Teaching our children the 99 names of Allah! (With @Kitabkids)
Teaching our children about Allah is always one of the most important aspects of our Islamic Studies teaching. There are so many ways to go about it. However, for really young children, learning about Allah can become over complicated if not made simpler to understand. So we have to talk in the language of our children. I am yet to start my own project for teaching the 99 names of Allah with my children, but have started teaching some names which tie in with our themes. However, after scanning the internet, I must admit I have found one of the most inspiring sisters that does just this! Stephanie from @Kitabkids all the way from Australia! I had to have a chat with her and find out all about her wonderful project #99namesproject2018. Read what she had to say below! Hoping it encourages many of you to teach your children the 99 names of Allah!
Tell us a little about yourself…
My name is Stephanie and I am an Australian revert of almost 18 years alhumdulillah. I’m married to an Algerian man and we have three children together, Ayman who has just turned 6, Younes who is 3 and Maisara who is 16 months. I am a former lawyer and now stay at home mother.
What inspired you to start this project with your children?
Becoming a mother was not an easy road for me but alhumdulillah, the time spent dreaming of, waiting and praying for children was filled with plans of how I would endeavour to raise them as mini Muslims in a predominantly non Muslim society and during this time I was able to map out a really exciting path that we would walk together inshallah. My principal goals in teaching my children about our deen was first and foremost to have them LOVE it, for them to experience it’s beauty and to want to share that beauty with others, for them to live Islam as a part of our day to day experience and for them to have a deep knowledge of and relationship with their Creator.
For me personally, learning about the 99 names has facilitated a very rich relationship with Allah SWT. I credit the wonderful individuals who took the time to introduce me to Islam in the first classes I took upon becoming a Muslim for this. Their ‘Introduction to Islam’ course, taught at a local mosque in Sydney wove a number of the Asma Al Husna throughout and it fundamentally changed my understanding of Allah which I believe had previously been very one dimensional and based upon Christian, old testament imagery of an angry and smiting God. Prior to embracing Islam I believed in God but didn’t feel a connection to Him. Learning about the 99 names however has led to a very profound relationship with our Creator alhumdulillah.
So it’s little surprise therefore that the 99 names featured highly on the list of things I wanted to share with my children. Explaining the concept of God to children can be tricky and often overwhelming and I think that’s why some parents have traditionally resorted to explaining Allah by way of punishment (if you don’t do X, Allah will do Y) or by dismissing those big questions like ‘Where is Allah?’ , ‘Why can’t I see Allah?’ and ‘How big is Allah?’ as being too complex to even begin to answer. As an aside, I absolutely adore Emma Apple’s books on these subjects and they’ve been a wonderful resource. Through the 99 names however, the enormous concept of Allah’s nature and His power can be broken down and explored in manageable amounts- perfect for little people with limited attention spans.
At first I didn’t entirely know how to introduce this incredible subject with my son and it had me stumped. Yes, we could do flashcards, colour in the names and learn them by rote but these techniques in isolation without a deeper understanding, explanation and context didn’t satisfy me, nor did I think they would satisfy his incredibly curious and inquiring nature. I wanted my son to understand the names so that they would be as meaningful to him as they were to me and not just to memorise them or recite them parrot like. I wanted him to see manifestations of the names in the world around him and understand through this, that Allah SWT is everywhere. I came across various books for adults regarding the 99 names but none of them inspired me. I unconsciously shelved the idea of teaching my son the 99 names, hoping that we would be able to better address it when he was a bit older.
What book are you using to teach the 99 names of Allah?
And then one day I was scrolling through Facebook and came across a new book that had just been published by Chickpea Press, ‘The 99 Names Of God’ by Daniel Thomas Dyer.
Without having seen anything of the contents, I somehow knew that this book would provide me with the inspiration and motivation I had sought and required to begin teaching my son. I ordered it and it arrived a few months before Ramadan 2017. It was everything I had hoped and wished for. It explained each name in plain English. It provided examples of manifestations of the name evident in the world around us, it referenced the name within the Quran and it gave examples of discussion questions. I had now found my inspiration and my motivation was just around the corner alhumdulillah! I can’t quite recall who it was on Instagram who posted that there were 99 days left until Ramadan and who encouraged everyone to count down the 99 names during this time but this was the final push I needed.
