Emphasize Muslim Holidays

Plenty of Muslim families prefer not to have their children take part in secularized versions of Judeo-Christian holidays. While this is understandable, your child might not understand what is un-Islamic about hunting for hidden eggs in the spring or putting presents under a decorated pine tree in the winter. Explaining that your family does not take part in egg hunts or visit Santa in the mall because Easter and Christmas are not based in the Islamic faith will be easier for a child to accept if you emphasize the holidays that are part of Islam.

Fill the house with lights at Eid al-Fitr and eat a specific type of sweet only during the festival. If you have specific “Eid al-Fitr” cookies, candy or jellies, the holiday will stand out as more in a child’s mind. Similarly, create a specific set of celebratory traditions that you only do on Eid al-Adha. Let your child stay home from school or stay up extra late. Find ways to make the holy days stand out in their mind so that they are not distracted by Christian festivities or feel that they are “missing out” on secular holidays.

Where appropriate, you can also have your children invite their friends to celebrate with you and your family. Many Americans are happy to learn about other cultures and religions but are unsure if they would be welcome at festivals or ceremonies. For many children, a celebration that involves friends is more memorable and special than one that just involves family members. Reaching out to your children’s peers will also help your child avoid questions about why they were “left out” of Christmas. Your child’s friends will see that Muslims don’t skip holidays but celebrate different holidays. This helps both educate your community and give your child something that they and their friends can speak proudly about at school. “We celebrated Eid al-Fitr this weekend” becomes a much more interesting and exciting statement at school when your child has friends who are happy to join your child in gushing about the lights you set up or the unique foods you cooked.

Help Children Be Proud of Both Sides of Their Identity

Your child may feel uncomfortable about being different from their peers or feel as if they always have one foot in two worlds. A young woman may be self-conscious about being the only one in her public school class who wears the hijab. A young man may be embarrassed at his imperfect Arabic when he speaks to Muslims who attend Islamic schools. Help your child see that losing either side of their identity is a tragedy. It will not necessarily be easy for them to grow up balancing both sides of their identity, but to give up either their faith or their connection to American culture is to throw away half of themselves. Help your children find outside role models who are both Muslim and American. Show them that it is possible to be deeply proud of both your faith and your nation.

It will not be pleasant to discuss, but prepare your child to deal with the challenges that come with being of a different faith than most of their peers. Let them know that they will meet ignorant people who will lash out in anger or fear, but teach your children that they cannot let those who are ignorant drive them into hiding. Anger can lead to isolation, isolation then leads to more anger which leads to further isolation in a vicious downward spiral. In addition to preparing your child for the unpleasant side of life, teach your children that there will be people who celebrate your child’s differences, and then help your child bring those people into their lives.

Educating Others

The odds are good that Muslims will be a minority in your area, so help your children learn how to handle innocent confusion or curiosity from you neighbors. Your child might get frustrated that they are asked the same questions over and over again, or they may come home from school angry at a thoughtless comment made by a classmate. Most people will not be looking to offend or insult your child, but your child may not understand that most of their peers come from a different background. Help your child learn to differentiate between deliberate cruelty and accidental offense. Then, teach them that they always have a choice to educate those around them. It may be tiring to explain religious practices over and over, but each person you or your child educates helps clear away the confusion and sense of “otherness” that surrounds Islam.

Find Common Ground With Non-Muslims

It is extremely unwise to limit your children’s interactions to only other Muslims. This causes your children to grow up in a bubble and does not prepare them for interaction with the wider world. That said, it is understandable that you would prefer your child to not befriend those who have completely un-Islamic values. So, teach your child to find common ground with non-Muslims. Peers who are devout Catholics will understand why your child follows a specific ritual when they pray. Practicing Jews will empathize with your child refusing to eat foods that are haram. Seeking common ground will help your child make friends that share similar basic values, such as sexual morality and the importance of religion in daily life. Having friends who are of different backgrounds but share common morals will also help your child feel less isolated. They will feel less alone because they have found friends who are like them.