By Jehanara Haider
Ever since November 7th, I have been struggling with sleepless nights. I toss and turn, thinking of my three-year-old son, worrying what this country has in store for him as an American Muslim. How can I help him navigate the bigotry and sheer ignorance he will surely encounter? How do I prepare myself for the task of preparing him?
What do I read and who do I turn to? I wonder if I should make more of an effort to ensure he mingles regularly with other brown American Muslim children like himself. Perhaps I should enroll him in a liberal masjid’s Sunday School program. Maybe my own knowledge of Islam is scant and I need to arm myself with a deeper understanding of my faith before I can impart any spiritual wisdom to my little boy.
So what do I actually do? I pour over the local library catalogue for children’s books written by Muslims, but am disappointed to discover that most are unavailable because they were not published by big name publishing houses. Ok, so Amazon it is. Still I decide to write an email to the library explaining the need to stock its shelves with a diverse array of books that will help patrons learn about different cultures, religions and points of view. I cross my fingers that the email tugs at the heart strings of the right person, and wait for a reply.
In the meantime, I notice that my son’s daycare center celebrates every holiday on the American calendar, including the rather obscure Purim, but even the largest Muslim holidays conspicuously fail to make the cut. Rather than suspect the worst motives—namely, Islamophobia—I decide to adopt a more generous approach and give the center the benefit of doubt. Perhaps no parent has ever brought this hurtful omission to their attention? So I decide that this year in the weeks leading up to Ramadan and Eid, I will ask the school, ever so politely, to post the month of fasting on their event board. I may even offer to read the children a book about Ramadan and Eid (I welcome suggestions from anyone who would like to advise this rather confused and agitated mother).
I as an individual and we as a collective community of Muslim Americans need to step out of our comfort zones. It is easy to turn inward, especially if you are a shy, reticent personality, but I’d like to think that this current climate of hostility is perhaps an opening for us, one that we cannot let it slip by or let define our future generations. I would like to see all of us, most especially well educated Muslim Americans and, let me be blunt here, wealthy Muslim Americans, take the lead in using our knowledge, connections and financial resources to dispel stereotypes and take ownership of the Muslim American narrative. If we remain lethargic and complacent, we will be left to exist on the margins of American society.
And I am talking about small steps, nothing earth shattering. Help build community centers in remote areas of America with small Muslim populations. Write to your local library to ask that they procure books by Muslim authors; they need to see a demand before they are to change the supply. Offer to give a talk about Islam at your child’s daycare or school on special Muslim Holidays (and make sure to do thorough research before you do). Spearhead an interfaith project between your masjid and a local church or synagogue. Or write a piece for a publication that reaches both Muslim and non-Muslims.
You might be wondering why, contrary to my title, I have actually written very little about raising my son. You see, I am hoping that once we all dip a toe outside our insular thinking and enlighten our little corner of America on what it means to be Muslim, then we can all raise my son, your daughter and our children together.
Jehanara Haider is a working mother raising a three-year-old boy.