My Muslim Sons Will Never Learn to Hate

TIME | January 3, 2017

I remember when you realized that you were a Muslim. You were tiny. You were sweet and round and friendly. It was at an event at school. Your schools so far have been English-language curriculum schools, and the student body came from more than 100 nationalities. One day the students had to identify their religion, and you came back “aware” of your religious identity. You took this identity very seriously. You began to ask me what you “had to do” to be a Muslim. I explained as best as I could the simple steps of knowing that the big Guy in the sky, who created the world, was really called Allah, and that hundreds of years ago, he had sent us his Messenger Mohammed with the Quran. I told you that we prayed five times a day, and I reminded you of Ramadan, when we would not eat all day until the evening.

Soon you were coming back from school telling me what I had to do to be a “good Muslim.” It seems your Arabic teacher and his colleague, your religious studies teacher, had a better idea of what being a Muslim meant. You became a little aggressive, and I began to realize that your mother and I were not the only ones bringing you up. I saw that we had competition for your attention. I panicked a little. I had images of you running away to Syria to fight in a war where people would exploit your good nature. I imagined you cutting yourself off from us, your family, because we were not strict enough Muslims according to the standards that you had picked up from these so-called teachers of yours. I had the urge to go to your school and punch them and tell them they had no right to teach you these things.

Instead, I spoke to your mother repeatedly and at length. She is seven years younger than me and grew up three streets away from where I lived with my siblings. Unlike me, both her parents are from the same town in the Emirates—Al Ain. Her upbringing was more uniformly Arab and Muslim than mine could have been, given that my mother is Russian and descended from Orthodox clergymen. Your mother had also been through similar experiences. I know because we had gone to the same school. It was not that we were taught to hate groups of people in a formal way. It was the offhand comments that a teacher would make, or the playground gossip about the Jews or the Shia sect of Islam. The assumption was that you could condemn people you had never met, and who had themselves never done anything wrong. Your mother was, and is, adamant, as am I, that we are not going to let our children be educated to hate.

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Emily Goodrich