Children should indulge themselves and ask adults awkward questions

Heba Yosry
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The recent news of one child’s inquisitiveness causing him harm in Sudan is striking when considering that we believe the world is becoming more open as the global population is exposed to new ideas and philosophies.

The little boy was found to be guilty of asking too many difficult questions about God. He wasn’t ignored or reprimanded for his queries, but was instead penalized for them by being suspended from school.

A question is a luxury that we indulge in as children and repudiate as adults.

We wait for our children to grow out of their natural inquisitiveness so that we can indoctrinate them to act sensibly as adults, with the caveat that they are molded in our own mindsets.

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Adults don’t need to question why the world was created, or why there is evil. We don’t ask why God is never seen or in fact what God is. Children ask these questions and we are usually terrible at answering them. My standard reply to any awkward questions flung my way is: “Ask your Dad.”

Broadly, questions asked by children are at worst tolerated, but normally encouraged. Being inquisitive is a natural part of growing up.

The Sudanese case sets a dangerous precedent, and not because the school wouldn’t address the child’s natural curiosity.

It is alarming when an educational institution centered on advancing children’s learning absolved itself from its responsibility to teach. Education isn’t limited to learning facts and figures; developing awareness and compassion is also important. Ostracizing school students with the view that their behavior might negatively impact their peers is the antithesis of teaching.

A Muslim pilgrim wearing a protective mask, reads the Quran inside Namira Mosque in Arafat to mark Haj's most important day, Day of Arafat, during his Hajj pilgrimage amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, outside the holy city of Mecca. (Reuters)
A Muslim pilgrim wearing a protective mask, reads the Quran inside Namira Mosque in Arafat to mark Haj's most important day, Day of Arafat, during his Hajj pilgrimage amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, outside the holy city of Mecca. (Reuters)

As an educator I’ve seen many examples of damaging behavior from children that negatively impact on their peers. I’ve seen adolescents self-harm, children bully and other actions that can have direct consequences on the future wellbeing of themselves and their classmates.

I refuse to believe that asking questions - no matter how difficult - about God will lead children astray. Our role as educators, and particularly those of us working in schools that teach religion, where spirituality is part of the curricula need to encourage these questions and engage with the pupils that ask them.

This particular school’s decision to suspend the child is a categorical failure on this pupil’s behalf.

As a mother, I remember when my husband decided to take our three year-old son to Friday prayers for the first time. Our son didn’t understand where they were going, or why he needed to do a special washing up, ablution, before he went.

My husband told him they were going to the house of God. He got very excited about the possibility of meeting God and practically dragged his father out the door. As soon as they entered the mosque he started looking around, identified the oldest man and asked his father if this was God. His father said no, but he didn’t relent and kept asking about every person inside the mosque to know which one of them was God.

When his father told him that he can never see God even inside one of his houses, my son was disappointed. So his father told him that God hears him and he can ask for whatever he wants. At that point my son, who didn’t have lunch and was apparently hungry, decided to ask God if he could have chicken. Of course, everyone who heard him at the mosque started laughing at the request.

When my son came home he found the chicken that he asked for and ate it with the appetite and appreciation of a human being whose prayers have been answered.

We are told that God loves children and that the Prophet Muhammad would allow his grandchildren to climb his back while he was praying. A child asking about God, is a child who is seeking to know and love God. Our role as adults, parents and educators is to embolden children to ask difficult questions; not to punish them for it. Perhaps some adults might believe that a question about God is impudent or a request for chicken is trivial, but even though adults might laugh in the mosque, the child will return home to find the chicken he asked for.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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