s be real here. The responsibility for being informed is on you to ensure you’re hearing everything being said.

  • I will tell my kid that no faith can condone any such brutal atrocities. These terrorist have nothing to do with Islam. They don’t deserve to be called humans even. Every human life is sacred n terrorist don’t have any right to hurt or take anyone’s life.

  • You forgot to mention Joshua, David and others whose ideology is what you are reflecting! When you add them to your list then it would be wise to say.

  • Pea..-Read all about these historic terrorists, Abu Bakir, Omar and Aisha, who terrorizing all of those who refused to support them.

  • First the act committed by criminals in Peshawar was no ideological war. This was twisted mindset that was created to make an ideological war or religious war.
    People who manufacture and supply the very arms which have killed innocent children are equally to be blamed.

    Having said this, most Muslim children knows that their religion Islam doesn’t profess nor the founder or the companions of Muhammad ever killed any children in the name of a religion. Rather, his companions, Abu Bakir, Omar, Bilal – the African, Zaid and countless others suffered at the hands of anti-Muslim forces yet they stayed persevere. Muhammad’s own daughter Zainab suffered miscarriage when she was persecuted on account of her father by her husband but she remained quite and persevered, so did his father Muhammad while living in Medina and countless other companions.

    The role model in Muhammad and his companions, if these so called religious bigots would have followed, there would not be any Peshawar attack nor an article written on ‘What to say when your Muslim child asks about Peshawar.’

  • When was the last time you meat some one who takes Joshua or David (as wrongly portrayed) as roll models? On the other hand, the major bulk of Bakris/Omaris/Aishis, who attend mosques regularly, compete to emulate these historic terrorists characters.

  • Religious Rights- Abu Bakir and Omar didn’t settle for terrorizing and slaughtering your everyday average Muslims, they terrorized Fatima, the very apple of the eyes of the Prophet of Islam, for refusing to recognize them as legitimate rulers. They slaughtered thousands of devout Muslims under the pretext that these people had left the folds of Islam. However, the truth to the matter is that these were devout Muslims who ejected Abu Bakir.

  • Following the example of Abu Bakr?? Just so we’re clear, you’re talking about the same Abu Bakr who said this correct??:

    “O people! I charge you with ten rules; learn them well!
    Stop, O people, that I may give you ten rules for your guidance in the battlefield. Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate dead bodies. Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful. Slay not any of the enemy’s flock, save for your food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone.”

    [sarcasm]Oh yeah, I definitely see how their following his commands. Clearly these child-killers take after the man who commanded them to never kill a child in warfare.[/sarcasm]

  • Okay, let’s read:

    “O people! I charge you with ten rules; learn them well!
    Stop, O people, that I may give you ten rules for your guidance in the battlefield. Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate dead bodies. Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful. Slay not any of the enemy’s flock, save for your food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone.” -Abu Bakr

    Wow!! What a terrorist!! Forbidding the slaying of children, women, and old men?? How inhumane!! Forbidding his soldiers from mutilation?? The monster!! Forbidding even the slaying of those non-Muslims who engage in monasticism against the prohibitions of the Koran?? Downright inhuman!!

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