Explaining Islam to children may seem like a monumental effort but it is not, if done in a cheerful, tolerant and positive way. So take it easy, and let us begin with this new cultural and geographical adventure and see how to explain diversities, commonalities and exoticism to our little expat kids…
It can be argued that it will be the degree of our own religiosity that gives a lesser or greater value to what is observed in countries of Islamic culture. For this reason, it is very likely that a child living in a moderate religious household will be very attentive and curious in trying to understand other beliefs, the potential commonalities between Islam and Christianity, Hebraism etc.
At the same time, a child who is not particularly close to Christianity (Catholic or Protestant), either because he is too young, or because he is used to a lay or atheist milieu; or because he has been living in non Christian countries (as in Asia, for example, or in certain parts of Africa) may be fascinated by Islamic practices and find them curious, beautiful or simply incredible, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan, or the chanting call for prayer by the muezzin, the travels to Mecca and so on.
If you are a practicing Christian moving to an Islamic country, something that you could easily do for explaining Islam to children is the idea of the faithful’s love for God, the “good, powerful and merciful Lord” loved and respected by Christians, Jews and Muslims who perhaps only has different names and different legends attached.
On the other hand, those who are more secular or atheist could narrate Islam in terms of his religious and cultural heritage and explain the importance of Islam in the history of Africa and Asia up to the present day.
When you explain Islam to children, you can also refer to the figure of Muhammad as a kind of Messiah, who is believed to have spread the word of Allah through the Qur’an. The Qur’an is the holy book of Islam since for the faithful, it contains the message revealed to Mohammad by Allah.
One could then take it from here and tell the children that every great religion, monotheistic or not, has always had a sacred text par excellence: the Bible for the Christians, the Torah for the Jews, the Vedas for the Hindus, the Tao Te Ching for the Taoist and the Qu’ran for the Muslims.
Another nice concept to convey when explaining Islam to children, is that of the weekly sabbath or festive day. Every monotheistic religion has ‘chosen’ one day of the week to be considered sacred, such as Sunday for Christians, Saturday for Jews and Hindus… and Friday for Muslims!
Children of all ages are struck by the act of prayer, which every good Muslim performs literally anywhere, not just places of worship but in shops, offices, schools, in the garden or down the street.
The freedom and flexibility of the Muslim prayer can help us explain to our children the importance of prayer in Islam: the bodily flow of movement and genuflections that come with the act of reverence, the feeling of union with God both when practiced in solitude or in group at the Mosque.
We can then explain how important it is for a Muslims not only to pray 5 times a day, but always pray facing Mecca. It is the city where Muhammad was born in 570 AD and is considered holy by Muslims around the world. It is in Mecca that one finds the Great Mosque, the holiest site of Islam. And it is the duty of every Muslim to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in his/her life…
Also, according to the country of expatriation, a significant part will be the local religious architecture, with its mosques and minarets, and the citadel enveloped around them (so typical in the Middle East); or the bazaars, plentiful and prosperous like the old Souqs of Aleppo or Istanbul; even the spontaneous ones, developed in the course of the centuries around a holy shrine or a sacred tree, as it is found in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
For those who will have the great luck to live for some time in Iran, how could they not rejoice in the wonders of the architecture of Isfahan and Qom?
And for those who are in India, it is impossible to forget the many majestic mosques built by Mughal emperors – like the Jama Masjid in Old Delhi, built by Emperor Shah Jahan around 1650 … or near Agra, the Taj Mahal built in honor of his beloved wife Mumtaz?
In Turkey, one will find many imperial mosques in Istanbul. The most beautiful and certainly the most emblematic one is that built in honor of Sultan Ahmed, better known as the Blue Mosque, with cobalt blue tiles covering its interior walls…
In Damascus, how not to get lost in the Old Town around the large complex of the Umayyad Mosque, the old Christian and Jewish neighborhoods which animate streets and narrow alleys with the sounds of daily life businesses, trades, chants and wonderful old Arab songs..?
Finally, in Jerusalem, let us stop for a moment to enjoy the sunset light in front of the Temple Mount. There stands the majestic Grand Mosque of Al-Aqsa, near the Jewish temple and the Christian Holy Sepulcher.
While visiting these wonderful monuments we could reflect with our children on how in Islam – as well as in Christianity – love in all its manifestations is the source of art and religious architecture, in an everlasting attempt to unite the man with his earthly mortal life to the divine and eternal experience of God.