Thursday, November 10, 2011

Parrot-Troopers


I have a sneaky suspicion that this post may ruffle a few feathers.
I certainly hope it does, or else the entire purpose of this blog has been futile.

I was at a friends place this weekend, and he had all these little prayers stuck on his walls and doors and windows and plastered all over his kids room. Little prayers (or 'duas' as we call them in Arabic) for almost anything and everything... before eating, after eating, while washing hands, before going into the loo, on leaving the loo, on entering the house, on leaving the house, before sleeping, on waking up, while doing nothing. You name it and there was a corresponding prayer to go with it.

I thought this was great. I'm all for closeness to God and teaching kids about religion.
His boy is 6 and his little girl is 8.
Needless to say, they knew every single one of these prayers by heart, in Arabic. It rolled off their tongues as easily as you and I might sing a Michael Jackson song. Maybe even easier.

As a Dad he must have been so proud. I think he was actually. I was too busy being impressed to be anything else.
The little boy bonded with me like I was Santa Clause bearing candy. Finally at 9pm he asked if I'd put him to bed. His mom nodded her approval and off I went with this kid in tow. I tucked him in and before I could ask if he wanted me to read him a story, he started on his prayer before going to bed. The Arabic words bouncing off his tongue like the sweet sounds of a nightingale. When he was done, I asked him what it all meant. Of course I knew what it meant, since I was taught in very much the same way but for one exception: We were told to recite the English translation as well. I noticed that neither of these kids did that when reciting their prayers.

He looked at me incredulously and completely perplexed. It's always fascinating when a kid looks at you in words they cannot even spell, let alone understand.
So I asked him again if he could tell me what the prayer he had just read in Arabic, actually meant.
Finally, with a look of exasperation, he shrugged his shoulders and said simply "No, I don't."
It's at this point that I stopped being so impressed with his memory skills, or that of his sister for that matter.

Like I said earlier, I'm all for religion and closeness to God.
But if kids are being brought up like parrots, taught to recite prayers in the language of the Holy Book without fully understanding what it is that they are reciting, or made to understand why they should be reciting a prayer for each of those instances, then I am afraid we are doing them and the religion a disservice.

I was taught the Lords Prayer at an early age, but I was first taught the reason why the Lords Prayer is recited. Made to understand it's purpose. At age 6 I started attending Islamic School or Madressah as we call it. At night I was grilled on what we had learned, and here's where these teachings between Islam and Christianity began to take on a beauty of their own. My evenings would be spent in discussion about the similarities between the religions, and I was forced to expand my thinking and understanding of the things I had been taught. Yes, I was forced to hone and polish that scarcely used human attribute that was so prevalent in years gone by: I was forced to use common sense.

This post is not and should not only be relevant to religion. It should be relevant to everyday life, and in everything we do. If we just applied some common sense and removed the blinkers society and our upbringing has placed on us, we would need less governance from elders and teachers and ultimately, governments.

If somebody sat down with those nutters from Al-Qaeda and the Talibaan and Al-Shabaab and The Lords Resistance Army and Hitler and half the Spanish and English Kings and the Israelis and every terrorist from every faction fighting whatever cause they believe is worthy of an innocents death... if somebody just got them to start using common sense in their ideologies, I promise this world would be a better place.
I watched a show last night wherein a guy was talking about how we've lost our ability to think, and how we've left it up to a higher authority to do our thinking for us.
Here's the example he gave : 20 years ago, if you were walking down the road and saw an open manhole, you'd use your brain and walk around it. Why? Because your common sense would have told you to.
Today, people see an open manhole, ask themselves "I wonder what would happen if I jumped into it?" then proceed to jump into said manhole. Next thing you know, they're sueing the government or municipality for not having put up signs saying "Don't be a moron and jump into this manhole!"

I shudder at the thought of how little of our intellect and common sense we will exercise 20 years from now. Will we need a higher authority to give us permission to get out of bed in the morning and take a pee? What happens if that order only comes around lunchtime? Will we be a nation of bedwetters because nobody told us to use common sense?

It's when we as parents start bringing up robots with no idea of how to challenge their minds and further their intellect that we do ourselves, our kids and society at large a huge disservice.

If there's one thing I hope to instill in Sabreen at the tender age of 5, it would be the confidence to question. To continuosly ask "Why?". To question everything, not in the pursuit of being pedantic, but rather to gain an understanding of why we do the things we do.
I watched with interest in my early years as our religious teachers and even those at school heaped on us kids a barrage of Do's and Dont's. We were always told never to question, just to accept. The very first time I did question, I was ridiculed. It was 30 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday.
A teacher at Islamic School (or Moulana at Madressah as we would refer to it) said that God had a reason for every single thing that he did and everything that he had created.
I never doubted that, but that didn't stop me from being curious. So I asked said Moulana "Why do men have nipples?"
I was 6 at the time. Firstly, I wasn't supposed to know what nipples were, let alone use them in a sentence.
I got taken to the Principles office for being rude, and he was quite obstinate that my question was a sign of rudeness.

When my parents were called in, they defended me by saying "How is anyone supposed to learn without asking questions?"
I've never stopped asking questions since.
It's also the reason why I'm not afraid to push the envelope and test the barriers, as can be seen on this very blog or if you follow me on Twitter.

I'm expecting some of my more ardent religious readers and fans to begin lambasting me for my views.
I don't mean to offend. I'm simply voicing an opinion and letting the world know that I for one am taking a slightly different approach.
Less dogmatic, more pragmatic.