How To Make the Prophets Real for Small Children, by Sumaya Teli
Just the other day my 5 year old son was watching TV, when I heard him run to the bathroom… and then came the suspicious sounds of ‘trickling’.
“MAMA! I weeweed on the floor!”
“Argh!!!!” Annoyed, I rushed to him and really tried not to shout at him.
“OK, sit on the loo and finish it now” I said instead.
When he was done, I brought a heavy duty tissue roll and made it clear to him that I would help but he needed to clean it. He had just turned five a few months ago and while it may seem harsh, I was modelling the “perfect Montessori parent”. Cleaning the bathroom tiles would be a lesson in ‘practical life skills’. Plus, I was being ‘helpful parent’ and not a ‘helicopter parent’. I gave myself a virtual pat on the back for being such a calm, forward thinking mama.
It didn’t last long.
When my son’s attempts to clean the tiles only made the bathroom messier (it would have just been easier if I had mopped it up myself), I lost it.
“Why was the TV so important? How many times have I told you not to hold it in?! Just look at all this mess!” The tone of my voice was definitely not calm.
He looked upset – “I’m sorry mama…”
I felt bad but then, felt angry again at the thought of another cleaning chore to add on to my already long to-do list. Needless to say my ‘calm parenting’ approach went out of the window.
The Man Who Urinated In Prophet Muhammad’s Mosque
Soon after this incident I went to my usual “Mommy & Me” halaqa group – a gathering of mothers, grandmothers and even non-mothers on Tuesday mornings at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center. That day the teacher mentioned the hadith of the bedouin who urinated in the masjid of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. Not only did our beloved Prophet ﷺ stop his companions from throwing the bedoiun out or verbally abusing him, the Prophet told them not to stop him mid-stream, as that would be painful and uncomfortable. Only once the bedouin had finished did the Prophet ﷺ go to him.
The Prophet ﷺ addressed him in such a loving and kind manner that the bedoiun declared that he loved the prophet with all his heart and made a fervent supplication, “May Allah grant Jannah (paradise) only to you and me, O Prophet,” he prayed, to which the Prophet replied mercifully, “You restrict that which is vast.”
Mother Knows Best?
This story! I had heard it and read it many times before. Why hadn’t I remembered it just two days ago when my young son accidentally urinated, not in my living room or on any carpet but on a tiled and easy-to-clean surface in the bathroom itself.
Why had I been so severe in dealing with him? I – his mother! SubhanAllah! The kindness of our prophet ﷺ and the love he had for others – I felt it.
I vowed to go home and apologize to my son and tell him this hadith.
‘‘If you asked your child who their hero is, what answer would you get?”
In the mid 90’s, as a 12 year old, I remember reading an article from the iconic Trends Magazine that really struck me. The first line of the article asked a question, ‘‘If you asked your child who their hero is, what answer would you get?”
I was just a child myself and the prospect of being a mother was so far removed. Yet, this question fascinated me. I knew what the ‘right’ and ‘Islamic’ answer should be from the ‘perfect’ child but what are the chances of an ordinary Muslim child naming the Prophet Ibrahim or Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon them, as their hero, instead of Spiderman or Superman? It seemed impossible to me.
Over the years I would consider the idea on and off until one day, my then-3-year-old son said “Mama when I grow up I want to be IRON MAN!”
I had recently read in the book ‘Boys Should be Boys’ by American pediatrician Meg Meeker, that boys have an innate “boys’ code.” This is why they love all the super hero stuff; it speaks to their inner nature of being the “good guy.” This feeling, Meeker says, should be nurtured.
To me, it made perfect sense and I had an epiphany. A child’s fitra (primordial disposition) is naturally inclined towards goodness.
In a moment of (extremely rare) mothering enlightenment, I had a genius idea.
“You know Iron Man isn’t real right?” I asked my son. “I know he’s fun and exciting and he sure is a good guy, but he is in a story that somebody made up… he is not a real man who ever existed.”
My son didn’t look too convinced.
I tried a different angle – dragons and dinosaurs (another hot topic of interest!). I explained the difference between “not real and not existing” – (dragons) vs. “real but not existing any more” (dinosaurs). This seemed to clear things up and here is when I busted out my key idea.
“You know who was a real superhero, don’t you?”
I had his full attention.
