When a terrorist attack strikes and the perpetrators are thought to be Muslims, fingers of suspicion are pointed at the wider Muslim community. Our children are no exception. They are left to fend for themselves in schools and among peers and senior adults who would speak of ‘Islamic terrorism’, ‘Muslim terrorists’ or ‘Islamic State’; constantly directly or indirectly linking horrendous crimes to their faith and religious group.

One can only imagine the inner identity dilemmas that those youth are facing; wanting to fit in, to be accepted and to be trusted, but finding themselves needing to explain themselves and that Islam and Muslims are innocent and have nothing to do with crimes. Then experiencing the anxieties associated with asking for a place to pray and wearing their modest distinct clothing without worrying that they may be suspected of being potential extremists.

Ignoring our children’s dilemmas and leaving them to their own means is a big gamble with their confidence and identity.

Aspiring Madrassahs are obliged to help children see their way through this daunting struggle. They need to give them the words, the knowledge and the evidence that will enable them to have a healthy and positive mindset that is focused on being the best at everything noble: their manners, their prayers and love for their Creator, their education, their love and kindness to their families, neighbourhood and community … because this is who they are and this is what Islam is.

The focus should be on how to embody Islam rather than worry about what Islam is not.

Below are some suggestions for how we can speak to our children about terrorist acts, some of which can be developed to be a whole lesson.

Explain the Wider Meaning of Terrorism

Explain that terrorism is making an innocent person feel scared and causing harm to them, their loved ones, properties or places of residence. It is usually motivated by beliefs about politics or religion which are wrong, hateful or dangerous. It can be carried out by an individual, group or even a government.

Terrorists can be members of any religion (Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism) or no religion (Atheism) but do not follow the teachings of those faiths.

They can also be members of any political affiliation (communist or capitalist) but do not follow those political systems moderately.

We should oppose all types of terrorism.

Nurture Positive Mindset

Empower children to be focused on being the best at all things that Islam teaches us to do or be; improving manners, being kind to everyone, being helpful, being respectful, being hardworking, being creative, being artistic, being good at sports, learning, praying and reflecting.

By striving to be the best at these things, not only will they become happier and more successful, but confused people might eventually come to understand Islam better.

When you teach that Islam is a religion of peace, make sure that it is in a context that empowers the child to take positive action, rather than as a mere response to accusations that Islam promotes terrorism, the latter grows feelings of defensiveness and victimisation.

Your Religion is Your Right

Encourage children to ask for a place to pray confidently and politely (if they haven’t got one). If refused, they can speak to their parents and teachers they trust. The Madrassah can also write to their school.

Listen and Reassure

If a child is worried that they themselves or someone in their family may become victims of terrorism, follow these guidelines:

  1. Listen patiently and encourage them to ask questions
  2. Answer them honestly and do not undermine their curiosity or maturity
  3. Remind them that Allah is very Close, Kind, Hears their thoughts, knows their fears and that He is All-powerful and Controls the future. They can speak to Him, complain to Him and ask His protection.
  4. Encourage them to express their anxieties or fears through writing or art
  5. Reassure them that their worries are normal
  6. Reassure them that these acts are rare and that they are in a very safe country

If a child has complained to you about bullying or racism at their school, use these guidelines:

  1. Listen patiently
  2. Ask them if a teacher has been informed. If not, encourage them to tell a teacher and parents.
  3. If they complain that the school does nothing about bulling, speak to the parents and contact the school directly
  4. Encourage the child to keep a diary and record who says and does what
  5. Explain to them that the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him and his companions faced many bullying and racism because they believed in Allah alone and stood out from the rest of society
  6. Remind them that Allah is very Close, Kind, Hears their thoughts, knows their fears and that He is All-powerful. They can speak to Him, complain to Him and ask His protection.
  7. Explain to them that Allah loves it when an oppressed person stands up for their own rights, so they should not feel shy to let responsible adults know that they are facing bullying.