As I mentioned yesterday, we have been studying Islam. We spent about a week and a half learning about how Islam was founded and some of their basic beliefs. Over the course of the week, the kids had tons of great questions… Things I just couldn’t answer. I decided to contact a nearby mosque to see if they did any community outreach. I make that sound easy, but it was actually hard to write that first email because I hate imposing on people. Happily, they wrote back immediately and said they welcomed visitors and that the Imam (the Muslim religious leader, pronounced ‘ee-mom’) would be happy to meet with me and the kids and would also let us observe their noon-day prayers. The kids were SO excited!
Here is what DD wrote in her journal about our visit (The kids had to write for just five minutes at the end of the day.)… then I’ll tell you from my perspective!
We went to the mosque. We saw the Qu’ran. We also saw the Imam and how they pray. Mommy had to wear the hijab.
Actually, I just wore a scarf over my hair, but DD certainly hit the key points!
On the morning of our visit we read one last (wonderful!) book called Our Visit to a Mosque. We also brainstormed any last-minute questions. Then we were off!
The first thing LD noticed was the moon over the front door. We had talked about all the religious symbols earlier in the week and the kids knew about the crescent and star, the symbol of Islam.
It was 12:30 and noon-day prayers were just about to begin. It was just men and a few children who came for prayers. We sat out in an outer room, but could see prayers being performed.
We didn’t take any pictures; this photograph is courtesy of Agência Brasil, Wikimedia Commons.
We had learned in our readings that Muslim men and women pray separately. The Imam at the mosque we visited said that the women pray in a separate hall upstairs. After noon-day prayers were over, the Imam came out and showed us the upstairs prayer hall where the women worship. Then we went into a conference room to chat.
We had come up with a lot of questions before hand. I wondered if the kids would feel shy about talking with Imam, but they actually just passed the set of questions back and forth and asked tons of questions. The Imam had kids almost the same ages of my kids and you could tell he was very comfortable and happy talking with them and answering their questions.
Lots of the children’s books we read together (before we went to visit the Mosque) were about Ramadan. The kids started with some of their questions related to the Muslim holidays. DD asked at what age kids start fasting. The Imam told us that kids might practice if they wanted, but (he laughed) and said most needed to eat by the afternoon. In general, kids don’t start fasting during the month of Ramadan until they reach puberty around the age of 12 or 13.
The kids were really interested in how Muslim children participate in worship. DD asked if kids have to get up before dawn to pray (adults pray five times a day). The Imam laughed. “No, no! Kids need to sleep and have energy.” LD wondered if Muslim children sing in a choir. The Imam said no they don’t. Then he went on to say that Muslim children attend Sunday school for two hours. He said that children learn Arabic (to be able to read the Koran). The Imam said to the kids, “Oh it’s easy! I could teach you to read in just a few days!” Then they begin memorizing parts of the Koran. His daughter (who is a year older than LD) has already memorized quite a huge part of the Koran (he indicated with his fingers–indicating maybe 50 or 60 pages of text!). Eventually, Muslims are expected to memorize the whole Koran the Imam told us.
The kids brought up the Five Pillars of Islam. We asked if the Imam had made a pilgrimage to Mecca (which is the fifth pillar–each Muslim should try to make a pilgrimage to Mecca once in his/her life). He said he goes every year. Everyone is expected to go once in their life time if they are healthy and wealthy.
This photo was taken by Muhammad Mahdi Karim, Wikimedia Commons
Zakah — The act of giving charity or alms
We were also very curious about Zakah, the act of giving charity, as this is a very important part of the Muslim religion. Muslims are expected to help the needy. There are so many things we learned! We had already read about Zakah and the kids noticed a donation box labeled Zakah in the hall outside the prayer hall.
We asked the Imam to tell us a bit more about their practice of Zakah. The Imam told us that first of all, Muslims are supposed to help their families. “Who knows better when someone needs help than their family?” the Imam explained.
The alms/donations the church receives always go to the poor and needy… not as a direct check, the Imam told us. The needy apply for help and if they can’t pay their mortgage or their electricity bill or their gas bill (for example), they will write a check directly to the power company. He said that they even do this for non-Muslims in need if they apply.
He said some of the Sisters (that’s how he referred to some of the women in his congregation) also make nice food once a month and take it to one of the local shelters. They take the meal and then share it with whoever is at the shelter. The mosque has also adopted a highway and members go out to pick up trash on a regular basis. Sometimes they take collections of food and give that away to those whoever needs it (though not set up as an official Food Pantry per se).
Overall, the kids loved our visit. We all learned a lot. Even ED was very engaged. She and DD spent quite a bit of time looking through the Koran. She (ED) asked if there were any pictures and was disappointed when the Imam said no. DD was fascinated by the Arabic script. She told Hubby later, “the writing was BEAUTIFUL.”
At the end of the visit, the kids were all just so impressed and enjoyed the conversation so much. The Imam said that we were always welcome to come back. The kids stopped to use the restroom and while the girls were busy, LD returned to the Imam and said “I really want to come back for a visit!” He really meant it too–as we were walking back to the car he said, “Mom, we’ve just GOT to bring K and C (our close homeschooling friends) for a visit!”
Here were the notebook pages I made for the kids for this part of our unit: