Among the more common challenges that Islamic school teachers face is nurturing love for the Prophet Muhammad (s) in children. Parents often raise the same concern. The issues they raise are often around:
- Determining what aspects of the seerah (life of the Prophet) to teach children and at what age
- Encouraging children to live by the example of the Prophet through his words and actions recorded in hadith (Prophetic words and actions)
- Nurturing an overall appreciation of the Prophet’s life and being as the exemplar for a believer
I’ve heard (and I am sure you have as well) these concerns expressed at education conferences, in social conversations and in community study circles (halaqa). Parents and teachers often raise the issue as though scholars will have a quick fix answer. Or as though they might receive a step by step process that will help nurture a sense of love.
But it’s not as prescriptive as one would think; nor is it as simple that our own responsibility as educators would not implicated.
So recently I had the opportunity to hear the same old question be raised once again in a halaqa that I was in. A concerned teacher (and parent) used the Q&A period at the end of the class to ask this particular scholar how to nurture a … (you get the idea).
I tuned out temporarily as the question was being drawn out only to be suddenly brought back to attention.
The scholar heard the question and immediately said: smile.
I was caught off guard and so I looked up becoming attentive again. He then expanded. He said, “To nurture a sense of love for the Prophet (s) among children, the beginning of such nurturing is to smile.” He continued, “Smile when you see them, spend time with them, and exemplify the character of the Prophet to them through your actions.” He didn’t stop there. He continued by being very specific saying: “Go hiking with them, biking, go bowling, play permissible games, eat with them, and be positive role models for them.”
It sounds simple – I know.
But in all my years hearing this question, I have never had a scholar saying anything other than ways to make the seerah more interesting. The usual advice I’ve heard is to 1. Be descriptive of your story telling of the seerah, emphasize salawat (praise of the Prophet), and connect the life of the Prophet to the lives of students.
But it’s all an intellectual exercise.
What I got from this scholar is an approach that makes love real. The idea of spending time with children is so powerful and yet so underestimated. In an age where “communities” only exist in virtual space, the idea of spending quality time with your students (or children) in parks connecting with nature, playing sports, and building things should not be underestimated for their ability to nurture a love for the Prophet Muhammad (s) because (as the scholar said) it is in our ‘aml (actions) that the ilm (knowledge) of the Prophetic tradition manifests.
In this Ramadan as we aspire to reconnect with the Prophetic example, may it also be a time to reflect on how we can inspire our students in the coming school year with a similar sense of embodied love.