The questions are many, and there is no one right answer. But the common goal for most Muslim parents is that they want their children to grow up to be proud, stable, and strong believers of their Islamic creed. Well, that is the goal at least until they are teenagers...then the goals many times become that we want our children to be rich, handsome/beautiful, and famous!
It has been a common trend for the past decade or so that parents find this salvation in their community centers or mosques. They are happy and content that their kids might be very involved, by putting them in Sunday school, or the holy month of Muharram and Ramadan classes, or they just may be content that their kids are at least running amok with fellow Muslim kids. Wherever the comfort lies on this continuum, it is a positive thing.
But what more can be done? When we see these young girls, with their little short-sleeved t-shirts on and a cute printed mismatching Hijab tightly tied around their head, or the little boys after prayer all excited to say Salawaat the loudest, what do we think? I for one cannot help but gleam out of happiness that these tiny little kids, so innocent, are so ready to take on the traditions of our beautiful religion.
I don't gleam out of happiness when I see adults, or even the younger Muslim crowd, not sowing, or even reaping, for that matter. I am all for youth groups and focusing on the next baton holders, but what about the little people?
There are many things we can do as older youth to help imbue camaraderie as well as education by involving and teaching the younger kids what little we may know.
Direct a Play. It can be a simple plot about a group of friends learning what we can or cannot during a fast. Or better yet, how to treat our peers, and our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters, even if we may not like them.
Conduct a Qur'an Contest. These work wonders and get kids excited about the Holy Qur'an. Pick short surahs and have them memorize the Arabic and the translation according to ability. Or pick stories from the Qur'an and have them narrate back to the community.
Take Them Out. Give the parents a day off. Take all the kids (potty-trained ones only!) to the zoo. Discuss every here and there how Allah has created every animal on the Earth.
Hold a Picnic. Sit down and eat with them, and talk about what Halal and Haram food is all about.
Clean the Center Day. Make teams and teach the importance of Taharat and cleanliness in Islam. Tell them this includes putting your shoes on the rack, wiping the sink/toilet in the restroom, and putting your trash in the trash can.
The ideas are endless. If we do not start training our kids now, eventually we will see the consequences. I recently saw two young girls at our center, who could not be more than seven or eight years old, teasing a peer and calling her a "twerp". I asked the little girl why she called her that, and she had no response but "you should hear the words she calls me!" I understand it is common young kid behavior, but it is not very Islamic, and yes, Muslims are better than that. It's not like they are too young to have manners. The earlier, the better.
Sometimes, the kids look up to us, and we don't even know it. Always make an attempt to say Salam to them. Ask them how school is. Shake their hand after prayers, or when you see them. Compliment their clothes, and have them sit with you during a program. Or just smile at them. Actions speak much louder than words, and even more to a kid.
So on our way to getting married, graduating high school or college, getting new jobs, giving a speech at the center, planning and organizing youth group activities, whatever it may be...on the way to these wonderful self-growth tasks, just don't forget the little people.