The Parliament Blog

Archive for the ‘children’ tag

Teaching Children Religious Diversity: A Dilemma?

Image of Eboo Patel’s new book, Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America. Photo from Kirkus Reviews website.

by Eboo Patel
from USA Today

The first time I heard my 3-year-old son say the Lord’s Prayer, I felt like a fraud. We are, after all, Muslim.

When I speak before audiences, one of the most frequent questions I get as the founder of an interfaith youth group is, “How young is too young for children to engage with kids from other religions?”

My answer is to tell the story of how babies are delivered in an American hospital. I imagine an institution founded by Jewish philanthropists, with a Muslim doctor presiding over delivery while a Hindu anesthesiologist administers the epidural and a Catholic nurse helps the mother.

My point is that in this era, the question of age when it comes to engaging religious diversity is moot. We are literally born into a condition of interfaith interaction. Our children will be raised in an environment of religious diversity — from a Mormon presidential hopeful, to Olympic athletes competing in Islamic head scarfs, to the images of a Wisconsin Sikh community mourning after a terrible attack.

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Including Ourselves: A Lesson from an Elevator-Ride

Photo Credit to State of Formation by Simran Jeet Singh
from State of Formation

It’s not uncommon for kids to ask their parents about “that thing” on my head.

In most instances, the parents look at me uncomfortably, embarrassed that I might be offended in some way. I’ll usually acknowledge their discomfort with an awkward smile before looking away and pretending not to notice as they try to discretely shush their kids.

But recently I had the most amazing experience. I walked into the elevator of my apartment building in Manhattan and — despite knowing New York etiquette — I couldn’t help but smile at the two little girls standing with their young mother. The girls were wearing matching, polka-dotted raincoats, and they were fully focused on not dropping their popsicles.

The older of the two girls must have sensed me enter the elevator, because she slowly shifted her neck to look up at me and gawked for a few seconds. She then turned to her mom and unabashedly shouted: “Hey Mom! What’s that thing on his head?!”

The young mother made eye contact with me and quickly checked to see if I was planning to respond. I flashed my standard awkward smile, and she returned an awkward smile of her own before totally catching me by surprise.

“That’s a turban.”

“Why does he wear it?”

“It’s part of his religion. Do you remember the boy in your class who wore a turban?”

“Yeah, he doesn’t cut his hair. He has really long hair. ”

I was shocked. I wanted to give everyone in the elevator a high-five, but remembering I was in New York, I tried to play it cool. I put on my Denzel Washington face (the coolest person I could think of on the spot), and as I walked out of the elevator, I turned to the mother and whispered a soft “thank you.”

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My Female Faith Hero: Ms. Fatuma Gebril

by Katie Taylor
from the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty.

Ms. Fatima Gerbil knows from personal experience the challenges children in her community face. As a child Fatuma became an orphan, and as she grew older, she began to understand more and more the personal burden carried by parentless children.

In 2003, she started the Community-Based Child Support Program, directed at both Christians and Muslims, in Bahirdar, Ethopia, which began with 87 children. Fatuma’s program focuses on educational and psychological support, as well as developing life- skills. An important part of her advocacy efforts is encouraging schools to provide financial support for orphaned children who cannot afford school fees. These include children who have lost one parent, those who have lost both parents, and those who are in living in great poverty. For children who have lost only one parent, Fatuma works to support that family financially and emotionally. For children who have lost both parents, they look for relatives, and support the family once the child is taken in.

What I find most inspirational about Fatuma‘s story was not only her passion for helping children in her community but how she is willing to try anything to improve the lives of these children. This includes leveraging religious leaders to support her cause, and she has an excellent working relationship with the imams as well as with other government and community leaders.

Fatuma also believes Imams can play a great role in eliminating harmful traditional practices such as child marriage. Imams are highly heard in the mosque. So if they speak out boldly on these harmful traditional practices, it will be easy to bring about the desired change.

Fatuma has become talented at leveraging religious institutions to support her initiatives. Thanks to her efforts, at the ritual Muslim engagement ceremony, it is now established practice for the couple to be asked, in private, if they love each other. The man will also be asked if he understands the woman’s rights. Fatuma has also established an impressive record of legal interventions in unlawful marriages with underage girls or polygamous arrangements. Her role in the community as the protector of the vulnerable has allowed her to expand her advocacy and she looks forward to establishing her programs in new neighborhoods to spread her message of equality.

Katie Taylor is Executive Director of The Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty (CIFA) CIFA engages and trains leaders from multiple faith traditions to deliver critical development messages and services. These messages link interfaith efforts with those of civil society and governmental campaigns to reduce poverty and disease.

