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Published in the 1-15 Aug 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Islam becoming weekend affair

By MH Lakdawala

Mumbai: A random survey, conducted by the Milli Gazette in Mumbai, revealed that 76 percent of the Muslim children in the age group of 10-14, were unable to explain the meaning of the Kalima, the basic pillar of Faith. When these children were asked to explain technical terms in science, geography and maths, 81 per cent answered correctly.

Muslim students reading the Holy QuranWhy the poor response? We, Muslim parents, absolve ourselves by engaging a Qari sahib to teach our children the Holy Qur'an because most of us have now forgotten how to read the Holy Book or have no time. The Qari comes and goes, taking his salary at the end of the month, while we, Muslim parents, stand absolved of our duty to teach our children the basics of our faith. 

If one wants to be an accountant, doctor, engineer or professional of any other kind, we pursue the concerned courses for four years, in addition to appearing before a state board to be certified as an accountant, doctor, engineer or the like. But when it comes to Islam we simply suffice with an introduction to Faith, Kalima and its translation, and then leave them alone to appear for the final exams on their own. What a pity! 

The majority of Muslim children growing up in India have rudimentary knowledge of their faith. They know the Kalima and what it means, a few Surahs they know by heart for an exam, and yes they also possess the basic skills to read the Holy Qur'an that they learnt while still too young to comprehend the meaning of what was being taught to them. Then there are tidbits that the children pick up from their parents, and a few pieces of advice here and there to keep them in check. Nowhere during the developmental stages of their lives are they taught the true meaning of the Kalima, which is the key component of a Muslim's contact with his/her Creator. Yes, they are told to fold their hands in a certain way while they are praying. However, what is not taught to them is what it takes to be a Muslim. 

Teachers, or parents for that matter, take time to explain it to their wards what the Kalima stands for. Why is it that every Muslim is required to pray five times a day? Why do we need to fast, and what is its significance? For an ordinary Muslim child in India, these are all either exam questions or actions they are expected to emulate, whether they like it or not. And in time it all fades away, as a sound foundation was never laid for these young people to build their faith upon. In the end, these confused children-turned-adults crowd Friday and Eid prayer gatherings, following in the footsteps of their parents. 

Religion, for most of the baby-boomers, my contemporaries, has become a weekend thing, where offering Friday prayers means absolution from everything that is required of a Muslim. One only needs to drive around town on a Friday to find traffic jams on the streets housing the fashionable, mostly air-conditioned mosques, yet the same mosques witness fewer, if any, visitors during morning prayers. 

So where do we start? By renewing our vows. We must first try to develop a clear understanding as to what is meant by: "There is no god but Allah and Muhammad (peace be upon him) is His messenger.” 

Each one of us today has developed his own version of Islam. We have our own individual checks and balances that we have developed to soothe our troubled consciences. If we steal electricity, or taxes, or get our kith and kin employed out of merit, we resort to philanthropy, hoping that it will balance it all out in the end. 

Being a Muslim means more than just offering five-times prayers; it means emulating the life of Prophet Muhammad and conforming to the dictates of the Holy Qur'an, not in part or what suits us, but in totality. And unless we understand the meaning of the Kalima, we don't stand a chance of redeeming ourselves in this world or the Hereafter. 

Ironically most people engage in religious learning because they want to be happy in this world. One of the greatest misunderstandings that people have is, “regarding the spiritual journey as a vacation trip", declared Maulana At-har of Ulama Council. People imagine that the spiritual path will provide them with peace of mind, freedom from their psychological aberrations and an everlasting life. They mistakenly imagine that if they meditate enough, do enough prayers, or study enough spiritual books, eternal bliss will be theirs, he said. 

It’s high time urgent steps are taken to build a network of basic nurseries in every locality, which not only teach tilawat but also explain the basic ethos and values of Islam, blending the modern techniques of teaching and latest teaching aids.

When we Muslim parents take pain to identify the best of secular education institution to build our children’s future in this world, why not take similar interest to educate them about Islam on which depends their eternal success in the Hereafter?
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