Ahmed’s coming to this world is a blessing for us. We were new immigrants, struggling to establish ourselves, facing all kind of hardships like any newly arrived immigrants. Ahmed’s presence made our lives and struggle meaningful. His shiny, smiley face and big bright eyes refreshed us to face the world with new enthusiasm. He was a very bright kid. He memorized many Suras and nursery rhymes when he was just 2 years old. I still remember his joy and excitement when his younger brother Viq was born. Ahmed was two and half years old, I was amazed to see his love and patronization for his brother. He never felt jealous and annoyed with his brother, even though Viq teased him a lot. Ahmed always taught his brother what ever he learnt. But Viq claimed that he taught Ahmed to tie shoe laces and how to whistle.
It was such a pleasant experience for us to raise our children, though it was very challenging to bring them up in an environment very diversified religiously and culturally. I would like to share some of the interesting events we experienced while they were growing up. We were in an area surrounded by all American families. The boys got exposed to many cultural and religious encounters.
One day Ahmed and Viq were playing in the back yard with their friends. One of his friend said, “It is dinner time I have to go; my mom made pork chops; they are delicious”. Ahmed and Viq came home and asked, “Ma can we have pork chops? Our friends are having pork chops for dinner.” I replied, “No we cannot have pork chops.” Again simple and obvious question from the curious kids, “Why can’t we have pork chops?” I replied,” Because we are Muslims. We don’t eat pork.” For some other questions like, “why don’t we have Beer?” etc, they got the same reply that. “We don’t do it because we are Muslims”.
One day Ahmed asked his father, “Daddy, I saw a butterfly, it has antennas, very colorful wings and very bright eyes.” His father asked, “Do you know butterflies have compound eyes?” And he explained what compound eyes are. Ahmed asked again, “Daddy do we have compound eyes?” His father said, “No we don’t have compound eyes.” Ahmed asked again, “Daddy why don’t we have compound eyes?” Before his father gave an answer, Viq replied spontaneously,
“Because we are Muslims.”
One day the postman delivered a letter from immigration office, notifying that we got the citizenship. We were discussing about our citizenship. The kids were there listening to us; as soon as they heard that we got the citizenship, they said, “Now we can eat pork.”
They thought that, they couldn’t eat pork because they were not Americans; now having American citizenship, we were allowed to eat pork. We realized that, it is the time they need more explanation about our religion; the explanation “We are Muslims” was not enough. With the Quran and basic teachings of Islam they started learning the difference between Islam and the other religions; dos and don’t of Islam and simple explanation behind that.
Ahmed always had lots of questions about religion, he is curious about the basic concept for all our religious rituals; like in Ramadan he asked his father about the concept, meaning and requirements of fasting, the significance of Fitra, and Zakat; the Ibrahimi tradition of Sacrifice in Eid-ul-Adha; importance of “Ashora”, the 10 of Muharram. From very early age he tries to understand his religion and the significance behind all religious acts. He imparted his knowledge to his friends and encouraged them to do project on Middle East and provided them information and material; indirectly he tried to acquaint them with Islam.
One time we were invited to a local church to talk about Islam to the kids in the Sunday class. He was happy to accompany and to demonstrate them how we pray, the meaning and concept of the prayer, the prayer rug, the prayer beads (Tasbeeh), the 99 names of Allah and how we celebrate our festivals. He answered the questions kids had about Islam. The kids were very happy and enthusiastic to learn from a kid.
Ahmed was the only Muslim kid in his school, before Viq started, but he was never intimidated or shy, instead he always made a point to be recognized as a Muslim. In middle school, in the history class he had a lesson about Middle East. His teacher while explaining made a remark that, Muslims are terrorists. When his classmates heard the remark from the teacher, they reacted by moving away from Ahmed, him being a Muslim, a terrorist. Ahmed stood up and tried to explain to his teacher, that she could not generalize the term terrorist to all Muslims. He contested her with what ever knowledge he had in a very respectful way. In the evening, the telephone rang and his teacher wanted to talk to him. I gave the phone to Ahmed and was wondering that he might have done some mischief in the class. After the phone, he was very happy and exited. I asked him what happened. He then narrated, what had happened in the school and said, the teacher called him to apologize for her comments. She asked him to give a talk to the class about his religion. It was very nice of her to recognize her misunderstanding and giving a chance to Ahmed to talk about Islam. Ahmed was more than happy for this opportunity and gave a presentation about Islam. He got an extra credit for his presentation.