Thursday, June 19, 2008

Coexistence and mutual respect: it is never too early to teach them

Special to the Post-Dispatch

prayer - bothAs a father I know I can never be sure if my children are going to adopt my religious beliefs or not. I am praying that they would see the beauty in my religion, Islam, as much as I see it. But in the end they will have to find their own path. This is the way I want them to be anyway. Being part of a religion just because you were brought up within that religion does not make you a believer. Making your own informed, free-will decision to actively subscribe to a belief system is what you will be rewarded for, as least to my simple mind.

The one thing that I definitely believe that parents succeed in ‘indoctrinating' their children in -- mostly subconsciously -- is the concept of coexistence, tolerance and respect for ‘the others'. The early-age teaching of, and more importantly practicing and living, those principles would have a more lasing impact that would transcend any religious dogma you impose on you children.

Book coverThis is not to say that learning to respect and tolerate others cannot be learned at an older age, but it is amazing how easy it is to gain it, or lose it, early on.

These thought came to me after a family friend of ours showed be a book called My Muslim friend: A young Catholic learns about Islam. This is a beautiful book, esthetically and content-wise. It is written by Sister Donna Jean Kemmetmueller, FSP (Daughters of Saint Paul) and forwarded by Reverend Canon Francis V. Tiso, Ph.D., Associate director of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

It is a fairly short book that teaches a tremendous amount of facts about Islam, Christianly and Catholicism as part of a simple story of friendship between a Muslim girl, Aisha, and her Catholic friend, Mary.

The scope of facts and concepts covered by the book is amazing. The content is likely to have more information than most of us have ever known about another religion, and sometimes about our own. Yet, the language is simple and would easily be understood by children as young as 7 or 8 years. I bet, younger kids can understand most of it too if it is read to them by a parent of a teacher.

MosquechurchPresenting serious facts about two great religions, their roots, many core beliefs, rituals, similarities as well as differences, in the context of a simple friendship between two adolescent girls is likely a high yield platform to get the young ones into the proper mind set; not just ‘tolerating others' but actually ‘accepting them' as friends, neighbors and as brother and sisters.

The book is dedicated by Sister Donna to "Randa Kuziez, my Muslim friend". Randa is wonderful young lady that the Muslim community of St. Louis is lucky to have. She is a dedicated and talented person with strong history of activism, locally and nationally. I am proud to have been a co-guest with her on Don Marsh's St. Louis On The Air in September of 2007. The interview is still on KWMU site. Take a look at it to get a feeling how impressive that young lady is.

SoccerThe forward, by Reverend Canon Francis V. Tiso, is worth reading on its own. It starts with this paragraph:

"There is an old proverb that states, ‘those who fail to study the past will be condemned to repeat it.' Less known, but equally neglected, would be the reverse side of that proverb: ‘Those who fail to plan for the future will have none.'"

It also concludes with this simple and elegant prayer:

"May this small book be for our children a first step on a hopeful journey."

Amen to that.


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