I’ve written several blog posts about the importance of talking to our children about Jesus and what he means to Christians as well as how Unitarian Universalists view him. I believe it is equally important to share stories about the prophet Muhammad; however, until recently there has been a shortage of good resources for Unitarian Universalist parents on Islam and Muhammad in particular.
Now, from Skinner House, Muhammad: The Story of a Prophet and Reformer is available with a series of short stories exploring his life—including his childhood. This book written by Sarah Conover can be read independently by most children over age 12, but it would be a much richer experience if shared between a parent and a child (even those younger than 9) so that questions can be asked and ideas raised by the book can be discussed.
Intricate details bring these stories to life for children of all ages, such as: how and why his mother sought a wet nurse to raise him in the desert instead of raising him herself as a single mother in the polluted city of Mecca; and how as a child being raised in the desert, he often sought the solitude of his own company which allowed him to appreciate the wonder of nature epitomized by the determined shoot of a green plant rising from a crack in a rock.
In reading this book, I discovered an amazing number of similarities in the life of Muhammad and the stories told about Jesus. They both asked a lot of questions as a child (something our Unitarian Universalist children can surely relate to), the desert featured in both of their lives, and they both suffered hardships because of the radical beliefs they were preaching yet refused to waver from the path they traveled.
I also learned that when Islam became “the path of spiritual, social, and political reform across Arabia and eventually, well beyond those borders,” it often served to replace tribal laws that were brutal and unforgiving. Likewise, I discovered that Muhammad devoted his life not just to spreading the religion of Islam but—through his message—changing the social inequities of the time. He deeply believed that education was a key to empowering the poor—for both men and women. This was most definitely a radical idea of the time!
While this story book follows Muhammad’s life into adulthood and his revelations through the rise of the new religion of Islam, it also shares how he regularly interacted with family members and friends who had much different religious beliefs than his—including Pagans, Jews, and Christians. As Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core, explains in the introduction of the book, “so frequently we hear the perversion that Islam is a tradition that seeks either separation from others or domination over them. These stories highlight the relational dimensions of Islam, an important lesson for both Muslims and non-Muslims.”
This is a very important lesson indeed, particularly in our current cultural climate where Muslims are frequently portrayed as evil villains who are bent on destroying the American way of life. If we are to raise our children as religiously literate human beings who can be leaders in the interfaith movement of the even more religiously diverse world of the future, then we need to allow them to explore stories from the Islamic tradition as well as the other two that make up the Abrahamic faiths: the Christian and Jewish traditions.
It is also important to teach our children that the more radical elements of any religion do not speak for the majority of people who follow that faith, despite the fact that those more radical elements are the ones who make the TV news. So if we are indeed a people who raise our children to believe that all persons have inherent worth and dignity—and that we seek wisdom not only from science—but also from the world’s religions to inspire us, then we should share stories from many different faith traditions—including Islam.
Decoration by Iman K. Hasan
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Michelle Richards is the author of Tending the Flame: The Art of Unitarian Universalist Parenting (Skinner House, 2010).