In my household of young Muslim children, discussions about Christianity are mostly centred around shared stories between Christians, Muslims, and Jews. We choose Christian children’s books that are equally Muslim books and, once children have started speaking, I usually alternate saying ‘God’ and ‘Allah’ each time we read them. Christianity and Islam hold so many similarities that I think it is unnecessarily confusing to delve into differences at a young age when children are following and understanding their parents’ religion, rather than questioning and consolidating their own spiritual commitment as teenagers.
For me, none of my children are old enough to explore the Christian story of Pentecost and all its exclusively Christian concepts of the Holy Spirit (as a part of God) who appeared as fire, of Jesus as having already returned to earth, and of Jesus as the son of God.
At first I thought we’d choose a ‘Veggie Tales’ title so I expanded our home library to include some books from the series. We’ve read one, saved one, and another is on the way insha’Allah. However, I want to blog about those books later in the year insha’Allah.
We already own many accessible, age appropriate Christian books but there is one we had been given and not yet read. It was the perfect story to encourage my children to value their privileged position (of having so many accessible religious books)….
Mary Jones and her Bible is a true story about a young girl who learned to read especially to be able to read the Bible. She went on to save up for six years and walk twenty-five miles to buy her own copy of the Bible in her language, Welsh. Her parents helped her by giving her means to earn money and making her a savings box. Community members contributed funds when they heard she was only a little short of her goal. When she bought her Bible, it was the last one available in town. I choked up several times reading her story, which concludes with the starting of a society which still functions today – the man who sold Mary her Bible told a group of people about her successful struggle and they determined to print cheaper Bibles in more languages.
As a result of Mary’s story, in my household, one child wants to have his own copy of the Qur’an and another is interested in how many languages it has been translated into. (I looked up Welsh; currently, only selected verses are available.)
Before our Mary Jones-inspired discussions, my children were already aware of my perceived need to improve availability of accessible literature for diverse children – they have seen me search the library in vain and heard me complain at having to use air mail to order books. Now, however, they are learning to appreciate how much progress people have made, and I am reminded that as a white English speaker I am far more privileged than I have worked to be, with accessible literature that represents me.
As a person of faith, I feel determined to be working for more diversity in religious children’s books, and to maintain focus upon Islam, insha’Allah, and, after a break of a week or two, I will return with several posts about Muslim children’s books for Ramadan (and any time of year).
I hope my children and I will have more conversations based on Mary Jones and her Bible and that my children will gain more determination to read, learn, and persevere as faithful people, as a result of Mary Jones’ example insha’Allah. They have already asked to hear her story again.
Now I am on the look out for creative non-fiction picture books about every day people’s religious quests. Can you recommend any such books? Are you writing one from your own local history? Were you inspired by real life stories like Mary’s when you were young? You are welcome to tweet me @elizabethlymer with your insights, whether or not you think I’ll share your beliefs.
Elizabeth Lymer is the author of Religious Rhyme Time, an Abrahamic children’s interfaith book, as well as Islamic Nursery Rhymes. She loves eating chocolate while she writes, and, with strictly chocolate-free fingers, she also creates Muslim and interfaith children’s gifts for book people at her Etsy shop, BarakahBedtimesUK. Elizabeth is a member of the Muslimah Writers Alliance. You can subscribe to her emails by clicking here.