Tell Them They’re Great

“The only true disability, is a crushed spirit.” – Aimee Mullins.

Tell your children they’re great. Give them the opportunity to recognize it themselves, offer them empowerment, not just “I’m proud of you” but also “You can be proud of yourself.” Pursue their dreams with them, validate their dreams -however weird and wonderful- get interested in their interests. You know they’re not perfect, you know they have limits, but they don’t matter because if you build them up and tell them they’re great, they’ll believe they’re great and become that.

If there’s one thing our global Muslim community needs, it’s a generation who knows they’re great. There is so much negative out there attributed to our community, we’re in danger of the next generation internalizing it and believing it about themselves (Muslims are violent and hateful and backwards if you watch the news).

So tell them at home, as early and as often as you can, “You’re great and here’s why… .” Expose them to great Muslim examples – and great non-Muslim examples too. I regularly ask my daughter “What was Martin Luther King’s dream?” because I don’t want her to forget the message he so passionately delivered. I often ask her “Who was the first woman in space?” because I want her to follow her dreams and know that she, a Muslim girl who will become a Muslim woman, is great and she can be great and she will be great.

Find great examples, teach your children about them and regularly bring them into their mind. We have powerful and great Muslim female and male role models to look up to. Khadija, the powerful, respected business woman, and the loyal wife who was the rock and the confidante of the Prophet Muhammad. ‘Aishah the smart, respected scholar who taught and is teaching generations. Abu Hurayrah, gentle, with a powerful memory, also teaching generations still to this day through it. Not to mention the many scholars and mathematicians in our history. There is so much greatness for our children to look up to and identify with, and so much potential for greatness within them.

Continue reading “Tell Them They’re Great”

Autism Awareness: Interview with Umm & Abu Sabah

As a special feature for Autism Awareness Month (April) and as a part of Muslimas Oasis’ Blue Hijab Day (which is today, April 2nd) initiative I’ve done an interview with Umm and Abu Sabah, authors of Umm Sabah’s Selections and My Islamic Family, respectively. They are the parents 5 year old Dhuha, an Autistic girl.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your family.

My name is Abdullah Hashim. I’m 30 years old and I’ve been Muslim just over 11 years. My wife, Zahira, and I got married in 2003 and we have three children. Sabah is our eldest at six years old. Dhuha is five, and Abdurrahman is nearly two years old. We are a close family and spend most of our time together.

Your experience as the parents of a child with Autism is the purpose of our interview today, tell us where on the spectrum is your child diagnosed? (Aspergers, PDD-NOS, Classic Autism etc.)

Dhuha has classic Autism, though I don’t feel the term autism accurately conveys Dhuha’s day to day struggles.

Tell us the first things you noticed about your child that caused concern or set off alarm bells and at what age?

Looking back we can see signs of Dhuha’s autism as early has 9 months old. Of course, we didn’t know anything at all about autism and so we wrote most things off to a bit of quirkiness.  Some of the early signs were, hand flapping, making repetitive sounds but no attempts to communicate, running around a room and undue fascination with things that move in a circular motion. She didn’t point or ask for things. When offered things such as sweets, ice cream or any other treat, she wouldn’t seem to be bothered.

Once you had noticed these things, what were your first steps towards either working with them on your own or figuring out what was causing the issues?

In the beginning we looked at her problems through the eyes of loving parents and we latched onto every word of hope that came from family and friends. It must be very common for autism parents to hear, “she’ll grow out of it” or something similar. As a result, we didn’t do much other than normal parenting.
As she got older her behaviour became more noticeable. She used to be constantly running, very hyperactive, staying close to the edges of the room. After months of confusion, we took her to the health visitor, who referred us for hearing tests. From then on it was one referral after another. Eventually a paediatrician contacted the Early Years Speacialist team with or details and special needs workers came home to work with Dhuha. Most recognised she is autistic, and by this point the realisation had hit us too.

When you decided to get an official diagnosis, tell us about the experience you had finding the right Dr’s and getting the right answers.

