Putting Islam into Your Child's Summer Fun
By Maysoon Zaza
Children who attend school during the academic year are used to 180 days, 8 hours a day; 5 days a week structured environment. Therefore, the summer can be boring for a child if left in a totally unstructured environment. In addition, with a little creativity there are endless opportunities for incorporating fun learning activities that utilize Islamic concepts into a child's summer days. These activities can range from Islamic day-camps and trips overseas to parent organized activities with other Muslim children within the same community.
Not only does this provide an Islamic environment for children to have fun and socialize with other Muslim children; it can also help provide children with the necessary knowledge to guide them to the straight path.
Dr. Aisha Hamdan, a professor of clinical Adolescent and Child Psychology, believes that Muslims in the West are too soft on their children in the area of Islamic knowledge. She is a strong advocate of the Ummah developing scholars at young ages. For example, we have all heard of children who have memorized the Qur'an at a young age in traditionally Muslim countries; but how many of us have heard of a child in the West accomplish this task? The merits of obtaining Islamic knowledge in the Qur'an and Sunnah are numerous. The Qur'an states,
"...Allah will exalt in degree those of you who believe and those who have been granted knowledge..." [58:11].
Another example is reported by Katheer ibn Qays who said, "I was sitting in the company of Abu Dardaa in the masjid in Damascus when a man came and said, 'Abu Dardaa, I have come to you from the City of Allah's Messenger; I have not come for any need but I was told that you narrated a hadeeth from Allah's Messenger.' Abu Dardaa then said, "I heard Allah's Messenger saying,
'He who treads a path in search of knowledge, Allah will direct him to tread a path from the paths of Paradise, and the angels would accord welcome to the seekers of knowledge, and all that is found in the heavens and the earth and even the fish in the depth of the water seek forgiveness for the scholar. And the superiority of the scholar over the worshipper is like that of the full moon at night over the rest of the stars, and verily the scholars are the heirs of the Prophets who left behind neither dinar nor Dirham. They only left knowledge as their heritage; so whoever acquired it has acquired a huge fortune'." (Ahmad, Abu Dawud, and Ibn Majah).
It is imperative that the parents teach their children Islamic knowledge. Furthermore, because of the additional time, summer provides an excellent opportunity for families and children to focus on obtaining Islamic knowledge. While this includes Qur'an, Arabic, prayer, and fasting, it also includes such necessary items as learning Islamic Adaab (manners) and Akhlaaq (moral development).
Another important issue is that children also need to be provided with Islamic activities that incorporate socializing with other Muslim children. After all, socialization is an important part of childhood. It can also play an important role in the development of a child's overall Islamic identity.
Dr. Hamdan believes that socializing with other Muslim children over the summer is especially important for the child attending public school. "This may be the only time for children attending public school to socialize with other Muslim children." This re-emphasizes that it is essential that parents monitor what types of experiences are available for their children.
According to brother Riyad Shamma, the National Advisor of Muslim Youth of North America (MYNA), it is important that children get the message at an early age that Islamic activities and socialization with other Muslim children is an important part of childhood. Parents need to make the extra effort to make this a reality for their children. According to brother Riyad, "this means that if a parent needs to drive an hour to get to some event, (then) do it. It's amazing how much even young children will pick up on the importance of getting together with other Muslim children."
Brother Riyad also suggests that parents need to make the effort to participate in their children's activities. With parental participation, activities tend to run much smoother. Furthermore, parents participating in their children's activities provide the perfect opportunity for parents to have fun with their children while leaving behind the usual day-to- day routine of every day life.
While book work and classroom instruction is an important part of acquiring Islamic knowledge for children, so is learning about Islam through life experiences. For some parents who have the financial means, traveling overseas to visit relatives, perform 'Umrah, or attend summer Arabic language programs are methods of acquiring Islamic knowledge.
Two years ago, brother Atif Sawaie discovered that when he took his five-years-old son Raji to Jordan, Raji's Arabic language skills improved 30% during his one-month visit. "When he first went to Jordan he know very little Arabic. At the end of the visit he was able to communicate most of his needs to our family in Arabic."
One of the reasons for Raji's dramatic language growth was his interaction with other children. While initially there was a small degree of language miscommunication between the children, by the end of the visit any problems from language differences were nonexistent. Furthermore, Raji viewed the trip as being very positive and a lot of fun. Brother Atif very strongly recommends traveling overseas with your children. He believes that this is his son's best chance to learn Arabic.
Other positive learning experiences included learning both Islamic manners and Arabic culture. However, for Raji, "traveling overseas makes my heritage more real not just stories." Raji is planning on returning to Jordan this summer for the full summer, insha Allah.
Improving one's Arabic language skills is not the only benefit from traveling overseas. For example, children can learn a great deal about Islamic history from visiting a variety of Islamic attractions. If a family visits Madinah while making Umrah, they could explore the events that surrounded the founding of the Prophet's Masjid.
Other types of learning could include Islamic architecture and art from visiting famous masajid and Museums. This does not include the mere fact that children are going to gain a sense of Islamic identity from visiting a country where the majority of inhabitants are Muslim. There is nothing like hearing the Athaan five times a day instead of looking on a prayer calendar.