This article is part of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation series: My Female Faith Hero honouring International Women’s Day

Crossing Boundaries on a Train from Tel Aviv to Be’er Sheva

by Ariel Katz
from Common Ground News Service

I am on the train, travelling south from Tel Aviv to Be’er Sheva. Three Bedouin women dressed in hijab (headscarves) enter the train ahead of me and my daughter, each with a toddler. They see there are no seats together, so they opt to sit on the floor, near the doors. I find seats for myself and my daughter. Across the aisle from us sits a man with akipah, a cap worn by Orthodox Jewish men. A Bedouin woman in hijab and her toddler sit facing him. The toddler is cranky; she is tired of sitting on mother’s lap. She wants to explore. Her mother holds her firmly as she squirms and whines, trying to pacify her. Because she is using simple Arabic language for a three year-old, I can understand every word.

It is one of those unpleasant situations that happens all the time, and usually is tolerated in silence, as if it were unnoticed. In this instance, the young man with the kipah reaches into his backpack and withdraws a completed Rubik’s Cube, a puzzle made of interlocking squares. He hands it to the mother who carefully twists the top row of squares to show her daughter it can move.

When the toddler realises she will never find out what is inside the cube, she becomes cranky again, and the mother thanks the man, returning it. We sit with the toddler’s discomfort for a while. Then the Jewish man starts to fold and tear the advertisement flyer that has been left on the table between them. He is making the child something out of the paper using Japanese origami. She becomes engaged in his actions and quiets. He makes a swan and demonstrates how it can flap its wings by pulling on its head and tail. The woman accepts it and plays with her daughter. They are happy. The swan reminds me of a dove. The man speaks to the mother in Hebrew, telling her she has a lovely daughter. The mother thanks him in Hebrew and asks if he has children. He says he has younger siblings. She speaks some Hebrew and they have a simple conversation.

After a while the girl tires of the swan and the mother allows her to squirm off her lap to stand in the aisle beside her. The girl reaches over to my daughter’s armrest, and comes to say hello to us. She has noticed our interest in the unfolding story of the Jew and the Arab. We smile and welcome her to our side of the aisle. My daughter is wearing a skirt and the toddler puts her hand on my daughter’s leg. Her little fingers weave under the wide lace of my daughter’s tights to feel her bare skin. She smiles. Her mother directs her to come back, saying, “ta’ali”. I cheekily contradict the mother in Arabic and tell her, “khalleeki”, stay. “Khalleek” is a central word in Arabic – it is said when a guest makes a move to leave the host’s house. It is polite to beg the guest to stay, even if it is clear the time has come to go. I play with this cultural imperative. “Stay with us.” You have crossed a border into our space, but you are welcome here. We are no longer strangers.

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February 3rd, 2012 at 10:52 am

Islamophobic Bullying in Our Schools

Engy Abdelkader
from Huffington Post

“You boys were so much fun on the 8th grade trip! Thanks for not bombing anything while we were there!” read the yearbook inscription penned by the middle school teacher.

The eighth grade yearbook was littered with similar remarks by classmates linking Omar to a “bomb.”

“To my bomb man!” read one note. “Come wire my bomb,” read another.

“What is this?” asked Omar’s mother incredulously. He had handed the yearbook over to her moments earlier when he arrived home that afternoon.

Omar answered quietly, “I know, Mom, I know.” He stared down at the kitchen floor. His eyes could not meet his mother’s but he began to tell her what had happened just one month earlier.

In May 2009, Omar joined his classmates on a school trip to Washington, D.C. As they toured the Washington Monument, visited area museums and passed by the White House, the kids repeatedly told Omar they hoped he wouldn’t “bomb” any of the sites. A teacher chaperoned the children, heard the comments and responded by doing… well, nothing, except leave a denigrating remark in Omar’s yearbook a month later.

It was clear to Omar’s mother that her American born and raised son was harassed because of his Muslim faith and Arab ancestry.

Unfortunately, this was not the first bias-based bullying incident involving Omar that school year. Only several months earlier a peer was intimidating Omar, calling him a “terrorist,” during an elective trade course. Omar finally told his mother about the bullying when his report card indicated that he was failing that same class, while acing the others where he was not subjected to such humiliating treatment.

Omar’s mother had addressed the bullying with the school Vice-Principal immediately afterwards.

But, when she spoke to her son’s school Principal regarding the D.C. trip and subsequent offensive yearbook comments (by a school teacher), the Principal was shocked to learn that Omar had been a prior victim of bullying earlier in the academic year. He had no knowledge of that incident in his school.

While the Principal assured her that he would take proper action against the offending teacher, nothing actually happened. The teacher denied hearing the bomb-related comments during the field trip to D.C. and excused her yearbook note as a “joke.”

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Reaching the Children

by Brendan Smialowski from the New York Times

In this short article, Smialowski presents photos and interviews exploring a new trend amongst Hindu immigrants to the United States.  His article reveals that many Hindu immigrants are sending their American children to summer camp to maintain their religious identities.

Click here to view the entire slideshow

June 22nd, 2011 at 5:31 am

Desmond Tutu on Universal Education Week

This week is Global Action Week for Universal Education. Did you know that 72 million of the world’s children lack access to education? Council Advisory Board member, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, says it perfectly: “We can no longer step lightly around this shame. It is our moral obligation to give every child the very best education possible.”

Read more here: Facing the Future: Global Education at the Crossroads.