After Zahira and I understood that Dhuha has a serious lifelong problem, we were able to embrace it. It made it easy for us to push for a diagnosis and push to make sure Dhuha was getting every bit of help that was on offer.
When we made the decision to get a formal diagnosis, Dhuha was already seeing a paediatrician that we were comfortable with. We had to go through a long process of tests, doctor visits, home visits and hospital visits before Dhuha’s paediatrician was willing to diagnose her.
At times I felt like we were getting the run around and I felt that the doctors were not fully honest with us at all times. They often said comforting words to us at the time of the visit but a different tone would be used in their reports.
It was a difficult and time consuming process, made worse by overworked and under caring health professionals.

Where do you live and how do you think living where you do affected that experience, if at all?

We live in England. It’s hard to say if it had an impact. Certainly, having access to the NHS and receiving DLA has removed most if not all the financial worry of caring for Dhuha’s disability. I couldn’t imagine begin stuck in a place like America and having to pay for everything. I don’t think we could have coped.

What about family, what was your immediate and extended family reaction to your child’s issues and subsequent diagnosis of Autism?

Since Dhuha is not the first in our extended family to have autism, most reaction was of one of acceptance. However, most of our family does not accommodate her well or at all. The expectation is that Zahira and I control her. The result is a feeling of exclusion and isolation.

Do you have other children? How has your child’s Autism impacted their life(lives), in both positive or negative ways?

I think the biggest impact has happened to Sabah. Where you would normally see two sisters at their ages playing and enjoying their time together, we have to keep our girls apart. Sabah also has to deal with the inequalities between our treatment of her and Dhuha. It is simply impossible to parent a normal developing child and a child on the autism spectrum in the same way, because their abilities and our expectations are very different. On the positive side, Sabah loves to look after Dhuha and she is very proud of her.

What challenges do you face with having an Autistic child and a Non Autistic child? How does your parenting have to change between them or how is your parenting different from other parents who have, say 2 non Autistic children?

A big challenge we face, is not allowing Dhuha’s condition to dictate or control what goes on at home. In the beginning, morning to night was spent dealing with Dhuha’s issue. It was very easy to extend our mindset of dealing with Dhuha to the others, restricting their movement and even becoming short tempered with them. Another challenge we face, is making sure each of our children get enough positive attention. Sabah especially spends too much time on solitary activities.

What impact, negative and positive, has your child’s Autism had on you as a parent and as a person outside of your parenting role?

I am a better parent and a better person because of Dhuha. She taught me what patience is and made me realise how most of the time I fall short of true patience. She has helped me to put my trust, hopes and dreams in Allah’s hands. Moreover, there is something wonderful and heart melting about her eyes and her smile.

There are many challenges we face with children who have Autism, but they also carry many gifts and can offer special insights with their unique perspective. Tell us a bit about your child’s special abilities, special gifts and special interests. (Note: In our last interview sister Zeba pointed out not all children on the spectrum have special abilities, my intention with this question is to ask, what is special about your child, it’s going to vary greatly, but every child has something special about them)

Dhuha is an affectionate and clever girl and a bit mischievous. She has an amazing ability to think through a problem and arrive at her own solution. She loves her family, teachers and friends and she forms close bonds with them.

Share some advice for parents who suspect their child may be on the Autism Spectrum.

Put your trust and faith in Allah. Do not become despondent. Accept as quickly as possible that your child may have a problem. Living in denial doesn’t help anything. Doctors and other health professionals will be more frank with you if they think you can handle the bad news, if any.
You should also know that autism isn’t caused by bad parenting or an unloving mother. Moreover, be happy. Your child is still your child and while you won’t have the relationship you imagined, the relationship you can have with your child can be as rewarding or even more so.

And some advice for parents whose children have been diagnosed.

Mother and father should share this burden. Do not allow one to do all the difficult jobs. Pay attention to your husband or wife and make sure their state of mind is sound. It could be that they are finding it difficult to manage something that they usually do. In that case, you should step in and help them out. Be patient with yourselves and the other children.

What’s it Like to Live with Autism?

I’m one person, so I can’t tell you what it’s like to live with Autism, but I’m going to make some observations.

If you want to know what it’s REALLY like to live with Autism, get to know some Autistic people who can tell you (with their voice, or not) their perspective, each will be different.

Get to know your average teenager Carly, Gifted poet Emma (both of whom happen to be non-verbal and “severely” Autistic), Neurodiversty Activist Corina, Psychology today blogger Lynne Soraya and Animal Rights activist Dr Temple Grandin. The most striking thing about these people when you first ‘meet’ them may be that they are not Autistic, they are extraordinary, everyday People, with Autism.

