How can I bring up my children to have religious freedom?
Are you ready to give your children religious freedom?
I’m a firm believer in the freedom of speech and thoughts.
This was how I was raised. Of course, this was also how I intended to bring up my kids. I didn’t want to stifle them with tenets that could make them feel restricted. Definitely, I didn’t want them to have to do something that they didn’t understand but did it anyway because everyone else is doing it.
It’s rather difficult for me to explain what I mean by religious freedom. Perhaps to many, it seems almost like I allow my kids to choose whatever religion they want. Being a Muslim, it is almost impossible for me to openly admit that I don’t mind at all if my kids are curious about other religions.
Islam has been drilled in me so much so that at one point, I believed with a conviction that all other religions are false. While growing up, I could always talk and ask anything. My parents didn’t exactly lose their heads whenever I dared to venture a question. They would, however, always tell me why we’re of the only true religion.
I was confused and had questions. Why would other people bother having other religions if there’s only one true religion in this universe, I thought.
I don’t think I have to tell you the all sorts of answers I got to my questions. It will probably suffice to say that it made me realize that it is important to ask questions.
I was lucky that I grew up in a home where I have parents who didn’t send me to my room when I questioned some of our practices. Why do I have to pray or why can’t I eat pork? My father answered my questions patiently and used simple analogies to make me understand Islamic concepts.
Growing up a Muslim in a Malay-majority community, I didn’t feel weighed down and feel I was doing something I didn’t want to. My parents didn’t cane me if they found out I intentionally skipped my prayers or if I refused to wake up for Subuh. I wasn't told I was going to end up in hell because I was wearing a baby-tee.
Instead, they helped me to realize why a person prays. They enlightened me on the benefits of waking up early for Subuh. More importantly, they advised me on how I might seem to others if I were to wear baby-tee in this area.
The truth will set you free
Religious freedom is not about doing you want for or against a religion. For me, it is having the freedom to question and understand what religion means between you and your God.
It’s a challenge for my husband and me to allow our kids this. For sure, there are many external factors that could influence them such as school, friends, teachers, other parents, what they hear on TV etc. I understand the reason why many believe in the need to drill the basics into children. That's the way to a strong religious foundation.
However, I strongly disagree when these basics are accompanied with the restrictions on asking questions. Most especially, I disagree with showing prejudice against those who dare to ask questions on the grounds that “those are the kind of questions you just don’t ask about religion.”
The author's grandfather used to say that religions is for the intelligent. Find out what he meant on the next page!
Not for fools
My late grandfather used to say that religion is for the intelligent, not for fools. It requires you to think, not follow blindly. I realized what a challenge it is to teach my kids how to think the way my grandfather and my parents had taught me. But if they had taught me anything at all, I would put them down as:
Asking questions is the not the same as questioning
I know that when I asked questions then, it was because I wanted to know as I was honestly was curious. It wasn’t because I was trying to be clever or I was trying to provoke my parents. So now, whenever my kids ask questions, I don’t see it as them questioning me, but I see it that they question the why.
Allow any question no matter how uncomfortable or awkward they are
I was lucky because my parents didn’t throw a fit when I asked “challenging” questions. There are many of those from my generation didn’t have such opportunity. That limits the types of questions you choose to answer your kids will only suppress their curiosity. It would probably turn into resentment in the future if they feel that they were forced to do what they didn’t understand and weren’t given the chance to find the answer they needed.
Answer a question with a question
I don’t know why this helps, but each time my kids ask me a “tough” question, I would ask them back - What do they think? It became obvious to me that they asked questions because they have already formed some kind of an answer and are only seeking to find out more.
By asking for their opinions first, it encourages them to express their thoughts. It also helps me to gauge how I should answer because I can tailor my explanation at their level of understanding. On top of that, it doesn’t invalidate or disprove what they think. I simply grow my answers based on their thoughts and introduce new concepts or ideas based on what they’re already telling me.
Bringing up my children
Perhaps these ideas are not at all alien to most of you, but they go a long way for me in having a healthy relationship with my kids. We’ve had conversations about killing criminals, the human anatomy, the concept of God, and why Mommy and Daddy sometimes fight. In every situation, I use the same steps I mentioned above. I can’t tell you how many times my kids surprised me with their answers, thoughts, and ideas.
This is how I believe I can bring up my children to have religious freedom. If they don’t fear to ask questions about their religion, they won’t have that much fear of anything else.