May 19, 2011

Umm Uthman on Creating Children's Spanish Islamic Resources

Umm Uthman is a Puerto Rican mother of three currently living in Maryland, U.S.A. She is the the co-founder of Hablamos Islam, an adult Spanish Dawah site, and founder of Hablamos Islam Ninos, the companion website to Hablamos Islam, which offers Islamic literature and activities for children in Spanish. She is the author of three bilingual Spanish/English Islamic children's books, Un Velo y Una Barba (A Veil and a Beard), El Preguntador (The Questioner), and El Primer Dia de Ramadan (The First Day of Ramadan). 


1. In your experience, how many and what kind of resources are available for Spanish speakers?
Alhamdulillah, I think there are a growing number of resources for Spanish-speaking adult Muslims. These include literature as well as websites, audio, and videos. However, I think the Spanish-speaking Muslim community is lacking resources for Muslim children, something, in my opinion that is a vital piece of the puzzle if you are trying to raise the future ummah. If you go to an Islamic bookstore, masha’Allah, there are tons of Islamic books for children in Arabic and English, and there are even educational toys and games with Islamic themes. If you try looking for these in Spanish, you will be out of luck.

In my five years as a Muslim mom, I have only found two Islamic books for children in Spanish and one very humble Spanish children’s online magazine. My husband and I even asked brothers and sisters living in Spanish-speaking countries, including Spain, for children’s books and they told us that even they had none. I am surprised that there haven’t been more efforts put forth to close this dangerous gap.

2. I think people have a tendency to easily identify areas that need improvement, but taking the initiative to create change is another story. What inspired you to step up and fill the gap in Spanish Islamic resources for children?
After I had my first child, I decided that I wanted him to learn Spanish as his first language, just as my husband and I had. It was important for us so that he could communicate with his grandparents and other family members whose stronger language or only language was Spanish. We both come from non-Muslim families so it was also a way to ensure that even after we are gone, insha’Allah, our children could continue giving dawah to our family, as well as to others who speak Spanish. One of the ways I wanted to teach my children Spanish was by reading to them in that language and I didn’t just want to stack up on regular storybooks; I wanted Islamic literature in Spanish.

Therefore when I saw that there were no Spanish Islamic children’s books, I began trying to contact Islamic publishing companies so that they would allow me to translate their children’s books from English to Spanish. I offered this service for free, only hoping to build my son’s library, but unfortunately I was either turned down or ignored completely. At that point, I took it upon myself to write some of my own books and illustrate them with the goal of publishing them and with the help of my husband, designed a website for Spanish-speaking Muslim children called www.hablamosislamninos.com, a spinoff of our dawah-based site for adults www.hablamosislam.com. Hablamos Islam literally means “We speak Islam;” we added “niños;” which means children for the kids’ site.

3. What kinds of resources does Hablamos Islam Ninos offer? Are they just for Spanish speakers?
We offer free activity and coloring pages, e-books, videos, poems, and an online store where parents can purchase our books. All our books are printed bilingual English/Spanish so even English- speaking Muslim families may benefit insha’Allah, however, at this time our site is only in Spanish. Insha’Allah, if we see the demand for it, we will consider making the site bilingual, as well.

4. What Islamic lessons and/or values do you aim to teach through your children’s works?
We want to teach children Islam in accordance with the Qur’an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad, sullalahu alaihi wa salaam, in a way that they will understand and appreciate. The goal is for Muslim children to be conscious and proud of their Islamic heritage, to know why they are Muslim, as well as the tenets of their faith. I think parents steer far from these goals due to the mass media and consumerism to which children are exposed nowadays. Children are caught up in a world of fantasy, where they are taught to idolize fairies and superheroes. However, we have our own superheroes to look up to like the prophets and the companions, and Alhamdulillah, they were all real. This is what we need to teach our families.

We have to teach our children Islam from an early age so that they may become righteous in their maturity, insha’Allah. Their deeds are a continuous blessing for us as is reported by a hadith of the Prophet, sullalahu alaihi wa salaam, that he said:

“When the son of Adam dies, his (good) deeds come to an end except for three: A recurring charity, a
knowledge that is beneficial or a righteous child that supplicates for him.” (Muslim)

Insha’Allah, our goal is that our children will have the knowledge and motivation to be that for us.