Each statement in this article, is based on my experience, or another persons experience I have read or heard about, this article does NOT sum up the entire experience of Autism, doesn’t even begin to attempt to, it’s just a glimpse, a conversation, an invitation.

As a parent

For a parent Autism means many things, and different things for each parent. Sometimes it’s very hard, and sometimes, it’s a beautiful gift.

It is like never hearing your teenagers voice, but communicating in ways that you would otherwise not even notice.

It’s like, taking your 4 year old on that trip to the playground they are so excited about, even though you know it’s going to mean an hour or 3 meltdown (or tantrum of all tantrums) when it’s time to leave.

It’s like a change of plans that’s going to devastate your 5 year old and mean a tough few days (or more) for the whole family while they adjust.

It’s like getting a whole new perspective on the world you never would have had. Seeing, hearing, smelling things you otherwise wouldn’t have noticed. Thinking about things you otherwise never would have considered. What if the world ran out of toothpaste?, What if we only had a thumb and no fingers?, You’re right, parrots that talk are personified in real life.

It’s like allowing your child their own way in the world, and standing back, like any parent does, but knowing much of the world isn’t going to understand.

It’s like not attending that get together because you know it’s going to be too overwhelming for your child.

It’s like having all the beans from a bean bag spread all over your house. Every day.

On bad days, it’s like having your parenting scrutinized, criticized, questioned, picked apart, blamed etc. On good days, it’s having your parenting praised, supported, advised, understood, accepted, celebrated, replicated.

It’s like parenting, from a different angle. Much of what children on the Autism spectrum need, are things that all children need, only more carefully planned, more structured, more tailored, more sensitive (and more sensory).

As a child with Autism

There is a quote in the Autism Community “Different, not less” and that is the attitude we should take to children on the spectrum.

It’s like lights that are too bright (or not bright enough), sounds that are too loud, smells that are too strong (or not strong enough) and people that hug too tight.

It’s like finally finding that one thing that feels just right in your mouth or on your skin, and not wanting to let it go.

It’s like listening to your favorite song, or favorite sound, on repeat.

It’s watching your favorite show, and memorizing the whole script.

It’s like wanting to tell everyone you belong, but not being able to make the words with your voice.

It’s like this world wasn’t quite designed for you.

It’s like wanting to play with the other kids, but not quite knowing what to do with them.

As a sibling

It’s like hearing people use the r-word and knowing it is degrading to your sibling.

It’s like knowing how to be humble, loving your sibling unconditionally, but sometimes feeling like it’s just not fair.

It’s like your sibling getting all the support, and knowing you need it too. Or being able to talk about it at a sibling group, with other siblings of people on the spectrum and having them understand.

It’s like a special connection with someone, you know other people don’t have the gift of having with them.

It’s like learning with your sibling, and learning from them.

As an adult with Autism

There is another saying in the Autism Community “When you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism.” It’s different for everyone.

It’s like a conversation about Autism, that doesn’t include you.

World Suicide Prevention Day – Sept 10

One person dies by Suicide worldwide every 40 seconds. Several will have died before I finish writing this post, at least one will have died while you were reading it.

According to this article ‘Facts about suicide

  • Industrialized countries have a higher rate of Suicide than Developing countries.
  • Women are 2 or 3 times more likely to attempt suicide than Men.
  • However Men are 4 times more likely to be “successful”.
  • About 1 in 3 American teenagers have contemplated suicide.
  • Followers of religions that strongly prohibit suicide, like Christianity and Islam, have a higher suicide rate than those religions which have no strong prohibition (e.g. Buddhism and Hinduism.)
  • Worldwide, the prevention of suicide has not been adequately addressed due to basically a lack of awareness of suicide as a major problem and the taboo in many societies to discuss openly about it. In fact, only a few countries have included prevention of suicide among their priorities. (WHO)

According to the statistics, majority Muslim countries have a relatively low suicide rate. However in the US the rate is higher and Muslim teens especially are not immune, suicide is the third leading cause of death in the US among everyone between 15-24yrs.

