By: Umm Ismail
Some years back my 11 year old son asked me if I thought there would be a PlayStation in Jannah(Paradise), because really, if there wasn’t going to be one, then he didn’t know if he still wanted to go there. While I was gratified to be thought so knowledgeable, I was also aware that my reputation as Oracle-In-Chief was now at stake.
So naturally I thought very carefully about how to respond.
His query reminded me of another, a few decades earlier. I attended Madressah (Islamic School) with an older aunt who graciously conceded to teaching me privately in the afternoons after school. When I started high school, she told me I would have to start wearing the hijab soon. Now this was the 80’s – South Africa was in the grip of the last, bloody, grasp of institutional apartheid, the Rainbow nation hadn’t yet been born, and a head-scarfed girl at my school wasn’t an option.
So being 12 and opinionated, I asked her why, and whether I would have to wear it at school as well. I knew of other girls who wore it, then instantly discarded it at the school gate for the duration of the school day, only to put it on again when they went home. She replied that it would indeed be all right since hijab was for one’s protection, and at school girls were protected (from what, I wondered!).
If wearing hijab was compulsory, my teen brain reasoned, then surely there had to be a proper reason. I also questioned why would it be ok to wear the hijab on one side of the school gate and unnecessary on the other side? Silently, I promptly decided never to wear hijab – until aeons later, at 17, when it made perfect sense!
When our children question us about Islamic principles, ethics or concepts, we often find it difficult to address their concerns head-on. We either react with self-righteous indignation, or sometimes we’re just amiably dismissive, while pointedly informing them about what’s allowed and what’s not.
Our children however, are not pint-sized, programmable versions of adults, who after a few basic instructions – pray 5 times daily, learn all your Surahs(Quranic Verses), and don’t forget the eating dua (prayer) – will then happily be on their way. Utterly complete human beings, endowed with a healthy curiosity and a growing intellect, they need to be engaged, debated with and have their sometimes misguided views, challenged. Their insecurities, preposterous or profound have to be entertained too.
The Quran constantly encourages us to ponder and use our ‘aql (intellect): “And We have certainly left of it a sign as clear evidence for a people who use reason.” (Quran:29:35) and again “And it is He who gives life and causes death, and His is the alternation of the night and the day. Then will you not reason?” (Quran23:80). Despite this, we consistently choose not to heed to seek reasoning, nor do we expect our children to. Indeed we expect them, ironically, to do as their forefathers did and inherit the faith we sometimes wear with weary familiarity. Why?
Perhaps it is because we assume that wanting to understand the essence of a Divine instruction is to question its validity. Perhaps, more often than not, we ourselves don’t understand its logic and wisdom. But does this have to be so?
As Hazrat Ali (RA) taught us, and echoed by educationist Ken Robinson, we raise our children for a time other than our own, in fact for a future as yet, quite undetermined. In order for them to grow into the Caretakers that Allah SWT intended, their faith must grow organically; because faith, unlike Granny’s antique cups, cannot be passed down to future generations.
Their first steps into the world of meaning and values must be infused with the continued appreciation of the Divine Presence. This primal awareness as created beings starts with the athaan (call to prayer) in the new-born’s ear, settles in the heart as a fledgling seed, to be delicately nurtured with love and patient understanding (and a healthy dose of humour). Not for nothing did the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) spend the first 13 years in Mecca nurturing this seed – its blossoming is what enabled that collective cathartic moment years later when the Muslims were ordered to wash the stain of alcohol out of their lives …. In the words of my teen, how awesome was that?
If we want our children to be of those who “strive hard with their property and their persons” (9:88), who “invite to good and enjoin what is right and forbid the wrong” (3:104), and whom Allah SWT “will love and who will love Him” (5:54), we will need to encourage them to find the answers to their questions from within the Quraan. Let us from the beginning encourage our children to reflect on and be amazed by the universe outside of (and within) us and then weave into that the Qur’anic ethos. This will enable them to view and practice Islam with understanding and love rather than Islam being viewed as sets of mechanical actions or regurgitation of the verses of the Quraan without passion and affection.
There is NO excuse today not to make the effort to educate ourselves. Books, the internet, YouTube, community classes, all abound. Indeed, it’s our emphatic duty as parents to be exemplary in the desire for authenticity, to “ponder and reflect” together with our children, and to seek out well-researched, thoughtful answers to their queries like why exactly are we here, If Allah SWT is so merciful, why do people suffer, what happens to good atheists, and …. is there a PlayStation in Jannah?
So back to my son. I explained that not having made that trip, I obviously couldn’t give him any specifics, but what I could say for sure was that Jannah is where we will be unimaginably happy and content. I asked him to recall his most satisfying memory, and to multiply that by a gazillion (words like gazillion always make an impact) – and if that included a PlayStation, then a version of a PlayStation would be awaiting him. He nodded sagely and never mentioned it again, satisfied that his mother clearly was the go-to person when weighty matters preoccupied the mind.
He’s 15 now, and the other day he sheepishly recalled that incident and exclaimed, “Mum, can you believe I actually thought Jannah was going to be full of PlayStations and games”, and giggling mischievously, he added, “now I know it’s going to be full of beautiful girls!” – and disappeared before I could feign shock-horror. Sigh … I suspect the “lower your gaze” talk is already overdue ….