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How not to raise a fanatic?

First true story.

Issa came home and asked his dad what is non-veg food. Issa is in Senior Kindergarten and barely 5 years old. His dad asks him “Why do you want to know?” Issa replies “My friends in school don’t want to eat lunch with me, their mom said, eat with friends who eat vegetarian food.” Issa was confused and his father thought it was too early for him to understand about religion and so instead packs vegetarian food to school, so that he can eat lunch with his friends and feels included.

Nothing controversial here you may argue, one group does not want their kids to eat with kids who choose non-vegetarian diet you may say. But where does this stop? Today they don’t want to eat with them, tomorrow they can’t attend birthday parties unless there is only vegetarian food and slowly vegetarian kids will have their own circle where as Issa will have to hang around kids who eat meat or won’t differentiate with him based on his dietary preferences. And that’s how communities work, that’s how they decide which apartment you can buy / rent a house, what locality you can stay and where you can eat. This is how their life choices are made not by them but their parents.

Second true story.

Kabir visits his cousin’s building, a new kid about same age as Kabir, comes to play with them. He asks Kabir “What’s your religion”. Kabir is 10 years old and child of inter-religious couple, replies “ How does that matter” He replies he was simply asking so Kabir tells him “I'm a Hybrid.” Of course the other kid does know what hybrid is, Kabir explains, “my parents are both Hindu and Muslim so that makes me a hybrid.”

“But which of your parent is what?”

“My father is Hindu and Mother Muslim.”

“Yuck, your mother married a Hindu, she will not go to Jannat”

10 year old, Kabir who probably knows all the characters in Marvel universe, knows everything about Star Wars franchise and sci-fi, but nothing about afterlife, comes home sad and confused. His dad says, “Let us worry about life and how to live it with love. Let religious people bother about death and things that will happen after death”

In both the stories, all the kids involved only said what they have learnt from their environment and parents. They probably have no idea how the aggrieved kids felt and what scars have been left by their seemingly obvious statements. They have been thought a way of life and everyone else is ignorant if they can’t see the logic in their way of life, isn’t it. Parents are their Heroes, so what they do and what they say has to be correct.

Let’s investigate if parents really know what they doing, Let’s say if your child comes to you and asks you, "How does electricity work? "

Can we imagine our life without electricity? Yet we know so little about it.

Ok, what if your child asks you, "why can you iron clothes when the iron is hot but not when iron is cold?"

Most of us will just google the answer before we try to explain it to our kids, and some cases it will still be too complicated to explain it to them, so we would give up, “You'll know when you grow up". Now let’s try more complex questions like, what is depression? Why do I feel scared or happy? Why do I get nightmares. What do you tell your kids, about emotions, about mental health? Most will study or take advice from a professional so that we don’t create confusion in our children’s mind. After all, no one wants to harm their child emotionally at least not intentionally. Yet when it comes to religion and culture we are all experts and see no foul in teaching it to our kids. It starts with innocent things, “Son, say namaste to uncle” “Say Assalaam walekum”, this indoctrination then moves to teaching more religion and culture, then finally religious texts. This is the way we are supposed to pray, this is what we are supposed to eat, this is how we are supposed to live, who we marry and the cycle continuous to how we raise our children. All this starts in a parent’s head with an innocent query “Aren’t we supposed to teach our kids our way of life”, “What's the harm in teaching them a bit of our culture”. Then unknowingly we parents start crossing the boundaries.

Let’s investigate further, to see if there is any harm in it.

How many from your close friends or family members are alcoholics, or smokers who can’t quit? Now how many, from the same list, you think are too religious and don’t live the life you think is according to your belief system? Now ask yourself if you are worried someone will blow themselves and someone you love in a mall? Or Someone will lynch your loved one because they eat cow. See, we are not bothered much by alcoholics and smokers, we are scared by individuals who study one book bit too many times. Yet we will happily teach them religion, but never allow our children near alcohol and cigarettes. Suppose at some time in your life, if you have had pot, smoked cigarettes or had alcohol, will you allow your child to do same right now? Even once they turn adults, we will be reluctant, as we know there is a chance they might get addicted to one of these things. Yet we don’t care or think deeply about how our beliefs will affect our children. Will they grow up and hurt someone physically or mentally, by what we have ingrained in them? A fanatics doesn't grow on a tree, they are someone’s child, a child who was indoctrinated right at the early age by a loving parent thinking they were doing right by the child, and now that child refuses to see how pluralistic the world is.

Please teach our children Science, Arts, Music and love before we teach them to become religious. It’s appalling that a kid who barely knows how he will survive in this world, what skill sets he will need to face this world, is already bothered by what will happen to him when he dies or what food offends his God.

It needs years of struggle and deep conviction to reject traditions, out dated cultural ideas and lies that our society, parents and teachers have continuously hammered into our subconscious. Why subject our kids to the same torture? Let our children find their own truth and live in the comfort of their individual truth. Religious ideas were great when the world was big, when one lived and died in a small geographic boundary both mentally and physically. Today the world is a small place, we can reach the farthest places of the world in 24hrs, we can experience that place’s culture, ideas and beliefs. Of course your God wants you to believe they live in sin and will burn in hell. But so do the people of that place would feel about you, your ideas and beliefs. Does this world need more Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, atheist, agnostics, animists, pagans or whatever else there is? This world needs more fathers (and mothers) who can teach their kids to be more loving and accepting irrespective of what beliefs they finally choose.

Can we as parent put our hand on our heart and say, “I know everything about life, all the decisions I have made were correct, my religion and my beliefs have made me a happy and satisfied person. I know everything about God” If the answer is resounding yes, then please share your life with your child, just like an artist knows what to paint and what colours to add to make the painting more beautiful, make your child’s life more beautiful by putting everything in his life and mind.

But if the answer is No, then let’s be humble and be their guide. Not a guide in their choices, rather, their light so the they can see the options before them, the different paths that lay ahead. And just like the light only shows without judgement, let us illuminate their minds so that we don’t raise a Fanatic.

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