I found myself today thinking about a question I hadn’t expected. It crept up on me (more on this later) unexpectedly.
What is the most fundamental thing about God. Like, how do I explain God to a child? I cannot remember at all how I was introduced to God…and with Islam so full of both physical and spiritual forms of worship, kids tend to be introduced to the physical long before they can understand the spiritual.
So they see their parents and other adults praying. It’s a motion they see several times a day. They jump on ur back and learn that you can’t speak to them while doing it. They see your lips move and occasionally hear what you say. They hear the call for prayer and they hear Quran recited on TV and in some other places (eg some ppl play it in cars or shops the way others play music). They may see parents reading Quran silently or aloud with or without a book in front of them. They learn about fasting and Ramadan. They say inshallah and mashallah and all that.
They have no idea what all this is about
Today I put my kid to bed. I usually either sing to her or say some Islamic sing-songy thing that isn’t Quran but involves a lot of saying Allah…it’s the call for the Adha Eid prayer. Not sure what it’s officially called but it’s got nice rhythm and she loves it. I love it, too. So she now can say it by heart (which is a bit of a shame coz she could have been reciting actual Quran instead, but she will get there eventually).
Anyways. So i thought she had slept and I took out my phone to read. I usually check Twitter or read something on Kindle but today, by coincidence, a Whatsapp message reminded me to read some Quran (something i try to do daily, usually on my commute to work, but today is Friday so no commute and I had managed only a little bit earlier).
So here is the thing. The light from my phone woke her. She asked what this was. I explained and started to read Quran aloud. There is a special beauty to reading Quran aloud using tajweed and tarteel (pronouncing properly and using a certain musicality) so I knew she would enjoy it. I do and it makes the reading feel more spiritual.
What I hadn’t anticipated was she would start asking what words meant. Quran is in classical Arabic which is almost completely different from Arabic we speak. And the tajweed/tarteel make it seem more foreign. I don’t know how she picked particular words to ask about…but one was “Ellah”. Which is really just how you pronounce “Allah” when it comes after a word ending in a “i” sound. So I explained it is Allah. She said what’s that in English. I said God.
She didn’t ask any more but my head started spinning. Can a 4 y o understand the concept of God? How would I introduce it? Should I? Is it too abstract?
I realized we weren’t gonna sleep if she kept asking questions so i wrapped up and hugged her to sleep.
She said she was scared. As any mom, I said, “Don’t be scared, I am here”. This always makes me feel awful for kids whose moms aren’t with them. And also scares me because I don’t know that I always will be there…or if I will always be able to protect her even when I am.
And it suddenly hit me. I said, “You know Allahu Akbar that we say sometimes at bed time?”. She said “yes, what’s akbar?” and i said “you know akbar…it means bigger…don’t you always say someone is bigger than another? Am i bigger than you or are you bigger than me?” (this is a joke we have). I then said “Allah is bigger than all of us and he is always here with us. You should never be scared because Allah is here with you all the time and will protect you from everything.”
I don’t know if I said the right thing. But I guess I just introduced the concepts of omnipresence and omnipotence…
And I realized that maybe the most fundamental things about God that came to me were the benevolent presence…always with me. Always with her. Always everywhere. And it’s comforting. I wonder if humans have this need to feel some stronger being watching over us because it turns out parents can’t actually do that because…mere mortals 🙂
Curious to know how others introduced God to their kids…