Exploring Hajj with Infants

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”.

A note

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 Muslim neighbours.

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