Muslim Messages For Kids Now Come In American Packages


FARHANA HOSEIN is asked to draw the things she likes. She sketches dresses for sale in a local mall, pizza, and a little girl watching TV and talking on the phone. She also draws a crescent on a green backdrop, the symbol of Islam.

That's not surprising, since this is a summer camp for Muslim kids. Nor is it surprising that Farhana's drawing was voted the best by the 30 other campers under 12. These are the things they like, too.

Farhana's mother Sharida, a volunteer, smiles. Ms. Hosein, who came to America as a girl with her Indian parents from Trinidad, does not want her child to experience the same split feeling she felt growing up in the US. She grew up divided between old-world Islam and the peer culture of her schoolmates.

This camp is one example of how Muslim organizations and businesses have started to offer Islamic values and practices for children - in the kind of contemporary American package they see in everyday life.

"The Islamic environment helps them be an integrated person, whether at school, at home, or at the mosque," says Hosein. "They also have fun."

Not that raising kids to be good Muslims is that easy.

"Losing our children" is one of the biggest discussions in the Muslim community - partly because so many kids do lose interest in the faith of their parents.

"If you can get to them before their teenage years, you have a chance," says Rafah Kokhar, an African-American who is married to a Pakistani and has four children. "You have built up some values that they later come to appreciate."

One issue is schools. Between 90 and 95 percent of Muslim children go to public schools - an environment many parents feel is morally toxic. But Muslims also admit that their own schools beyond grade six are poor.

Hence, Muslim parents do what they can to supplement public education. They buy new software programs that teach the Koran, Islamic history, the Arabic language - while also offering the kids games, puzzles, and quizzes. CD-ROM programs "speak" the Koran in Arabic.

In recent years, Islamic cartoons, new children's movies and programming, and children's magazines are also available.

One magazine, Muslim Kaleidoscope, was launched this July by a Seattle publisher, Amica International. The graphics and bright cartoons of dinosaurs and animals are like those in any up-to-date children's library. But inside are stories with moral content, Muslim faces "to build self-esteem," and short stories in English, Urdu, and Arabic.

Back at the camp, after a morning of drawing, basketball, swimming, games, and lunch, the children offer an afternoon prayer and receive an hour of Islamic teaching.

"The word of the day is Al Rahman, one of our 99 names for God," says Hassan, an Eritrean volunteer. "It means 'the most merciful.' "

Boys kneel in the front, girls kneel behind them. In unison they say: "I promise not to lie, and to always tell the truth."

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