“The janaza was today. There are no words yet there is so much to say.”
The violence against the people of Gaza has heightened tension and worry in Muslim communities across the world. The suffering of the Palestinian people is daunting, and there is little hope for improvement in the foreseeable future. Muslims worldwide are also suffering from the intense atrocity propaganda war that justifies any retaliatory action from Israel. The messaging minimizes the suffering of the Palestinian civilians and dehumanizes the entire population. It falls on the eyes and ears of a global public who is largely ignorant of the region’s history and the continued oppression that amounts to genocide against the Palestian people.
The quote above followed a horrific act that took place in Chicago on October 15. Wadea Al-Fayoume, a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy was fatally stabbed dozens of times in his home. His mother was also stabbed multiple times and is hospitalized. The family’s 71-year-old landlord spewed anti-Muslim rhetoric during the vicious attack and was charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of hate crimes and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. Wadea’s janazah was attended by thousands of Muslims, alhamdulillah.
In Gaza, there is currently no way to either conduct a proper Islamic funeral prayer,or to bury the many who have been killed.
In recent days, police and federal authorities throughout the U.S. have been on high alert for violence driven by antisemitic or Islamophobic sentiments. FBI officials, along with Jewish and Muslim groups, have reported an increase of hateful and threatening rhetoric. And this is where all Muslim parents have a LOT to contend with these days, no matter where we reside. How do we contain our own anger, despair, sense of helplessness? How do we protect our children against harm?
Tune into Feelings and Turn to Guidance
Regardless of whether you have been following the illegal occupation of Palestine for years, or whether you are now educating yourself more fully about the atrocities that have been and are continuing to be committed, it is important to sit fully with the entire range of your feelings that flow from this crisis. It is difficult to watch and listen to any of the chilling accounts of the violence and devastation without feeling outrage, horror, sadness, fear, and helplessness. Social media can intensify the images and exaggerate the responses. And for many with family in the region, there is even more concern.
For Muslim parents, there is a need to deal with our own feelings but also a need to speak with our children. There may be a tendency for some parents to avoid the opportunity, thinking these are matters not fit for children. They may even redirect their children’s questions, silence them, or speak to them using words they cannot understand.
But our children need us to help them make sense of the world they live in. They are watching us and taking it all in. If we don’t participate in that growth process, particularly with the prevalence,shock and awe of social media, it doesn’t mean that they are protected from hardship and calamity. It just means they are negotiating their way through their thoughts, feelings, and responses without us.
Here are a number of tips for parents to keep in mind when wrestling with their feelings and talking with their children about the crisis.
1. Be proactive and start the conversation.
Parents may make the mistake of thinking that their kids will start a conversation when they feel ready. According to Waheeda Saif, a program coordinator at Riverside Trauma Center in Massachusetts, that can be a mistake. Many children are likely to have heard something already, whether from peers at school, by picking up on news broadcasts, or by overhearing adults' conversations.
Begin any talk with them by seeking refuge and saying, Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim, in the Name of God, The Most Beneficent, The Most Merciful. And then make dua (personal prayer), asking Allah to assist you in choosing the right words. Begin with open-ended questions. “Did you hear anything about what’s going on in the world?” “What have you heard about what is going on in Israel and Palestine?” And then just listen and take it from there.
2. Be sincere and honest.
We should speak from the heart and not be afraid to express our own feelings. When parents share their own thoughts and fears, they give permission for their children to have feelings, too. Listen rather than judge. It is important to convey that there are no “good” or “bad” emotions. Every emotion has a purpose, and the key is to respond to our emotions appropriately. Our job is to help our children learn healthy responses to their emotions, such as making dua, talking with someone they trust, crying when sad, or having quiet time. And it is also important for parents to admit that they don’t always have all of the answers.
3. Choose simple words and concepts that are age and developmentally appropriate.
Young children may not need or want a complex answer. It may be sufficient to say that the whole of creation belongs to Allah. We may not always understand what happens, but Allah does, and that is from His wisdom and mercy. For this conflict, you should mention that the occupation of Palestinian land began 75 years ago. The oppression against Muslims who live there has continued and intensified more recently. Many people – Jews and Muslims – have been killed and many of them were innocent civilians, women, and children.
For older children (and maybe even a few parents!), a geography lesson is also important. They will be hearing names of countries and cities. It is important for them to know the players in the region and identify the warring factions. Who are the leaders of these countries and groups? It is also important to understand the response of world leaders and political figures and the historic ties that they have with Israel.
4. Allah has provided us with guidance for all circumstances in this life.
For every challenge that we face, we should turn to Allah’s words in the Quran for guidance and look to the example of our Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, for how to put that guidance into practice. Our children should learn and feel the peace and security that come from these lessons that are applicable to both good times and crises.
5. Explain that all trials require patience and can bring us closer to Allah.
We know this because He says so in the Quran:
"And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient, who, when disaster strikes them, say, 'Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.”
(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:155)
The crisis in Palestine affects everyone in different ways. And for each and every one of us, there is a trial in our proximity and a test of our faith, our resolve, and our patience.
- Thousands have been killed on both sides of the conflict.
- Many Muslims in the region have experienced physical violence and the psychological trauma of loss of loved ones and the destruction of everything they know to be familiar.
- Millions have been displaced and are fleeing the area, uncertain about where they are heading.
- Many who have been injured or suffered loss,cannot find treatment or medicine. Just today, Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital was bombed, killing hundreds and further crippling medical treatment options.
- The families of injured loved ones find themselves helpless to offer assistance.