Reading and Resources

Read this article documenting one young brothers struggle with Suicidal Thoughts and Bi-Polar.

Find MuSSA (Muslim Survivors of Suicide Association) on facebook for free online counselling and support.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (U.S.) – 1-800-273-TALK

1-866-NASEEHA (U.S. & Canada) www.naseeha.net

The Sakina Center (worldwide facebook councelling) www.thesakinacenter.com

Muslim Youth Helpline (U.K.) 0808 808 2008 www.myh.org.uk

My Lord has commanded Justice

Child Protection in the Muslim Community.

We live in the age of technology and communications. 50 years ago, computers as we know them today did not exist. The internet was but a dream. Mobile (cell) phones were far off and communicating with someone in another place was lengthy if not impossible!

Nowadays, most people have access to the internet in some shape or form, giving rise to a whole new manner of communicating with one another. Not only is it estimated that around half the world’s population now own a mobile phone, but these phones now have internet connection and video phone technology. Laptops and PCs with built–in webcams are becoming increasingly affordable and the result is now that not only can you talk to someone on the other side of the world, but you can actually see them when you speak to them as well.

For our children, this means they are growing up in a totally different world to the one that we may have experienced at their age. They have a world and wealth of technology at their fingertips and technology and they are able to seek knowledge about life with increased ease. Whilst this sounds wonderful, it comes with hidden dangers and places on our children increased responsibility and decisions.

If you are roughly the same age as me, you will remember children’s campaigns that taught that if a stranger in the park offers you sweets, then you should say no and tell an adult. This indirectly meant that when a child was out of the house, this was really only the time when parents had to be truly on their guard and that if their son or daughter was in their bedroom, then they were safe and secure from the dangers of the outside world. Sadly, this isn’t the case any longer – children can have access to a whole heap of inappropriate information and images from the comfort of their own house. Strangers, those with unhealthy , dangerous or illegal intentions towards your child, can be talking to your son or daughter right in front of you from another corner of the country or world.

Recently this issue has increased in notoriety and the use of technology to further some people’s ill intentions is growing in awareness. The BBC reports that ‘The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) says it has seen a “notable increase” in still and moving images captured on webcams.’ Basically, paedophiles or those with inappropriate and sexual intentions towards children are using cameras to SEE our children and coax them into compliance towards their quite frankly, sick fantasies.

Its hard to imagine how someone could have these kinds of feelings and intentions towards a child. The use of webcams and internet/video phone technology means that this is a real issue for us as parents. CEOP reports via the BBC that “These can be self-taken as a result of online grooming, for example, inciting a child to commit a sexual act and then using video capture software to record the video streams for later viewing and trading and/or use as blackmail to ensure further compliance by the child. Similarly, there is also a marked trend of the use of webcam streaming chat sites, enabling offenders to interact either through instant messages and/or webcam to share previously captured footage or live-time images of abuse of children in their care.”

These people are hard to spot. They market themselves in completely innocent chat rooms and sites, hiding their identity and appearing as if all is normal and ok. Often their method of approaching a child and befriending them can be complex and lengthy, hiding behind a disguise of being the same age or some other such persona.

Obviously to ANY adult, any parent, this is a real concern. As Muslim parents, we need to be especially aware – I hate to say it, but these predatory characters even exist within our own communities, both online and in face-to-face contact. Whilst discussion around this is increasing in the mainstream media, I see a conspicuous absence of it within Muslim media or circles. Why? Are we not affected? Or do we want to pretend we are not?

Mosques, madrassas and even some Muslim chat forums have unfortunately been shown to be places where these types of people COULD also be – within an environment that most of us would assume is populated only by safe, pious and moral adults. Places where our children should be safe, brought together by people who have love only for Allah s.w.t. and his Deen. Unfortunately this is not always so and it isn’t just happening in “immoral” Westernised, Non-Muslim societies and countries – it is rife in Muslim countries also. There is a woeful lack of accurate figures since the crux of this matter is that it often goes unreported, covered up and therefore unaddressed and ignorant.

Islam puts children’s rights as paramount and the repelling of evil with good is a fundamental ( though oft forgotten) aspect of our faith. As Muslim parents should you have any concerns about the contact your child has with someone, you should in the first instance put a stop to that contact, even if you are only suspicious. This is our duty – to protect those who cannot protect themselves and to enjoin good and forbid evil.

