Skip to comments.Children's Books: Introducing Young Readers to Islam
Posted on 12/20/2003 8:47:31 AM PST by jimbo123
No child is too young to become a cosmopolitan multiculturalist. And now that Islam is a hot topic in America, not to mention probably the fastest-growing religion in the world, two new books offer the discerning young reader a glimpse of the Islamic world.
Well, O.K., these books are probably aimed more at the discerning parents of the undiscerning kid, who will doze as Mom or Dad reads aloud about the mihrab, the minber, the muezzin and other features of Islam. But they make a lovely introduction -- and I mean lovely, for both books are gorgeously illustrated.
David Macaulay is renowned for spectacular children's books with an architectural flavor, among them ''Cathedral'' and ''Pyramid.'' ''Mosque'' is a superbly illustrated and technically engrossing explanation of how a great Turkish mosque complex would be built in about 1600. It's like an erector set packed into a book.
Frankly, I had no idea that I was interested in how mosques were put together, but I found the subject fascinating. And I learned how to make a brick and build a dome, and also a good deal about the economics of the Ottoman Empire and the role of the mosque in society. Macaulay's mosque is fictional, but loosely based on those built around Istanbul (then Constantinople) in the late 16th century by Sinan, a great architect of the Ottoman Empire.
Macaulay imagines a Turkish admiral who, in 1595, decides to invest his fortune in a complex that would include not just the mosque but also a tomb (for himself), a religious school, a soup kitchen, a public bath and a public fountain to provide drinking water. As mosques usually are, this one would be a community center as well as a religious focal point.
We're taken through the design process, including some of the complexities of putting a circular dome over a square room. Macaulay explains: ''Because of the dome's hemispherical shape, there are hidden forces within it trying to push the sides outward. While piers and arches could easily be designed to support the great weight of a masonry dome, they could not, on their own, counteract its self-destructive tendencies.'' He explains how the engineering and architecture are allied in tackling this challenge and, wonder of wonders, with colored drawings it is all comprehensible.
The drawings and text also explain the various elements of the mosque -- all those mysterious ''M'' words. The mihrab is a niche facing Mecca that symbolizes the entry into paradise. Then there's the minaret, the tower from which the muezzin issues the call to prayer five times a day. And don't forget the minber, the high pulpit used to deliver sermons during Friday prayers.
Macaulay explains that a minaret is built largely without scaffolding -- until the balcony, which bulges out from the rest. The builders simply climb their own creation, raising it as they go.
The mechanics of making a stained-glass window are richly explicated, enhanced by six drawings. So are the methods for decorating the interior with Arabic calligraphy. The pictures grow more colorful and lavish as the mosque nears completion.
Macaulay remains respectful of Islam without fawning. That's a knack that I wish Demi's biography of Muhammad had achieved. Demi has produced other children's books with a spiritual bent, including volumes about Buddha and the Dalai Lama. Her ''Muhammad'' is spectacular, with dazzling illustrations in a very Islamic style, and I found myself flipping the pages just to admire the pictures. She adheres to the Islamic tradition of not depicting either Muhammad or his family members in pictures, because that might smack of idolatry. So we have a lovely illustrated life that never actually illustrates the subject. Instead, pictures are of random people at that time, or else Muhammad is shown in a golden silhouette.
My guess is that the publisher intends to market this biography to American Muslims, and that's probably a shrewd business move. But it comes across not just as respectful, which would be fine, but as reverential. For example, Demi recounts as fact that Muhammad was visited by the angel Gabriel during Ramadan in 610, and then under divine inspiration began to recite the Koran. Sure, Muslims believe that, but I felt funny reading this aloud -- as historic fact -- to my 6-year-old daughter.
''Muhammad was called upon to be God's messenger,'' Demi writes, ''to make known God's will to the whole of humanity and to show the way to human dignity, progress and real happiness.'' On the next page, the Koran is described as ''the eternal and infallible word of God.'' Hmm.
Why not just say that Muslims consider the Koran to be the infallible word of God, and leave it at that? Multiculturalist parents may want to expose their children to the world's major religions, but I doubt they want to indoctrinate them.
It's a pity, because there's an intellectual struggle in America now about how to portray Islam. Some conservatives, particularly evangelical Christians, see it as ''a very evil and wicked religion,'' as the Rev. Franklin Graham put it. Some Arabists insist that Islam is warm, fuzzy and far more tolerant than other religions, because it accepts Judaism and Christianity as legitimate and just believes they are incomplete.
I fall somewhere between the camps. Islam clearly has a problem with fundamentalism and violence, and it hasn't adapted as well to modernity as some other religions. But the common American perception of overseas Muslims as violent hotheads is the complete opposite of the warmth and hospitality one mostly finds traveling in places like Yemen, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. It would have been nice to have an introduction to Muhammad or Islam that didn't seem to be written by propagandists for either side.
That's a particular problem with a biography of Muhammad, because his was a time of war and violence, in which he did his share of fighting. In a children's book one doesn't expect a balanced scholarly analysis, but one wants something less saccharine than ''People accepted Islam because Muhammad taught God's words that said that all men and women, black and white, rich and poor, must be treated with dignity and respect.'' The result, unfortunately, will I think be to limit appreciation of this book to Muslim readers -- who least need an introduction to the faith.
Nicholas D. Kristof is an Op-Ed columnist for The Times.
NOT in my house. This is getting ridiculous.
How do the children's artists portray this in the books exactly?
Our children need to learn the TRUTH about Islam!
New Order Amerika........
......'PC'......Censored 'Speech' ala litigations......Fear of a FREE SPEECH 'Merry Christmas'.
Ah,.....now I get it!............the implication in reality is a 'PC'.....implied........."Merry 9-11"
WTF? One mostly finds? Hospitality? And, these "writers" vote democrat...go figure. And, YES Hitlery..I DO question your patriotism when you & your ilk write/say crap like this.
Oh, BS! These same children can't say God, or Merry Christmas in schools yet let's frolic over to the school library & get exposed to world religions?
I'd prefer an alternative book, "Turn a Mosque to Mist with a MOAB".
Absolutely. Post#4 is the real truth kids need to learn.
Felt funny? Why on earth would someone present something as historic fact to their child if they did not believe it to be so?
I wonder if the sequel will be about demonstrating the complexities of turning Cathedrals into mosques, such as Turkey's great blue mosque, formerly the beautiful Orthodox Church of St. Sophia.
And perhaps future plans on 'remodeling' some of France's (where they already have such a stronghold) beautiful Cathedrals.
LOL There ya go!
Uh huh, and how did Muhammad teach that infidels must be treated?
The goal of international socialists everywhere!
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