Digital Art Sakina K.
Good habits are, as I’m sure you’ll agree, hard to make and easy to break. I don’t have children, but I understand it’s even harder to get kids to make them. By that logic, I suppose it’s even harder to make sure they don’t break them. I grew up in South Yorkshire – it’s a county in England; to quickly acquaint your possibly unfamiliar self it’s around where Hagrid grew up and where the Earl of Grantham attempts to make sense of a rapidly changing world and an increasingly improbable life.
There aren’t many Bohras where I grew up. In fact, there are three families in the entire city, including mine. There are also three community hubs based in cities equidistant from us; one in Manchester, another in Nottingham and a third in Bradford. We chose to belong to the community in Manchester, an hour and quarters worth of driving away, on the other side of the Peak District National Park.
Where I grew up is also an example of the England that voted to leave the EU – largely economically less developed, hugely polarised with respect to multi-cultural awareness and on the whole increasingly xenophobic if not outright Islamophobic. Even ten years ago, when things were going better than they are now (if not well), I wasn’t sure just how much I belonged in the place I called home. This wasn’t for want of trying – I loved it there and still do. And I believe that this strange mix of Englishness, my distinctiveness and the lack of any nearby Bohra interaction was hugely valuable to my growth as a religious, yet liberal individual.
In an environment so different from one that many would call the ‘ideal’ environment to develop a particular faith, I asked questions of wonderfully open parents. In an environment so stalwartly English (even dangerously so) I developed tastes and nuances encouraged by parents who knew the importance of both knowing your strong individual identity and belonging to our religion in general. These parents were the key to my development as a balanced individual.
Good habits in kids are difficult enough as it is. How do you make children understand the importance of the tenets of a faith utterly absent from their surroundings? You enforce the value of it in the little things you do at home. You answer questions with love and patience. You let them see Maula for themselves and then feel His presence through the prism of the things that are present in their surroundings, no matter how different they are to your own culture. There is always a bridge to our faith, you just have to find it. My parents did.
But then how do you make sure you’re not overzealous, strangling the possibility of your children enjoying their unique surroundings? My parents valued our individuality and therein lay the trick to turning the practices of a religion into a foundational characteristic, into an identity. By knowing their daughter, my parents nurtured me, ever since I can remember, to recognise Maula as mine; to recognise in him a home I would live in for the rest of my life. By virtue of that, I was not practising because they wanted me to. I was practising because it was who I was. Hence, I was no less English, no less a good student, or a dedicated friend, or an avid theatre-enthusiast, because I was a mumin. I was all of these things because I was a mumin. My faith fed the way I thought, decided, believed and loved everything. I was not the child of my parents’ faith, but the mother of my own.
When people tell me about the importance of environment, I do agree with them. I know how hard it is to do what my parents did and I know that for some, for many, maybe even for all, it is a risk; devoid of obvious connections, children may feel no emotional or spiritual connection at all to what you hold so dear. But, I also know that I wouldn’t have wanted my childhood to have been spent any other way, or in any other place. And I know that I have my parents to thank for an extraordinary lesson, a gift; for a personality and a personal faith that I have been exploring and enjoying for as long as I can remember.