How do you structure the sessions?
So 99 days before Ramadan in 2017, I decided completely spontaneously that my eldest son Ayman and I would undertake a project to learn a name a day via an activity. I jumped right in to this ambitious project without forward planning or any contemplation of how challenging it might be! Secretly I doubted our ability to stick with the project but I hoped that by sharing these activities on Instagram with others we would be compelled and encouraged to achieve our goal. I also wondered whether I would truly be able to come up with an activity a day that would work with each name- some seemed far too abstract, too complex. But alhumdulillah, each and every day we received inspiration sometimes in the most random and unexpected fashion and we went on to complete the project in time for Ramadan. Throughout, it felt as if it was truly meant to be alhumdulillah! Our activities were diverse and were designed to highlight the meaning of the name while being engaging and a lot of fun. Some examples of the things we did include a blindfolded smell test after learning about Al-Latif, the subtle (after finding out that smell is our most subtle sense), sun catchers for An-Nur and a treasure hunt for Al-Wajid, the Finder. Most of these activities used craft materials or items we already had at home. Sometimes we ventured out and about to complete an activity. However, all activities were simple enough to plan and carry out in the space of a day since this was all the time we had available to us.
How do you teach a typical session and follow up craft?
Each day we would discuss the name informally as we went about our business, read the information available in our 99 names book and then complete the activity. It was very informal, relaxed and I tried to make the whole experience as pleasurable as possible for him. I would say that most of the lessons I try to impart to my son take this form- there is rarely the sense that he is being taught in the formal sense- he gets enough of that at school in the classroom. The proof that this technique was having its desired effect came each day as he eagerly awaited the activity and repeatedly asked me about it after waking. For me this was excellent motivation to continue going too- as much as I enjoyed the project, there came days where I was overwhelmed with multiple other tasks and his excitement and enthusiasm gave me the energy I needed to follow through with that day’s name.
We’ve continued with the project this year too however we modified our activities to allow us time for discussion and crafting after my son returns home from school each afternoon. This year is all about a visual representation of the chosen name, inspired by the verse 2:164, ‘Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of the night and the day; in the sailing of the ships through the ocean for the benefit of mankind; in the rain which Allah sends down from the skies, and the life which he gives therewith to an earth that is dead; in the beasts of all kinds that he scatters through the earth; in the change of the winds, and the clouds which they trail like their slaves between the sky and the earth; here indeed are signs for a people that are wise.’ The aim is to identify manifestations of the names within our natural world-signs of a glorious and omnipotent Creator indeed. Our name activity provides a beautiful, calming conclusion and bookend to the day as we sit together and discuss not only the chosen name but also his experiences at school as we paint/draw/cut/glue/colour together. This year we have used very commonplace craft materials to create our pictures- things that absolutely everyone would have at home. Paper (coloured, white and scrap), glue, scissors, crayons, paint and pens are really all we’ve used with the occasional q-tip, sprinkle of salt or a bit of wool thrown in for good measure.
What questions did your children ask about Allah?
Ayman has asked me so many insightful questions about Allah via this project, His nature, His attributes, His powers, His role. These questions make it very clear to me that he understands the names perfectly. As we walk in nature or go about our day to day lives he will often pause to mention something he’s seen that has reminded him of one of Allah’s beautiful names or will spot something we’ve crafted and will repeat our discussions of that day. Alhumdulillah it’s evidence enough for me that this is a project worth repeating!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start this project?
For any mothers wishing to do a similar project with their own children I would encourage you to simply jump straight in. Hesitating and contemplating it’s enormity will only be off putting and will prevent you from sharing a truly special, memorable and wonderful experience with your children. I would wholeheartedly recommend purchasing ‘The 99 Names of God’ by Daniel Thomas Dyer, it has enhanced our project beyond measure and has made the explanation of certain complicated concepts a breeze. It’s also a book that we will continue to refer to as the children grow into teenagers. The discussion questions would be fantastic to answer and consider as a family with older children. I truly hope inshallah that our beautiful experience studying the 99 names will inspire others to do the same and that others have as rich an experience as we have.
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