OPINION: We should teach our children about different religions, no matter what our beliefs are

Whenever important issues concerning our children make their way onto our Facebook groups and Whatsapp chats, and by that I mean issues that involve teaching our children about the dangers of the world, politics affecting their future and different religious faiths, I’ve noticed we always come to the same conclusion: let our children stay children for as long as they can – they’re innocent and there’s no need to bombard them with all of that.

But in a world where people are enraged by the fact that many foods have the halaal stamp (because Muslims are supposedly manipulating people into "funding Islam"), while in fact there is a total of one fridge per store of halaal meat; in a world where people are dedicating full days to "punishing Muslims" by burning down mosques for 1000 fictional points (Yes, Punish a Muslim Day was held on 3 April because Muslims are apparently taking over the world); in this world I think it’s important to start teaching our children the facts about other faiths, if anything, so they can become more tolerant of others.

Destroying destructive stereotypes

This isn’t, of course, assuming that our children need help to be decent human beings at such a young age by forcing religions that we don’t necessarily believe in on them, it’s simply teaching them about others and making the world a less scary place while at the same time breaking destructive stereotypes.

I recently came across a video that, as a muslim woman, was terribly upsetting for me, as I watched two American women take their children to a place of worship where they would “expose mosques”. What is most upsetting about them vandalising this sacred place, however, is the fact that we can hear the children in the background say, “They (Muslims) smell like goat” and “Mommy, they buy their chicken to rape it”, to which their mother responds, “Exactly”, almost pleased – proud.

Edward Said wrote of his experiences in the Western world, in his book Orientalism: “The life of an Arab Palestinian in the West, particularly in America, is disheartening. There exists here an almost unanimous consensus that politically he does not exist, and when it is allowed that he does, it is either as a nuisance or as an Oriental.” Which, to put it bluntly, translates to the fact that I, as a Muslim woman, will either be seen as exotic or a terrorist. 

But I am neither.

I am in fact a lot like everyone else.

In Islam we also worship one God, and we are also told of the story of Moses, Abraham and Noah. We just call our God Allah and his prophets are Moosa, Ebrahim and Nuh, and the last prophet is the Prophet Muhammed SAW (peace be upon him).

We are all a lot more alike than we think and so I believe that the solution, or rather, an end to spreading such hatred starts with us not indoctrinating our children, as some might feel, but learning about other faiths and then teaching them to our children. So when they see something scary in the media one day, with some sort of religious affiliation, they are aware of the fact that it’s our actions that define who we are, and an entire faith cannot be condemned for the actions of a select few – a sentiment that we always seem to forget.

A few ways you can teach your children about different religions

Instead of emphasising how very different we all are, help children see the similarities between people. This will eliminate the idea that because someone is different, they are further away and “other” to us. It will help to make them more tolerant, and possibly getting them a new friend or two.

Let them explore and celebrate other religions. You can do this in a number of ways including talking about religious holidays. Some are particularly exciting and the kids would love to learn about and observe holi, for example – the festival of colours in which Indians come together to dance, eat and throw colour powder at each other to celebrate fertility with the arrival of spring, the triumph of good over evil, and love.

If you’re not comfortable observing particular holidays, there are other ways to introduce our children to other faiths, or at the very least, teach them about other faiths. Without even realising it, every December our children watch their favourite cartoons and the episodes are more often than not about Christmas. And that isn’t a bad thing because they aren’t always about a religious message but, in the case of this Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas clip, coming together and, again, love.

And there are more cartoons out there than we think. There's Rugrats, teaching children about Passover, the Jewish holiday celebrating the release of the Jews from slavery under Moses’s guidance and God’s grace:

Or entire films like Coco, based on the Mexican culture and the Mexican holiday, the Day of The Dead, in which families gather to remember those who have passed:

Although letting them watch cartoons and films with a religious message can seem rather daunting to us, especially if we’ve got particular religious beliefs, we guarantee it won’t push them in the direction of adopting a different religion. It will only introduce them to new faiths and traditions that might help them to push back against particular stereotypes.

All I’m saying is it might seem a little scary for us, but it will ultimately create a less scary world. Because the truth is, if you can vandalise a mosque to teach your children how to hate, surely, you can also teach them how to love.

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

Do you think that we should teach our children about different cultures and religions? If so, how have you done so in the past? Tell us by emailing to chatback@parent24.com and we may publish your comments.

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