I narrated the story of Prophet Musa, peace be upon him, and my son hung on to every single word. The trick was in the superhero jargon I used—that Musa had a ‘power stick’ that turned into a snake and ate all the snakes of the ‘bad guys’, and that his hand shone with the ‘power’ that Allah gave him. He used the power that Allah gave him in his power stick to part the whole sea, and save the ‘good guys’ from the bad, evil pharaoh.
My son’s eyes were shining with wonder. He now had a sudden wish to know all about the evil pharaoh. “Why was he so bad?” he asked me.
“Because he made people into slaves,” I answered, “and wanted others to worship him but we only worship Allah alone.”
Since that day, we have learned to love all the superhero prophets. Once at a restaurant, in a desperate bid to keep our son and his best friend occupied, my husband offered to tell them a story.
“What story would you like to hear?” he asked, expecting to hear “Curious George,” or “Iron Man.”
Instead, we heard an excited little voice pipe up – hands raised in air and all – “Prophet Ibrahim story! Prophet Ibrahim story!”
I thought in my heart – subhanallah, Ya Rabb, truly You are the one who can make the impossible seem possible and here we are. Our son’s immediate reply to “Who is your hero?” might not be a prophet’s name or a sahaba’s (companion of the Prophet) name but we were one step closer.
Prophet Ibrahim, apart from being super clever and tricking his people into admitting the big false idol they were worshiping could do nothing at all, also had the super power of being able to resist fire as Allah made the fire cool for him.
“Like it just tickles him,” my son will add with a little giggle.
Another favourite story is Prophet Yusuf’s story. He had the superhero power to interpret dreams. My son renamed his story: “The story of the Big Bad Brothers.”
Knowing Our Children
Keeping in mind what we know of our own children (and their interests) and what we know of our prophets, parents can make these stories come alive. We love each prophet and we are excited to find out their stories – even the Prophets who were not given super powers but fought evil with goodness always. And our last Prophet – Prophet Muhammad, who was so special and kind, had characteristics that were so relatable.
When our son was ‘into’ the Ninja Turtles and green was his favorite color, we asked him, well guess who else loved the color green. When our son was learning about spiders and their webs, guess how a little spider helped a great prophet once upon time. When our son found out that honey is a ‘super food’ and the prophet’s favorite, guess who wanted a spoonful in his milk every day.
So after attending the halaqa that day, I first apologized to my son and asked him to forgive me for shouting at him when he had an ‘accident’ in the bathroom.
The sweet boy said, “Yes Mama! But I had forgotten about that already!”
Then I told him the story about the man who did wee wee in the prophet’s masjid. It was met with a shocked expression and lots of giggles but the moral of the story was so clear and so heartwarming.
Tell your kids this hadith. Toilet humor always elicits giggles with the 4-7 age group and they will see the character of the Noble Prophet ﷺ in a new light. Talk organically with your children about Allah and the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ as part of everyday life. There are a wealth of opportunities and examples that are relevant for the child as well as the teen and young adult. In the words of sister Hina Khan-Mukthar – or actually in the words of her teenage son whom she quotes in a Facebook post:
‘Mama I don’t know who would follow Islam if they didn’t have love for the Prophet Muhammad… I think the only way a kid could be Muslim these days is if he knew and loved the Prophet ﷺ. I don’t know how ANYONE could be Muslim and NOT know the prophet…”
It’s Never Too Early
The best piece of parenting advice I have ever received was from a beloved family friend: it is never too early to talk to your children about their Creator. In fact, the later you leave it, the harder it will be.
In a world and time that is increasingly adverse to religion of any kind, my prayer for my children has always been that I hope Allah makes them of the people whose faith shines through their hearts attracting others to this beautiful religion, not with their words but with their hearts and actions.
So I leave you with the question – if you asked your child who is their hero, what would their answer be?
Sumaya Teli is the founder and co-author of Mamanushka.com
Resources for seekers:
- Parenting: Planting the seeds of prayer in our young ones
- Raising Your Children with Deen & Dunya
- The Powerful Dua of a Parent
- “Where are the fathers?”
- Islamic Parenting: Ten Keys to Raising Righteous Children
- Traditional Methods of Raising Children
- Raising Children With A Sound Heart
- Infertility: Why does Allah Not Bless Some With Children?
- Raising a Muslim with Manners
- The Prophet Muhammad’s Love, Concern, & Kindness for Children
- Making Ramadan a Time for Young Hearts to Grow
- On Parents Showing Righteousness to Children
- Habib ‘Umar bin Hafiz’s advice on duas to read during pregnancy and labour and for infertility
- Ibn Khaldun on the instruction of children and its different methods