I realised a few months ago that I don’t want to read (m)any stories about Hindu gods such as Krishna, Greek gods, or any plural gods to my Muslim children until they are nine or ten years old. Until then, I’m focussing on harmonies between people of faith, gently naming differences, and exploring different ritual practices … while I give my children space to develop their relationships with Allah SWT.
While I give my young children time, knowledge, and role models to process ownership of their own sensitive relationships with their Creator, insha’Allah they will become older children who are mature enough to respond to the faith-history differences I introduce without defensively feeling I am trying to erode their faith with contradictions from other religions.
So for the Hindu festival Krishna Jayanthi, celebrating the birth of Krishna, I got a copy of The Puffin Book of Classic Indian Tales for Children from which I can select animal stories now and can use more comprehensively, exploring stories about Hindu gods, in years to come insha’Allah.
Interestingly, my most striking first impression of the collection was the smell of the book. It arrived sealed in cellophane and for days it smelled strongly like a freshly printed mini-catalogue. I struggled to read more than one story at a time. Gladly, the smell has already faded considerably.
The collection is packed with stories, many of which are about Hindu gods, and some of which are about animals, like Aesop’s fables.
As with Aesop’s fables, we have enjoyed some stories and uncomfortably learned from others. I found ‘How the bulbul became king of the birds’ very satisfying because it involves a positive collaboration in a kind of trick without any dishonesty in order to ensure the bird who’s best fit to be king gets the position. It also has a fantastic last line, masha’Allah. We all enjoyed the humour and lesson conveyed through ‘The cave that talked’ – I won’t give anything more away. Whereas we’ve appreciated the morals of ‘The singing ass’ in spite of disliking both the narrative and characters.
As for learning about the birthday of Krishna and its Hindu festival rituals such as fasting and staying up late, I haven’t yet found any English children’s fiction which represents them. However, to my children these are familiar Ramadan practices – as is decorating hands with mendhi/henna which one child is thrilled to know is popular with many Hindus, masha’Allah. So insha’Allah we can recognise these similarities, whether I manage to weave them into a story or not.
In fact, we are delighted to have discovered Hindu Rangoli patterns. We’ve got a ‘sand art decorations’ kit for Krishna Jayanthi so we can chat about Muslim-Hindu similarities and can start making our Hindu neighbour a gift in time for Eid al Adha insha’Allah. I described Rangoli to my children as ‘like Buddhist mandalas and Islamic art’, the former of which they’ve coloured a lot, and the latter they’ve so far coloured a little.
When we’re finished with Hajj colouring this year, I’ll be seeking out new colouring books/resources for children from various faith traditions insha’Allah. (I’ve already started.) Insha’Allah these resources will enrich the ground work we have started in building interfaith respect at a young age through literature.
Do you have any recommendations of art activities for young children during Krishna Jayanthi or other faith festivals? Please comment below, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet me @elizabethlymer.
Elizabeth Lymer writes rhymes and stories to support informal, playful learning for children aged 0–7 years old. She blogs about using Muslim and other religious children’s literature to foster a strong Muslim identity, interfaith harmony, and multi-faith respect. She is the author of four Muslim nursery rhymes books: Islamic Nursery Rhymes, Muslim Lullabies, Ramadan Rhymes, and Hajj Harmonies; one Abrahamic interfaith book Religious Rhyme Time; and one black-and-white baby book Baby Traveller Bismillah. Elizabeth loves rainbows and insha’Allah you can look out for more of them in her forthcoming work.