“Oh ye who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is Men and Stones.” (Qur’an 66:6)

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said: “Every one of your (people) is a shepherd. And every one is responsible for whatever falls under his responsibility. A man is like a shepherd of his own family, and he is responsible for them.” (Bukhari and Muslim.)

As Muslims in our communities, we can often worry far too much about honour and “what people will say” and hence be reluctant to cause a stir or speak out about something when we should do so. For some Muslims who follow their culture perhaps too closely, the honour of a woman in particular is given way too much emphasis to the extent that a woman who has been ‘dis-honoured’, (such as suffering rape or abuse) may find herself ostracized from the community despite being a victim to another’s bad hands. Unbelievably sometimes the one who is at fault has their sins and crimes hushed-up and a blind eye is turned for the sake of keeping something within the community and denying that we, just like other groups of people, suffer from crime, sin and abhorrent actions.

This approach to how some of us have come to deal with issues in our circles, also affects children – those who do suffer abuse at the hands of adults can find that they have a stigma attached to them which becomes an unjust burden as they grow up. In all cases, it has to stop. Islam commands justice – Allah commands justice. So we need to make sure the victims in our community are given the adequate and appropriate rehabilitation, we need to ensure that the perpetrators are not able to hide behind a veil of ‘piety’ or cultural taboo and we need to raise awareness and stop being scared of talking about these issues. We may not like it, but we are affected too.

As for children – their rights are paramount in Islam and we have duty to protect them more than any other:

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was informed by one of his companions, al N’uman bin Bashir, who said: “Oh Prophet of Allah! I have granted a servant to one of my children (asking him to testify for that gift).” But Muhammed (pbuh) asked him: “Did you grant the same to each and every child of yours?” When the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was informed negatively about that, he said: “Fear Allah, the Almighty, and be fair and just to all your children. Seek the testimony of another person, other than me. I will not testify to an act of injustice.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

You who believe! Be upholders of justice, bearing witness for Allah alone, even against yourselves or your parents and relatives. Whether they are rich or poor, Allah is well able to look after them. Do not follow your own desires and deviate from the truth. If you twist or turn away, Allah is aware of what you do. (Qur’an 4:135)

Allah commands justice and doing good and giving to relatives. And He forbids indecency and doing wrong and tyranny. He warns you so that hopefully you will pay heed. (Qur’an 16:90)

As adults, we need to guard our children and be aware of the dangers some people can pose to them, both online and in our community. That means we need to take some practical steps towards our childcare and not naively assume that because someone is Muslim or because the school or group we send our child to is Islamic, means that we should cut corners and assume that everything is fine. For instance we should check for references for those who care for our children (even if you met them in the mosque, male or female, you need to check them out for childcare and child protection experience); the madrassa or Quran school we send them to at the weekend – who is leading the class? What are their references? With both of these parties, whereby you leave your child in their care, if they are professional and sincere, they should be able to provide legitimate background checks, including a Criminal Records Check (called a CRB or ISA check in the UK). If they can’t or even refuse (don’t be fobbed off by ‘fisabilillah excuses’ ) then you should seriously consider sending your child elsewhere.

Likewise for the internet, you need to check what your child is doing online. Most people are unaware that you need to be at least 13 years old to have a Facebook account and that under-18s should seek permission of their parents. MSN Messenger, MySpace and any other site with a chat or private messaging facility – who are they talking to? Do they know? How much time do they spend online? Is your child able to understand that there are some people on the internet who are not very nice? Would they feel able to tell you? Sit them down, talk to them – they are children but they need to know, as they are living in an increasingly accessible adult world. We don’t need to wrap our children in a cocoon of cotton wool, we must allow them to grow and develop lest we hinder their ability to mature, but we need to safeguard them where appropriate and in doing so, make ourselves aware.

We need to wake up – these issues are not something we are immune from, they are things happening right here in our society. Let’s not let Islam be something that those with bad intentions can hide behind, nor let ourselves be ignorant to what is around us in our desire to present the face of the Muslim community.

Say: ‘My Lord has commanded justice. Stand and face Him in every mosque and call on
Him, making your religion sincerely His. As He originated you, so you will return.’ (Qur’an
7:29)