Islam Equated with Race

I attended a lecture today at the masjid. It was about raising Muslim children. For the most part I really enjoyed it. The turn out was pretty good. It was just for young mothers, and I felt pretty comfortable and felt that the other sisters were friendly and welcoming. I think Baby enjoyed dragging Mommy around by the hand the entire lecture.

The speaker did something I think she may not even have been aware she was doing. I didn’t even register it too much at the time. I mean I understood whatever points she was trying to make, but it must have left an impression on me because I was thinking about it later. Basically she referred to “white Americans” as if this were the opposite of Islam.

She was talking at first about what children watch on TV or on computers, even programs made for children, and how it affects their behavior. She mentioned some cartoon about a pig or something, that she used to think was really cute, but she noticed that her children were sticking their tongues out and being disrespectful to the parents, and then she looked it up online and found that other parents had the same problem. When she watched the show more closely, she saw that that was how the character behaved. When she described it to us, she said that the children were “behaving like white Americans.”

In another instance she was discussing how we behave as parents, and she said, “Your children are going to think you are crazy. They aren’t going to think their white teacher is crazy.”

The American Muslim community is one of the most diverse in the world, and she was brought up in it. I didn’t really register the racial identities of the other ladies present. Perhaps I was the only “white American.” But I know there are plenty of white Americans in the American Muslim community. I don’t think being either white or American makes us less Muslim or our behavior or values less in line with Islamic values. I think that Allah made a portion of believers out of every racial group, and our race and ethnicity do not reflect our Islam.

Prayer for Mothers with Small Children

We took Baby to the masjid again on Friday. I decided to try out the prayer for mothers with small children even though the idea had bothered me last time. I guess it kind of bothered me too, Baby being the only child at the prayer. I think also there is an encouragement in Islam of abiding by the decisions of people put in authority over you.

It turned out to be a small room with a lot of toys and fairly loud playing small children, 12 mothers, and about 20 infants and toddlers. There was a TV fixed to the wall, showing the imam. I’ve seen opinions about watching the jumu’ah on a TV screen that it doesn’t really count as attending the jumu’ah, but I have to admit that this was probably a better environment for me and Baby. We felt more accepted, didn’t have to worry about offending anyone, and overall it was just less overwhelming. The size of the gathering is more what I feel comfortable with as the masjids in this area are just so large!

I still don’t really agree with the ideology behind it, but I did feel it was better for Baby to be with other children, so we will probably go there from now on. I do kind of wonder though whether the rest of the community is depriving themselves of the presence of these children. I wonder whether women were actually asked what they wanted or whether the male leadership just made these decisions. In my childless days I used to enjoy seeing the children in the masjid even if they were a distraction, and when I took Baby to the prayer, there were definitely ladies who enjoyed seeing her. I also wonder what it says for the future of our ummah that the mothers of small children made up such a small group at such a large masjid.

Prayer for Women and Small Children?

We went to the masjid today, rather a big deal with Baby. As I entered the masjid, I saw a sign, off to my left, pointing off toward a classroom, that said: “Prayer for Women with Small Children.” I have a habit of talking to Baby, which probably comes across to other people as muttering to myself, so I read the sign aloud, and then said to Baby, “Mommy doesn’t think that’s right. It isn’t right at all.”

I proceeded to ignore the sign and took Baby to the women’s prayer hall, but I felt just the slightest touch of anger about it. Why should women with small children be segregated from the rest of the community? Why should the children for that matter? That isn’t how I want to raise my child. That isn’t the sunnah.

Children were present in the Prophet’s masjid. When they were fasting and the children cried from hunger, they made them toys to play with. The Prophet’s grandsons played on his back. He used to lift his granddaughter during the prayer. He shortened his recitation from what he had intended out of compassion for the child’s mother when he heard a child cry.

So I guess it disturbs me, this trend because it isn’t just this masjid. The others are doing the same sorts of things.What voice do I have, if I disagree? No one bothered me about bringing my baby into the prayer, but people are usually non-confrontational, so how many would have said anything? But, because I choose to ignore the sign and bring my baby into the prayer hall, she is the only small child there.

Not that long ago, I used to sit in prayers and watch the small children running around, and think someday one of them will be mine. Why did that change? I wanted that for my child.

Baby’s First Trip to the Masjid

Five months old and Baby had her first trip to the masjid yesterday. It was a long time coming.

