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9 ways to reconnect kids with the Muslim community this summer

By Staff Writer

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During summer break, most of us with families tend to focus on our own unit. We may plan vacations away from home, classes, trips to museums, etc. for our own children so their time is spent in fruitful fun.

But summer is also a good time to help your kids reconnect with the Muslim community, since weekend Islamic school and other programs at the mosque take a hiatus. That means less of a chance to learn and socialize in an Islamic atmosphere on a consistent basis. Here are a couple of ideas:

1. Take your children to Juma prayer every week
This is an excellent opportunity to see community interaction in practice. Even younger kids can benefit, provided you give them a heads up about behavior in the mosque and a reward for following the rules afterward. While they may not understand everything the Imam or Khateeb will say, praying with others helps cement the community spirit.

2. Visit a different mosque every week
If you live in a city with a large Muslim community, consider yourself blessed and try this idea out. Even if you personally don't feel comfortable with everything that may go on in a given mosque (e.g. attendees/policies may be too conservative, too liberal, too ethnically or racially homogenous, etc.), take your kids anyway. The aim is to show the diversity of the Ummah while highlighting its unity.

3. Plan trips and play dates around your favorite Islamic institution
Put that GPS to good use and figure out what attractions surround your favorite mosque or Islamic center. Is it an amusement park? A science museum? An outlet mall? A zoo? Then, plan weekly trips to each of these places with other interested parents, meeting at the mosque at the start and ending the trip with congregational prayer there.

4. Hold a community Islamic Film Festival at a mosque or someone's large basement
The market for Islamic films is growing. From science to the history of Muslim slaves in America to humor to cartoons, there is a great selection to choose from today. While it's fun watching these alone in the comfort of your home, it's even more entertaining to do so with a bunch of friends over popcorn and drinks. Arrange weekly showings. Follow them up with some brief discussion about the films.

5. Start a "Wisdom of the Elders" series
The community's "aunties and uncles" aged 65 and above are rarely seen as sources of entertainment. But once upon a time, they pulled their own pranks, met famous people (I recently found out an uncle I know had met Eleanor Roosevelt!), and knew how to entertain kids without PSPs or Xboxes. Tap into their wisdom by organizing a series of short talks or classes called "Wisdom of the Elders". Every week, a community elder shares his/her fascinating story or a skill they know with their young attendees. If you hold the event in a mosque or center, see if you can have one of its founders come and speak to give its fascinating history.

The benefit of this activity is not only that younger Muslims will learn from older ones, but also, that oft-neglected seniors will feel they are making a positive contribution to the community.

6. Go for Umra
If you want to take your kids for vacation abroad this summer, consider performing the Umra pilgrimage with them. This will not only help build their personal relationship with Allah, but it can also strengthen the connection to the community on a much broader scale. In some cities, there are groups that organize Umra trips specifically for teens. See if you can have your child perform Umra with them if you cannot go.

7. Start a Nasheed group
Music has long been part of youth culture in America. Most contemporary songs feature crooners belting out Islamically questionable lyrics and ideas. Muslim songs, on the other hand, offer a spiritually healthier alternative, focused on Islamic themes and connecting to Allah and the Muslim community. If your tween or teen enjoys singing, consider starting up an informal Nasheed group with other Muslim kids of the same gender. Every week, they get together to practice existing Islamic songs or come up with their own.

8. Encourage them to learn a skill that can help the community
There are plenty of skills that can be picked up in a matter of hours or days through workshops which benefit the community and are in short supply. For instance, there are few Muslim women lifeguards out there, something anyone who has tried to organize swimming for sisters knows all too well. The Red Cross offers lifeguard certification in one-day courses. Other examples of useful programs include babysitting courses, also offered by the Red Cross (which can help prepare students for Masjid babysitting during Tarawih prayers in Ramadan), CPR and First Aid, writing workshops for beginners, as well as conflict management and project management seminars.

9. Organize a "Muslim Joke Festival"
Young Muslim tweens are teens are great at cracking jokes about the community's woes and idiosyncrasies. Why not harness the talent for a good cause? Organize a Muslim Joke Festival, an event that would feature local youth presenting their funniest material for a small fee. All proceeds go to charity. Note: material should be carefully screened by reliable community members to make sure nothing is Islamically questionable (e.g. no specific individual or racial/ethnic group is targeted).

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