- Those with family in the region experience the pain of not being able to communicate and not knowing if their loved ones are alive or in danger.
- Those who are witness (near and far) to the atrocities have to measure their own responses according to Islamic guidance.
6. Separate truth and falsehood.
There can be great difficulty these days in separating truth from falsehood. This was already apparent some time ago with increased polarization and explosion of information on social media. And now, anyone can go online and construct audio, video, and written word with a simple click using artificial intelligence.
Parents will need to do their homework, gather facts,increase their own knowledge, and depend upon reliable resources to separate truth from falsehood. Here is a comprehensive resource guide produced by Haute Hijab that offers detailed information.
For the believer, we can trust that Allah will always be on the side of truth.
"Do the people think that they will be left to say, ‘We believe’ and they will not be tried? But We have certainly tried those before them, and Allah will surely make evident those who are truthful, and He will surely make evident the liars."
(Surah Al-Baqarah, 29:2)
7. Nothing happens without Allah’s knowledge.
Allah sends calamities for many reasons. We can be certain that Allah is sending a strong message in this crisis. He can be shining light on the weaknesses of humankind and on the awesome nature of Himself. He is Al-Alim, The All Knowing, the One whose knowledge is comprehensive and extends to all that is seen and unseen, the apparent and the hidden, the present and the future. He is Al-Hakim, The All Wise, whose wisdom is perfect, free from error or misunderstanding. He is compelling us to call on Him sincerely. He is challenging us to heed the guidance that He so mercifully provides.
8. Injustice may not be righted in this life, but Allah is Al-Adl, The Most Just.
Events are changing rapidly. We can be certain that everyone who is culpable will be held accountable for their wrongdoings and for any injustice they afflicted on others, iff not in our lifetimes, then on the Day of Judgment.
“We shall set up scales of justice for the Day of Judgment, so that not a soul will be dealt with unjustly in the least. And if there be (no more than) the weight of a mustard seed, we will bring it (to account); and enough are We to take account.”
(Surah Al Anbiya, 21:47)
9. Our responses to injustice must be just.
Those who step up to offer assistance, to seek knowledge and speak truth to power, to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves, and who remain patient in the chaos and uncertainty, will be rewarded for their good intentions and deeds.
“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just; that is next to piety; and fear God. For God is well acquainted with all that ye do.”
(Surah Al Ma’idah, 5:9)
10. Calamity can inspire change.
Disasters may cause distress but they can also push us to be resourceful, find inner strength, rely on our faith, and uncover talents we did not know we had. From the stress of trials, people find new ways to approach problems and even prompt individuals and groups to be forced to work together for mutual goals or the collective good.
Surviving a calamity may make a disbeliever remorseful. A person might repent or become more charitable or kinder. He/She might increase attention to worship or leave off sin and, inshaAllah, God willing, turn to Allah. What appeared like a punishment may become a blessing if it makes a person become a true believer.
11. We feel pain for those we love.
The care and concern we feel for our brothers and sisters who are even half a world away are genuine, as the hearts of the believers are connected. Our Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.”
(Sahih Al-Bukhari #5665, Sahih Muslim #2586)
We should strive to strengthen this connection, as it is good for our souls. Anas ibn Malik reported that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, also said:
“None of you will have faith until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”
(Sahih Al-Bukhari #13)
12. Have faith and strive to be a good Muslim.
It is important to get back to the basics as individuals and as an ummah. Our purpose in this world is to worship Allah. When we heed that guidance and submit to being an obedient servant, we have been promised rewards in this life and in the Hereafter.
Reassure them with Allah’s own words:
“As to those who believe and do good deeds, establish the Salat and pay the Zakat, they will most surely have their reward with their Lord and they will have nothing to fear nor to grieve.”
(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:277)
13. Be grateful for your blessings.
Regardless of the nature of our tests and trials, we must never lose sight of our blessings. It is important to keep the hardships in context and imagine that things could always be worse. Be grateful for your family and friends. Be grateful for your home, for food to eat, for your health, for your five senses, for the ability to read, talk, walk, etc. Allah reminds us:
“If you tried to count Allah's blessings, you would never be able to number them. Surely Allah is All-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”
(Surah An-Nahl, 16:18)
14. We fortify ourselves with our prayer.
Duaa is the weapon of the believer. We can call on Allah for forgiveness, for victory, for assistance, for insight, and more. We can do so any time of the day, and in any location. We can ask for any of our needs, big and small. Allah tells us in the Quran:
“And remember Me – I will surely remember you.”
(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:152)
In a hadith, Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Verily your Lord is Generous and Shy. If His servant raises his hands to Him (in supplication) He becomes shy to return them empty.”
(Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi)
Ask Allah to forgive those who have been killed and raise them to the highest ranks of Jannah. Seek assistance and relief for those who have been injured and are suffering. Ask Allah to continue to guide us and protect us from harm. Beg Him to increase our iman and trust in His wisdom and mercy. And in the chaos and uncertainty, ask Allah also to strengthen the bonds between us.
Zahirah Lynn Eppard is the managing editor of the Muslim Home parenting newsletter project. As Sound Vision’s Director of Religious Education, she has also spearheaded the production of more than 500 online classes serving children ages 3-12 in the Adam’s World and Colors of Islam Clubs. Eppard has also worked in the field of education as a teacher, homeschooler, and Islamic school principal, as a marriage and crisis intervention counselor, and as a lobbyist, and social justice activist. She lives with her husband, children, and grandchildren in Maryland.