Saturday, May 17, 2008

I Am a Little Moslem by Mennah Bakkar

This wonderfully illustrated book will be of interest not only to children but to adults. It raises some fascinating issues for Muslims as well as others outside the Islamic fold.

According to Amr Khaled (is he the popular Egyptian preacher?), who writes the foreword in the style of a note to ‘Dear Parents’, this book “has been written with modern insight conforming to the world around us today. Yet it maintains the required basics and values of Islam that our children can relate to and apply during their everyday lives as Allah the almighty had intended.”

This is a noble vision for a book and it is intriguing to discover how the eternal truths of Islam are made to conform to the contemporary world.

The book is written for twins, Tarek and Jana, who are six years of age, of pale complexion, who live in an extended family in an English-speaking country, where they are called ‘Moslems’ (instead of ‘Muslims) and where Christmas is a time for an extended public holiday.

Tarek is sporty, musical and noisy while Jana is enthusiastic about ballet. They are both doing well at school, they are curious and their questions shape the plot of this book.

The action of their school teacher decorating a Christmas tree in the classroom is the catalyst for a conversation at home with their grandmother. In the story, Nana provides her grandchildren with most of their spiritual understanding.

Jana and Tarek are encouraged by Nana to visit their friends during their Christmas rituals, to respect religions while not to actually celebrate the religions of others. When Jana and Tarek are disappointed that they may not get Christmas presents at home, Nana reminds them that the Moslem celebration of Eid is a time of gift-giving and as there are two Eids each year, in contrast to Christmas, they will have “two times the fun [and] two times the presents.”

The growing visibility of Christmas decorations in the windows of homes in their neighbourhood sparks a deep conversation about Tarek and Jana’s own religious identity.

The book proclaims explicitly and implicitly these doctrines:
* There is only one God who is called ‘Allah’.
* Allah is the creator of all, always present, a protector, invisible, an insomniac and the object of human gratitude.
* The holy book called the ‘Quran’ tells us what to believe and do.
* Mohammed is Allah’s messenger whose messages are found in the Quran.

In a contemporary manner and devoid of religious jargon the Islamic understanding of salvation is explained. Allah is the all-seeing referee who keeps a scorecard on every person. Nana expounds: “The more good things you do, the more good points you get and the more good points you get, you will please Allah very much and you end up in Paradise.”

This explanation naturally leads Tarek and Jana to ask more questions about Paradise and Nana obliges, saying it is a “lovely, fun place that has everything and anything you could ever wish for.”

“Does it have lots of parks, playgrounds to play in? asked Tarek. “Are there houses made of candy? Lollipop flowers? And chocolate trees?”

“Yes,” laughed Nana [taking a liberal and modern interpretation of the Quran], “If that is what you want, that is what you’ll find. You can wish for all the most wonderful toys to play with and you can stay up as late as you want.”

No wonder Jana exclaims, “I’m excited about being a Moslem. I want to go to Paradise right now!”

Nana reiterates that “to go to Paradise, you have to do a lot of good things to score as many good points as you can.” To which Jana asks the important question, “How many good points do I have to get?” Nana, within the context of this belief system replies well, “Lots and lots and lots. Only Allah knows how many points are enough.”

Interestingly, Tarek and Jana don’t seem bothered at this stage of their lives about their lack of certainty as to whether they have been good enough and scored sufficient admission points. Scorecard salvation is a very contemporary idea believed by many children and adults—that one has to work hard to get enough points to please God for acceptance now and beyond the grave.

The book concludes with an unnecessary summary of the doctrinal themes about Allah, Mohammed, the point system and entry into Paradise.

I am a Little Moslem is one in the ‘Little Moslem’ series and the other volumes address specific subjects of prayer, giving and Moslem festivals.

Mennah I Bakkar, I am a Little Moslem (Beirut: Arab Scientific Publishers, 2007).

This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at the amazingly low cost of Dh 20.00.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: Front cover of I am a Little Moslem; Tarek and Jana’s scores for a week.