Depending on your children's ages, whether they go to Muslim or non-Muslim school, and how sensitive they are, you've no doubt had to wrestle with the issue of how to talk about the 9/11 attacks with them at some point.
How do you explain, as a Muslim parent who wants to instill a strong sense of faith and pride in Islam, the ugliness of 9/11, and the false "Islamic" basis for it? I've been thinking about this quite a bit this year, especially considering it's the 10th anniversary of the attacks. Here are some things I plan to do with my kids insha Allah.
1. Turn off or limit television viewing and radio listening these next few days
This is not to hide reality or run away from it. Rather, it's about content quality and content control. You and I cannot control what some Islamophobic or not-so-Islamophobic commentator, anchor, radio host or guest will say about the attacks, Islam, and Muslims as memorials are covered in the next few days.
While the better ones will no doubt avoid the kind of bias and one-sided coverage that does and has led to hate-mongering and division, let us not rely on program directors' and staffs' goodwill to give our kids a balanced perspective.
2. Set aside time to discuss the issue at length in an age-appropriate manner
If your kids have already been exposed to the topic of 9/11 through classroom materials, textbooks, events, or other methods at school, make sure you get a rundown from them of how it was discussed. Then fill in the blanks.
In other words, while the teacher may have done a good job of avoiding demonizing Islam and Muslims, reiterate that this act was absolutely against Islamic teachings, which emphasize the sanctity of life (Quran 5:32).
Also important to include in the discussion are the countless statements from around the world by Muslim scholars, institutions, and organizations, that immediately condemned the attacks. A number of these also offer good Islamic arguments against terrorism and violence committed in Islam's name.
If your kids are older, you can discuss the issue in more detail, depending on how much information they want. But definitely talk about Islam's clear condemnation of the attack and Muslims' statements about it.
3.Be careful about what kinds of books your kids read
A few days ago, I checked out a book from the library about 9/11 for my kids, with the intention of reading parts that were relevant to them. A friend suggested I first check the index and read the pages devoted to "Islam", "Muslims", and "Mohammed" or "Muhammad". It turned out to be a smart idea.
Sure enough, there was not one mention of Islam and Muslims' condemnation of the attacks when I searched for the term "Islam". Rather, I got this: "Al Qaeda was founded by a wealthy Islamic man, a native of Saudi Arabia named Osama bin Laden. (Islam is one of the world's great religions, with more than one billion believers worldwide. Followers of Islam are called Muslims. Extreme Muslims, like bin Laden and his followers, make up a a small part of the world's Muslims community)."
In a kids' book about other terrorist attacks (e.g. bombing of abortion clinics, settler violence against Palestinians, destruction of Babri Masjid in India), I doubt the last line would be used to describe extremist elements within Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism or any other faith.
4. Watch what websites you choose
Make sure to vet even the major news sites for balanced information on 9/11. When you check your email or Facebook today, spend a couple of minutes to look up "how to talk to kids about 9/11". Pick four or five sites you feel have done a good job and encourage your kids to read them as a run up to your discussion about the attacks.
5. Attend memorial events
If your kids are old enough, attend 9/11 memorial events in your locality. In particular, look for those that have an Imam as one of the speakers. If that is not possible, contact organizers for an event and ask that you be the speaker or suggest a couple of good ones representing the Muslim community.
This will allow your kids to not only get the Muslim perspective, but to also understand that this was a shared national tragedy, something that affected all Americans, including Muslims.
6. Participate in the 9/11 Day of Service
This has become an annual tradition. Choose a service project to participate in on September 11 and write about it on the Day of Service's website. If you can choose something with an Islamic flavor (e.g. passing out or collecting food for the hungry at your local mosque) that would be ideal. It would offer your children a sense of connection to the Muslim community while setting a good example in the face of all of the negativity toward Islam and Muslims that often surfaces during difficult times.
7. Talk about the Muslim heroes of 9/11
For all the talk of Osama bin Laden which will dominate coverage of this year's anniversary, make sure you highlight the Muslim heroes of 9/11: those who chose to save lives, not take them. One such individual is Muhammad Salman Hamdani. Others are mentioned in President Obama's speech at the White House Iftar this year.
When discussing these Muslims, talk about how their actions reflected what Islam teaches (saving lives as discussed in Quran 5:32) versus those of the 9/11 killers who claimed to be acting on behalf of Islam.
8. Make Dua together
Dua is a powerful tool to connect us to our Creator. At the end of your discussion, sit together with your kids and pray for the victims of 9/11, all of them. Ask Allah to have mercy on all of those who have lost their loved ones; ask for God to have mercy on those who are suffering from the fallout of the attacks because of war; ask Allah to heal our hearts and to open them to our neighbors and vice-versa. Finally, ask Allah to make us what the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was: an agent of good in the world based on the beautiful teachings of Islam.