Monthly Archives: August 2013

Chapter 2: The Gun

The following is excerpted from Chapter 2 of ‘A Quranic Odyssey’, first published in 2012, and which will be re-issued in spring 2016 by Mindworks publishing. The chapter describes one Muslim mother’s challenge as she considers which toys are appropriate for her 5 and 2 year old children who are memorizing Quran, Islam’s holiest book. Included in the scene below is her non-Muslim mother-in-law, Nonna, who is visiting the family. At the end of the chapter, the author raises a series of questions about toys.

Chapter 2: The Gun
Setting: October, 2010, Houston, family living room, weekday afternoon
Characters: Ibrahim, Khadija, Nonna, Amna

“I want a gun,” says Ibrahim emphatically, pressing his thumb down like a trigger to reinforce his point.

“What?” I almost shout, more statement than question. We’ve been reviewing the tasmia and Ibrahim’s comment seems to come from way out in left field.[1]

“Geo had guns,” pipes in Nonna, who has just entered the kitchen. I turn around to look at her. She’s changed into a beautiful blue and white mohair sweater and blue corduroy pants, after our afternoon walk with the children. She looks elegant, as always. There’s so much I admire about my mother-in-law, but in this moment, I wonder about the timing of her comment.

“What?” I say, again, trying to tone down my own reaction, but also convey that I’m not particularly happy with the way the conversation is moving.

“Yes, Geo had toy guns growing up. I don’t remember about Nico, your Papa,” she says, looking directly at Ibrahim, and not picking up on my point. “I think he had one, but maybe it got lost or maybe Geo ‘borrowed’ it. Why do you want a gun?”

“I want to shoot the baddies,” responds Ibrahim. His brown eyes are filled with excitement as though he’s about to defend his home against the alleged ‘baddies’.

“What baddies?” I say, feeling the need to redirect before learning more about what kind of guns Geo had when he was growing up in Brooklyn. Meanwhile Amna seems to like the sound of the word ‘baddies’ and starts repeating it over and over.

“You know all the bad people,” Ibrahim clarifies, and shoots his sister a look of ‘be quiet or else.’ He does not appear to like her constant repetitions.

“No, I don’t know.” Whenever kids talk about any sort of guns, I can’t help but think of Columbine and a film we saw after arriving in Cape Town, entitled The Wooden Camera, and Mahatma Gandhi, but I can’t explain this all to five-year old Ibrahim.[2] [3] He’ll think I’m dodging the question or simply being overly sensitive.

“So Papa had a gun, and Uncle Geo had a gun, and my cousin Yaseen has a gun,” Ibrahim says, now standing up from his chair and walking right over to me, so that he is taller than me, as I am still sitting at the kitchen table. “And Sabir has a gun. Even Christopher Robin had a gun. Why can’t I, Ammi? Come on. Please,” he implores.

“What about basketball?” I say, which is all I can think of at the moment. I look around the kitchen for other ideas. Our sports equipment is tucked away in the closet by the entry, except for Amna’s pink hula hoop, which probably won’t distract Ibrahim right now.

“Ammi, we played basketball yesterday.” Ibrahim is not giving up, but that’s pretty normal.

“Ok, let me think. Give me some time to think through this. When your Papa comes home tonight, we’ll also talk about it insha’Allah.” My sense is that this is a really big issue, but, then again, maybe I should have simply take Nonna’s more nonchalant approach. Her boys had toy guns and grew up to be good people. Perhaps there’s something natural in giving a toy gun to a kid, but intuitively it just doesn’t yet seem right for my son. I’ve got a couple of hours to work out a response and gear up my arguments for Papa (and more importantly, for Ibrahim). I look down and see that it’s ‘asr time, and I can exit now without looking like I am actually avoiding the issue.

I make a little sujud symbol with my finger and point at my watch. The children are starting to get that sign. Without being secretive, when Nonna is with us, we’ve generally opted to pray collectively, but in our bedroom, rather than in the living room area. No big announcements, no loud athan. Abdurrahman was the first one to suggest it several years ago with non-Muslim guests in Cape Town and it has been a family practice we’ve tried to maintain. It puts us and the deen less on display and makes everyone more at ease. Do dawah by your deeds, he’s always counseled and don’t make it more complex than it needs to be. If someone asks, that’s another matter entirely, but otherwise, be easy and discrete.

