Abbas and I never felt the need to talk to Mantam about religion till they turned 5. We would celebrate Eid, Diwali and Christmas every year with the same cheer and fervour. We did speak to them about God but never specified a name per se. We did pray together as a family once in a while and we just spoke aloud, requested God to keep our family and friends safe, healthy and happy. Tammu would even add “God, I wish you a lot of happiness” So that was it. Also during the festivities, we never worshipped any God, nor followed any specific traditional customs. We had our own customizations. On Eid however, Abbas’s parents would coax him to go to a mosque and offer prayers. He would do it just for their sake. Apart from that, Eid meant Biryani, Sweet Semiya and Mehndi for us. Diwali meant sweets, lighting diyas and crackers while Christmas meant decorating the tree, waiting for gifts from Santa and making the traditional Fruit Cake and distributing it among loved ones. Having said that, we also practised and taught Mantam to always respect other festivals and take part in it enthusiastically whenever presented with an opportunity.
Then came the time when we felt the need to speak to them about religion. Mantam were playing in the apartment park in Bangalore last year. There were a bunch of kids mostly elder than them. One of the boys started asking all kids what their religion was. All kids answered confidently while Mantam had no clue about what he was talking about. He ignored them after they didn’t answer the second time he asked and moved on. While I was a spectator to this and was tempted to answer on my daughters’ behalf, it did hit me hard that they might face the same situation in my absence. That night Abbas and I decided that the time was ripe to explain to them about religion. The next day we had a light and open talk with them.
Abbas: Mantam, Baba and Mumma need to talk about something very important. So listen carefully and ask us if you don’t understand
Abbas: We want to tell you about something called religion. It just so works that there are different religions in this world and people follow one of those. For example, my family follows Islam while Mumma’s follows Hinduism
Mantam: What is the difference Baba?
Me: It’s just that each religion has their own ideas and rules (Those were the easiest words to suit their vocabulary) Now, since Baba was born in a Muslim family he became one automatically. Same with me. But now that Mumma and Baba came from different religion and married one another and you do not belong to any one particular religion. Baba and I have decided that we will not follow any religion too and just live our lives as good human beings. But you both are free to choose what you want to follow once you are 18 years old.
Man: I want to be Muslim (She loves Abbas and always tried to do things to please him)
Tam: I want to be Hindu. Err… what other choices are there?
Abbas: Mantam, someone at school or anywhere else might ask you what is your religion. All you have to tell them is humanity. If they further ask you what is humanity, reply by saying that humanity is about being good human beings, being helpful and kind towards other people and environment.
They did have many questions later which we answered but I just remember the gist of the conversation. But at the end of it, they did get the essence.
When we were filling up their forms for school admission in Sydney, there was an option to select “No religion” and we did that. Their school being one of the most multicultural schools, has religious scripture classes every Tuesday. Parents were given an option to choose any one of the religious scriptures or choose for non-scripture class where a teacher would be conducting some activities for kids who did not attend scripture classes. No prizes for guessing that we opted for the latter.
When it comes to food, I am very adventurous when it comes to trying out all available options. Abbas was a bit apprehensive initially. But after having eaten Bacon-Cheese bread by compulsion, there was no looking back for him. So, we have been eating anything and everything without any restrictions at all.
While we live our lives as per our own values and beliefs, we do firmly follow the ideology that we must not ridicule other’s beliefs. I think that there is no right or wrong here. To each his own! But only as long as one does not thrust one’s beliefs on others. Abbas and I would be happy with Mantam’s choices too as long as they turn into good human beings!
What are your thoughts on teaching kids traditions and customs? I would love to hear different perspectives.