When she was in her newborn stage, I remember holding her and saying to her after her father came back from the masjid, “When you are older, we’ll be taking you to the masjid too.” My husband said, “It will be a lot older,” and we had an almost argument about it.

It is stunning sometimes to realize you are not on the same page when you thought you were. All during my pregnancy and all the years I longed for children, probably even before I was married, I had watched other women with their babies and children in the masjid and thought: someday, inshallah, that will be me. I viewed it as important for children to go to the masjid, even just to be playing with each other, so that they can be in that environment with other Muslims, especially because it is not in the society around them.

It was one of the things I admired about about Islam, that children were allowed to just be children, to run around and play, while the adults worshiped. Unfortunately, that attitude seems to vary from community to community. It is also something that was common not that long ago but seems to be disappearing from the masjids. Increasingly, I am seeing imitation of the Christian practice of shuffling children off to nurseries. That is not what I want for my children.

I think children belong in the masjid from the earliest age possible. They observe and imitate the adults and learn from them. They hear Quran and adhan. They see people outside of their families praying. They play with other Muslim children. I do not approve of the nurseries because you are creating an environment that is separate, and I would argue more superficial than the adult experience.

When I was teaching at the Islamic school, children below the 5th grade were not allowed to attend jumu’ah at the masjid, even though they desperately wanted to and were sorely disappointed. The explanation I was given  was that they might misbehave and “embarrass” the school. Who was the masjid and even the school serving? Does it really seem right to block them from attending the prayer? It reminds me a great deal of the blind man in the Quran. And  why should we discourage them when they are showing an eagerness for it? So that when they get older they will no longer want to?

Another unintended consequence was that I, who also desperately would have liked to attend jumu’ah, was not able to. The masjid was right across the street. I was teaching no classes, nor was I assigned to supervise any students, but the male teacher who was assigned to them would leave his class unattended to go to jumu’ah. The school never regularly assigned anyone to attend to these students, so what was I to do? I graded my papers and did my planning and let them play. I had offered to accompany the students but was told that there were not enough male teachers to supervise the boys. This despite the fact that the men’s and women’s sections in the masjid were not really separate, and these boys were young enough that no one would have objected to them being in the women’s section.

When my husband and I were first married, we were both offended by the brother (delivering the khutba that day) who asked another brother to leave because his child was playing. We both said we would have refused. The very next week, the brother changed his tune and gave a khutba telling us how important, especially living in such a rural, remote environment where there were so few Muslims, it was for us to bring our children to the masjid as often as possible so they could be in an Islamic environment and learn to love it. People were clearly talking to him.

So anyway, given these experiences, I was very surprised when my husband told me that they had discussed and researched it once  in Omaha and concluded that very young children didn’t belong in the masjid. He told me it was based on hadith and that they had concluded that the only reason the Prophet’s (s) grandchildren were in the masjid was because of his great love for them and not for us ordinary people. I asked him what hadith and got no answer. Every hadith I have seen has indicated the opposite.What about the one where the prophet intended to make his recitation longer but shortened it out of pity for the mother when he heard a child cry?

My husband, not being the argumentative type, accepted that I wanted to bring our daughter to the masjid, but he worried about it. He worried the car ride would be too long. He worried she would get fussy. I said other mothers bring their babies. Maybe he’s not aware of that, not being in the women’s section. So I told him I wanted to take her, and he suggested I take her to a lecture on Sundays instead so that I could leave any time. I took his suggestion and made plans, even asking my father to visit earlier than usual so that we could go. As soon as my father left and I was just about to go out the door when my husband pops out and announces he has to do grocery shopping. The  following week, the signal light on the car was out, and he thought it wasn’t safe. Third week, I was getting frustrated because I hadn’t seen another Muslim since before my daughter was born. I say, “Just take us to jumu’ah with you.”

My husband works nights so he isn’t always able to wake up for jumu’ah. There’s a closer masjid that doesn’t allow women, so I don’t feel comfortable taking the car in case he wakes up in time to go there. I called my sister up 20 minutes before I would have to leave and asked her if she felt like taking me to the masjid. Bless her, my sister, who isn’t even Muslim, took 3 unplanned hours out of her day so I  could go to the masjid.

My husband must just have been anxious about it because he called his parents up that night and told them how his baby went to the masjid.