I turn on the light in the bedroom. It looks very much like a rental though we’ve taped a poster of Allah’s names on the wall, reminiscent of our room in South Africa. I’m looking forward to our own bedsheets and comforter, when we finally settle, but accept that this is home for now.

Two prayer mats are laid out in the back of the room, near the desk. We go through the steps of wudu, in the adjoining bathroom, and then assemble ourselves. The children follow my cue, and there is a rare moment of quiet, that only ever seems to happen at salah or when they are sleeping.  As I complete the final du’a, an answer comes to me.  I don’t think I need any more time to work out a response or engage Abdurrahman.

I turn to the desk, with Amna following, while Ibrahim goes back to Nonna who’s taking the lead in tonight’s dinner. I sit down and take out a piece of paper. Amna also wants one (actually she wants three pieces of paper), and her own pencil and eraser. So the exercise doubles in length.

Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem, Dear Ibrahim,” I write. “Let’s get a water gun for Eid (one for you and one for Amna). Let’s look into archery, and let’s keep talking about all the goodies and the baddies. My prayer for you is always to be good and work toward goodness. I love you a lot. Your Ammi.” I draw a heart at the bottom of the page, which is what Ibrahim always does when he writes me notes. Amna mimcs everything, on her own papers.

I head back to the kitchen, Amna in tow, and place the note near Nonna (who has her hands deep in meatball preparation). She’s draped her mohair shawl over a kitchen chair and is now wearing an apron that she brought with her from Brookyn which says ‘be thankful to the cook’.

I ask her to help Ibrahim decipher all the words in my letter. I don’t quite know yet what I’m getting into with archery, but I sense the Robin Hood connection and of course that with Prophet Muhemmed, Salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and hope we’re all on the right track insha’Allah.[4]

[1] The tasmia is ‘Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem’, which is translated as ‘In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate.’ It is recited before every surah in the Quran, except Surah At Tawbah. It is also sunnah to recite the tasmia before the inception of virtually every activity. Unal in his 2013 translation also refers to it as the “seed of Surah Al Fatihah, which in turn is the seed of the whole Quran (2).

[2] The Columbine school shooting occurred on April 20 1999, at Columbine High School in Colorado. Twelve students and one teacher were killed and another 21 were injured. Since that time, countless school shootings have occurred in the United States, with the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14, 2012, potentially being the largest such massacre since. No major gun legislation has been passed in the intervening years. Meanwhile the killing of innocent civilians at schools has become a widespread phenomenon worldwide. Among the most recent such events was the December 16, 2014 killing of 141 people including 132 students in Peshawar, Pakistan.

[3] The Wooden Camera, released in 2003, directed by Ntshaveni Wa Luruli, tells the story of two boys, living in a township near Cape Town, who find two very different instruments (a camera and a gun) and subsequently lead very different lives based on this early exposure.

[4] Countless ahdath (plural hadith) extol the merits of archery, which was widely practiced during the time of Prophet Muhemmed SAW. It was, however, intended only as sport (for training), or in battlefield. Prophet Muhemmed SAW’s primary mission was to safeguard and uphold life and justice and therefore one may extrapolate that any such pursuits (of archery) would always be done with utmost concern for safety. Furthermore, it is critical to understand that the cultural and historical context must always be taken into consideration and that lessons from the Prophet’s life should be carefully applied, with input from religious scholars, to ascertain how they are relevant to today. The ahdath alone should not be used as license to undertake archery.

 Chapter 2: appropriate toys as we journey with the Quran
Although the children have already started with Al Fatihah, in this evening’s scene, there is repeated emphasis solely on the tasmia, amidst a larger discussion of guns and appropriate toys. Khadija is reluctant to buy a toy gun, which may appear to be a potentially over-protective response to her five-year old’s yearnings. Still, one is led to question how Quran ultimately integrates with toys and which are the best or better amusements for young children embarking on a hifdh journey. Should they have any/all toys at their disposal or should the thikr of Allah (including via the simple iteration of the tasmia), as referenced in the text, also inform the selection of toys, without ultimately being too restrictive on the child? Are certain toy guns better than others, and how do we manage the nexus with our extended family, their recommendations, and often their accompanying gifts? The answers are not clear-cut, but questioning each of these issues, hopefully brings us closer to an appropriate solution, which invariably will keep changing as the child develops.   

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