In addition, adolescent females have a tendency to feel more comfortable outdoors when they blend into the crowd rather then being the one who dresses "strange". The best thing to remember when traveling overseas to acquire Islamic knowledge is that the possibilities for learning are only limited by one's creativity, finances, and time.
Plan Organized Community Activities
A sister living overseas once described the United States as the "land of Islamic conferences." If traveling overseas is not an option, perhaps a family vacation at an Islamic conference or camp would help family members acquire Islamic knowledge and experience an Islamic environment. Many national organizations hold mini-conventions, workshops, or camps during the summer months.
For example, the Qur'an and Sunnah Society (QSS) traditionally holds a summer camp for the whole family. These camps usually center on a specific theme while having scholars give a variety of lectures. In addition, there is usually a separate education/fun program for children. Another organization that holds organized lectures in different locations is the Islamic Assembly of North America (IANA). The topics and locations tend to vary year to year. Of course, many Muslims in the West look forward to the Islamic Society of North America's (ISNA) annual convention during the Labor Day weekend.
Another option may be an organized day or overnight camp for your child. A national organization or local Islamic communities run these camps. Muslim Youth of North America (MYNA) is one national organization that plans and conducts a series of mini-camps for children age 12-18 in a variety of locations throughout the United States and Canada.
These camps tend to focus on the fun activities while maintaining an Islamic environment and experience. According to brother Riyad Shamma the benefits of an Islamic environment are tremendous for the child. "An Islamic environment brings out the very best in people," he said.
Plan your Own Activities
While some parents opt for trips overseas, organized Islamic camps, or attend Islamic conferences, the majority of parents end up planning their own children's activities for the summer. For most, the typical summer activities and day trips include going to the zoo, parks, library, museums, and other historical attractions. It is possible to incorporate Islamic concepts in these activities. It just takes a little creativity and organization.
Furthermore, with some additional planning, why not expand your activities to include other children within your community? For example, why not plan a picnic at the park for several families in your community. Besides the usual activities that center around food and free play- several mothers could plan an activity for the children that utilizes an Islamic theme (i.e., Qur'an recitation or a game that relies on Islamic knowledge).
Another meaningful activity is to organize an Islamic Scouting Troop for your community. The Islamic Council on Scouting in cooperation with the Boy Scouts of America has developed a Scouting program for Muslim youth based upon Islamic teachings. This program is led by local unit leaders chosen from the community. In addition, youth are encouraged to earn emblems and awards, which are based upon Islamic teaching. This program provides an excellent opportunity for our youth to become actively involved within our communities from an early age.
Other activities which may be of interest for older children is to donate their time and energy to improving their local communities. Such activities could include tutoring English to non-English speaking brothers and sisters, cleaning the Masjid once a month, or grocery shopping for a sick Muslim. These types of activities help lay the foundation for children to learn the importance of helping our fellow Muslims.
"You will see (on the Day of Resurrection), the polytheists and wrongdoers fearful of that which they have earned, and it (Allah's Torment) will surely, befall them. But those who believe (in the Oneness of Allah-Islamic Monotheism) and do righteous deeds (will be) in the flowering meadows of the Garden (Paradise). They shall have whatever they desire with their Lord. That is the supreme Grace (Paradise) [42:22]
Planning group activities for youth is not as complex as it is seems. The key is organization and cooperation of several other community members. Planning a large group activity can be overwhelming for even the most organized individual. Delegation of responsibilities and tasks is a must for any successful program. Therefore, it is imperative to develop a planning committee as the first step in planning any large activity.
The second most important factor is to look at the needs of the community. What are the needs for the children? What are the age ranges of the children? What types of activities interest the children? What are the resources and finances for the activity? Other important factors include the type of activity (fun and/or education) and the duration of the activity. These are all important issues that must be addressed in planning an activity.
Finally, it is time to develop a plan of action with attainable deadlines. It is important to plan activities in advance in order to work out any unexpected problems. Last minute planning can become frantic and less enjoyable for all. Furthermore, tasks should be delegated to specific individuals within the planning committee. Larger activities may need subcommittees to carryout a variety of tasks.
Planning and implementing plans does not have to be an adult-only adventure. Try to involve the children as much as possible. This is especially important for the teenagers. When motivated, they have good ideas about what activities would benefit them not to mention they tend to be very zealous planners. More importantly, by involving older children in the process you are teaching them valuable skills in organization and planning which they can utilize in the Ummah as adults.
In conclusion, Summer lends itself as a perfect time for family activities. Why not use this opportunity to acquire Islamic knowledge, do righteous deeds and have fun at the same time? The benefits are enormous. Besides creating stronger family bonds, it may also gain additional blessings and good deeds for the Day of Judgment.
One obtains the benefits from the activity by the intention put into the activity. From Umar ibn al-Khattab who said that Allah's Messenger said, "Actions are according to intentions, and for every person is that which he intended. So he whose migration was for Allah and his Messenger, then his migration was for Allah and His Messenger, and he whose migration was to attain some worldly goal or to take a woman in marriage, then his migration was for that which he migrated." (Bukhari).