5. From where do you seek inspiration for your works and how do you decide which projects to
develop?
I believe my greatest inspirations are my own children, but I also think of my friends’ children and other Muslim children in all parts of the world who need these resources. I look at what is already available in other languages and decide what is most beneficial and what I am capable of doing. I have so many ideas, but I have to manage my time wisely so I choose what is most feasible for me. One of my ambitions is to also make resources available to non-Muslim children for educational purposes, insha’Allah. Schools in the US and in other countries allow some cultural and religious education to expose students to different celebrations and traditions, so I would like to provide resources to schools to facilitate this process, insha’Allah.

6. I noticed that the Hablamos Islam Ninos website also offers articles for parents. How important do you feel the parent’s role is in their children’s learning process? How do the works you create facilitate parent involvement?
Parents play a key role in child development and education. They are their children’s first teachers and they will continue to be their educators and supporters throughout their lives, insha’Allah. Therefore, it is extremely important for parents to navigate our site and choose the tools they will present to their children, as well as help them in the process whether it is by explaining a video or asking them questions about an activity or reading them one of our books. Everything on our site is meant for the family as a whole, not something which you can just sit your child in front of and expect him/her to navigate through. I think even parents can benefit from the content on our site or from our books even if they are specifically geared towards the youth.

7. What impact, if any, has your efforts as an author/ educator had on your relationship with your
children?
One of the most rewarding results of all of this is holding one of my books and reading it to my kids and them actually enjoying it. That’s what it’s all about! It is a way to connect with them in an even greater scale. On the other hand, sometimes I feel like I am spending too much time working when I need to be on the floor playing with them so I try to manage my time around their schedules. In the long run, I pray that this work will pay off and they will understand why I did it. I want them to be proud of me and say, “Wow! My mommy and daddy did this!” insha’Allah.

8. What impact, if any, have your efforts had on your relationship with Allah?
SubhanAllah, I don’t think I can ever do enough to please my Creator. Working in dawah or just researching or translating something that has to do with Islam is either teaching you something new or reinforcing already-acquired knowledge, so you definitely feel some closeness with Allah as you strive to do something for His Sake. I can only hope and pray that He accepts what I am doing as a good deed and forgives me for whatever wrong I do. We always have to recheck our intentions in everything that we do, making sure that we are doing it to please Allah and not to please others or to show off. May Allah protect us from having pride or from becoming one of the hypocrites. Ameen.

9. How do you create balance between your work as an author/educator and your duties as a mother?
I try to work around the kids’ schedules, making sure to do anything that requires me to sit at the computer for hours when they are sleeping. As far as other things, I try to incorporate them into their time. For example, I illustrate my own books, so while my sons draw and color, I am also sitting with them doing the same, masha’Allah. It gives me a chance to not only spend quality time with them, but also to finish some work! Likewise, we usually shoot any videos while we are with the kids outside, either at a park or playground, or even at the masjid. We make sure they are having fun and playing while we work and alhamdulillah, it works out well.

10. What advice, if any, do you have for moms seeking ways to create children’s resources?
Alhamdulillah, Allah has blessed mothers with mercy and compassion towards their children. We are able to do so much for them by Allah’s Mercy and cannot imagine our lives without them. He has also equipped us with the tools we need to be good mothers. We don’t necessarily need to be super crafty to teach Islam to our kids. Masha’Allah, Allah’s creation is all around us to use as examples for them! We can get creative or we can do simple things.

One example of doing something simple is going outside with your child and pointing out all the different animals and plants we see, reminding them that Allah is the One who created all of them. Afterwards, we can have our children paint a picture of what they saw and/or learned. You can look back at that painting and remember the lesson for that day, insha’Allah. In addition, there are many websites and blogs (including www.hablamosislamninos.com) that feature creative activities for educating Muslim children.

Really, all we need is to make du’a to Allah to make things easy for us and be imaginative. We are already ahead of the game; we are mothers who are Muslim!

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