We began by discussing journeys. The children’s responses were
very varied. The school was situated two miles from the city centre.
For many, those two miles constituted an exciting journey into
the unknown. Others spoke of visiting Grandma, of holidays by
the sea, of candy floss and sand and donkeys. One child had even
been on a boat to the Isle of Man! References to stories and TV
programmes led to an awareness of other countries, very far away,
which might be visited.
We discussed our feelings before setting out on journeys, during
journeys, and what we felt when we arrived at our destination
— excitement, anticipation, tiredness, surprise. What preparations
had to be made? Daddy would have to carry the cases — what was
in the cases — who had made the sandwiches? Why did we take certain
things? On this occasion, it was very easy to add a religious
dimension. A few days earlier the Pope had visited our city. We
discussed the possibility of returning the visit, of exploring
his home. Why would people want to do this? Now the word pilgrimage
was introduced. We spent time repeating the word, letting it roll
round our tongues, thus giving it a feel of importance. The children
enjoyed the word — they were eager to learn about it.
Very gently we introduced the idea of people who worshipped God,
people called Muslims. Seizing on the fact that the children were
enjoying playing with words, we also introduced the name Allah.
Three new words! They were written on three A6 posters, already
prepared with decorated borders. In turn the posters became part
of a collage made from pictures cut from travel brochures, etc.
These showed people from many countries, some of whom would certainly
be Muslim, people of different colours, doing different jobs.
Obviously the children had not yet grasped the ideas of time and
distance, but at least they could develop some awareness of the
fact that Muslims lived in many places and would make journeys
from many places.
Just as some people liked to visit the Pope, so Muslims like
to go to — Makkah — another exciting word. Pictures and slides
were shown. The children were fascinated by the crowds — it must
be very important.
We would join a pilgrim on his journey. We borrowed some slides
from the Argus Kit on Islam from the local RE centre. They showed
a Muslim family helping Daddy prepare for his journey. We would
call our pilgrim Mr. Khan. Let us imagine we were helping him.
He was going to travel by car, aeroplane and coach — years ago,
many people walked all the way! We imagined buying tickets, finding
out the time of the flight. We packed a travel bag — ordinary
things like soap, hankies, a change of clothes. But there were
also special things to pack. The children loved dressing up, and
were fascinated by the two pieces of white material to be worn
in Makkah. In Assembly they had sometimes been introduced to the
idea of prayer, and they carefully handled the prayer beads, learning
two of the Beautiful Names of God which they represented. A small
Qur’an was added, carefully wrapped in a clean cloth. It would
be very hot in Makkah and Mr. Khan would not be able to wear a
hat — so we added a telescopic umbrella! Finally we counted out
money for fares, food and presents! All the time, we emphasised
the feelings of importance, excitement, anticipation and happiness.
What would Makkah be like? The children watched a blank screen.
We had memorised the pilgrim’s cry as he catches his first glimpse
of Makkah — “We are here Lord”. Suddenly, a slide of the city
was flashed on to the screen. The children joined Mr. Khan in
his excited cry.
We did not intend to share many more details with children of
this age group. They do enjoy pattern, and so we spoke of walking
seven times round the central building which we could see in all
our pictures. Prayer was our focal point. We spoke of Mr. Khan
saying thank you for his safe arrival. Finally, we spoke of the
communal meal, shared not only by Mr. Khan, but by the rest of
his family at home. Thus we talked a little of celebration.
Of course, facts and details would soon be forgotten. But in
terms of RE we were learning from each other, becoming aware in
a very small way of the importance of religion in the lives of
many people, of its excitement and fun, of sharing and eating
together. This was a scheme prepared jointly by a tutor and a
second year B.Ed. student. It has formed the basis for other schemes
shared with children between the ages of five and nine. Sometimes
our starting point has been the theme of celebration, of festival.
From a discussion of holidays we have moved on to discuss Eid-ul-Adha
— presents, food, visits to the mosque, to other membrs of the
family. We have made Eid cards, copying Islamic patterns and examples
of calligraphy, or cutting pictures from the travel brochures.
These cards have been exchanged within the classroom, given to
Muslim children throughout the school, given to slightly bemused
members of staff, advisers and governors of the school, and on
one occasion — at the request of the children — sent to the local
mosque. Some classes explored prayer in a little more depth —
some using audio-visual aids, one using a co-operative father,
one using a delighted Muslim mother! On two occasions Muslim children
demonstrated the prayer ritual, but teachers must be very sensitive
to the feelings of children before they make an individual request
(I know of many teachers who encourage their classes to take part
in the prayer ritual, but personally feel this emphasises an area
of such personal commitment that such involvement is not appropriate
— though the sharing of a few words may be so). One class of six-year-olds
visited the local mosque, just to feel and touch and listen to
the imam giving the call to prayer. Many such learning experiences
were shared in assemblies when we remembered all the people celebrating
Eid, listened to one of their prayers, and wished them Eid Mubarak
— A Happy Eid!
Everyone enjoys stories. Dr. Muhammad Iqbal shares an appropriate
one with us in his collection The Guiding Crescent (Dar-ul-Ehsar
Publications 1973). A Muslim living in Isfahan had saved for many
years and could now afford to go on pilgrimage to Makkah. Just
before he set out he visited a poor man who had found a dead chicken
and was cooking it, even though it had not been killed in the
Muslim way. Immediately the hopeful pilgrim gave him money to
buy food and clothes — but now, he hadn’t enough money to pay
the expenses for his journey. When his friends came to meet him
he said he felt ill, and would follow later — which, of course,
he could not do. Weeks later they arrived back in the city and
congratulated him on the completion of his pilgrimage. Sadly he
replied: “I didn’t go to Makkah”. “But we saw you there — and
in a dream Allah told us that you had made a wonderful Hajj”.
Children can be introduced to the idea of their lives being a
journey, reflecting themes of Who am I? of meaning and of purpose.
The Hajj reflects the Muslim belief that life is a pilgrimage
towards death and life after death.
The rituals of Hajj are useless if the spirit of taqwa (God-consciousness)
is not reflected in every part of life. Equally, the rituals of
life’s journey — preparation in terms of learning the Qur’an,
performing prayer, giving Zakat — are useless unless matched by
a caring lifestyle.
There is much teaching material within both these points and
all children can become more thoughtful as they learn from their