After being out for a month and a half, I was thrilled to see issues of National Geographic magazines sit patiently and wait for me alongside the stacks of mail. As I flipped through the colorful photos and browsed through the pages quickly, I couldn’t help but feel sad. I felt sad at the state of the majority of the people in the world today- impoverished and fighting over fewer and fewer resources. I felt sad at the state of animals- hunted and killed for the dollar that their parts can bring. I felt sad at the state of the hunters who showed no remorse at being caught or punished. I felt sad at the state of the nation of Japan- fighting to give its people back their lives. I felt sad at the state of the turtles, the bees, the big cats, the trees and forests of the world, the rhinos- a species of which is no more. I felt sad at the growing amount of toxic waste that Mexicans have to clean up for us- at the expense of their own health. I felt sad remembering the growing trash in the open spaces of Mauritania, a place where plastics and cans have dotted the brown desert irresponsibly. I felt sad at the state of our leaders, taciturn to the atrocities of humans worldwide. I even felt sad at the pictures of thriving modern day cities- claustrophobic, tiny through tidy apartments in major world cities where a 150 square foot living area can house as many as 6! Arial images of Seoul, Hong Kong, Rio de Janeiro, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Bombay saddened me at the thought of the quality of life little children would face in these urban jungles! As Yusuf Islam would ask, “where Do these children play?”
I had to question my role in all of this. What am I teaching my little ones? Am I teaching them indiscriminate consumption? Am I teaching them gratitude first and compassion next? Am I teaching them that they will be questioned about their time in this world and their participation in it? What are we doing to the world? If the Hadith says “mother, mother, mother” three times, then we better beware as mother earth is being raped and abused.
According to Barbara Coloroso, author and teacher, we have to teach our little ones to increase their circle of concern as they grow, so that by the time they are adults, the entire world becomes their concern. It is out of selfishness and greed that all the world’s atrocities take place. If we can raise a God conscious, world conscious group of citizens, they will be the impetus for change. Coloroso in her book, The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander, makes a valid point that there is a fine line between bullying and crimes. If we make the other side an “it” and “different” from us, we can validate any action against them, be it human or otherwise. We need to focus on being inclusive and accepting to be able to repair and replenish this world. We cannot do this unless we are at ease with ourselves and in harmony with the world around us.
Starting with things that matter most to us and working our way into the larger concentric circles of concern we can teach ourselves and our little ones that change is possible and every action counts. A good friend of mine in Southern California showed my children how they can participate in caring for the world by filling up her truck bed with recyclable bottles at the local mosque and turning it into cash for Somalia’s famine. She inspired my kids to donate to a charity of their choice every month, with money they make by recycling cans and bottles: that’s killing two birds with one stone!
I know of other families whose children volunteer alongside their parents at senior centers, food banks and libraries. A child is never too little to share a smile and a caring word. Whether we start by teaching our two year old to raise her hands up in a dua(prayer) for Syria or our four year old to hold the door open for the person behind him or encourage our teenager to find what inspires her and give some time there, we empower our children. Giving without expectation of reward is what scientists have proven gets our neurons excited. We should internalize the Hadith of the Prophet peace be upon him, imploring us to want for our brother what we want for ourselves, thus increasing our reward in the hereafter. Starting habits while young is what stays forever, so why not empower them now to grow their circle of concern and benefit the world and their souls with their khidma (service)?
While in Mauritania we saw the most amazing display of harmony in nature. We witnessed a sandstorm- a beautiful dance between the air and earth. The sands were raised up and scattered by the power of the wind and in turn the sand painted the wind with its own hue and color. At three in the afternoon, the day suddenly seemed like Maghreb(dusk) had set in. The most important thing was that both the earth and the air intermingled and came apart with ease, and without causing any disruptive change to each other or the world at large. Yes, the sands shifted and yes, the wind got gritty, but in the end, they each returned to their own states undisturbed. In this is the lesson for us- to leave this world with grace and dignity after we’ve used and not abused it, for those after us to enjoy.