By Umm Ayman
In the name of Allah, Most Kind, Most Merciful,
We relate unto thee the most beautiful of stories, by revealing to thee this (portion of the) Qur’an, though before this, thou too was among those who knew it not.(Qur’an:Surah Yusuf, Verse 3)
Thus commences Allah Ta’ala with the telling of the story of The Prophet Yusuf (Peace be upon him), piquing our interest, attuning our ears and softening our hearts to accept its guidance.
For ages human beings have been telling stories; to remember, to inspire, to teach and to entertain. History and fables, folklore and news, myth and legends – they all add meaning and dimension to our lives.
We retain information better if we can make a picture of it in our minds and we learn a lesson faster if we have examples that impress us of its relevance. A well-told story is the surest way to make an impact.
Indeed the teachings of the Deen of Islam, as presented by the Prophets of Allah, were often reinforced within parables or narratives and many admonishments were illustrated by referencing the lives of the previous peoples.
The Quran comprises of affirmations of Allah’s sovereignty, warnings and glad tidings, laws and punishments, and the life after death. A good portion of the Quran too, comprises of parables and very many stories of the peoples gone by. These are, as Allah reminds us so many times, so that we may take heed.
The traditions of The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) too, are often a retelling of the events in his (pbuh) own life as well as that of his noble companions. Truly he (pbuh) was the greatest teacher and guide.
And while bearing in mind that all stories are not true, it wouldn’t be right to shun a good story just because it isn’t fact. If we can acquire good morals from it, then as long as it is clear that it is just a story and not fact, we may certainly enjoy it.
We should, however, completely avoid listening to or the telling of tales, if while doing so, we oppose the teachings of Quran and Sunnah.
People of all ages relish a fine tale; this article is actually about telling stories to our children, for surely no one delights in a tale quite like a child.
Story time is an important tool to use when educating a young child. It is instrumental in shaping an inquisitive, imaginative* and healthy mind.
Story time can cover a range of different learning areas or subjects, such as literacy; history (Islamic & secular); science; adāb(etiquette); social studies and more.
At story time, various methods should be used to ascertain that the child understands, retains and above all enjoys the experience. For example:
· dramatic voices,
· play acting the story,
· dress up,
· reading from picture books
· doing crafts based on the story
· and also telling a story orally so as to stimulate the child’s imagination.
With young children there is a constant need for repetition; so that they may retain it, to enhance their recognition of detail and because they never lose that feeling of wonder. Our interaction with them facilitates the experience of wonder and amazement and so the same stories will have to be repeated again and again. We should resist the urge to dumb down the stories too much. By all means use simple words but don’t be afraid to introduce new and big words as a child’s capacity for language is at its strongest during the early, formative years.
As people become more work orientated and spend less time with their children, quality time being shared between the story teller and the child provides an excellent opportunity for bonding, development of safe and secure attachment and love.
What kinds of stories should we tell?
Borrow character building story books from the kiddies section at the library (always making sure to steer clear from books that have negative elements that oppose the values of Islam(dīn).
Regale them with the true stories from the Qur’an, or of the Ambiya (AS), or of the pious companions of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) and the early followers of Islam.
· The spider which spun its web to shield the Prophet (SAW) in the cave.
· Prophet Sulayman (AS) and the ants (his ability to understand animals).
· Prophet Yunus (AS) and the whale.
· The army of elephants and the army of birds.
· Prophet Yusuf’s (AS) true dreams.
· The animals on the ark.
· Prophet Ibrahim (AS) and the many instances in his life, make for many enthralling stories. (especially during the Hajj period)
· Prophet Musa (AS) and his staff which changed into a snake.
· Prophet Isa (AS) breathing life into a bird of clay and his other miracles.
· Prophet Dawud (AS)and the giant.
These and so many more are true stories of the great paragons of Islam, whom we can encourage little ones to emulate as real life heroes. What an exciting way to encourage love for Allah (SWT), His Prophets (AS) and our religion!
Children respond more favourably when stories include characters from the animal and insect world. It adds colour and fun to the lessons we wish to impart. Reflect for a moment to the stories of Hans Anderson and the brothers Grimm, and how enchanting we as children found their stories with their animated animals teaching common sense and good morals.
At times the story in its entirety need not be told. Nor should we try, in the beginning, to make the child understand the morals or reasons behind the story. Rather we could just tell them sections of the story that will grab their imagination and interest. At a later stage, perhaps when the child is a bit older, he/she will recognize the little story when we place it in context with the whole story and they will be able to draw on the morals of the stories as we begin to inculcate it in a manner easy for them to grasp.
For example, the Hijrah(Migration) of our beloved Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) is a huge turning point in the history of Islam, yet the reasons for it, how it was accomplished and all the different personalities involved would make for a long and confusing story to tell a little child. Instead, if we pick out the juicy bits for our little ones such as the spider and the cave, this would be far more palatable for the young mind of a child and also very wondrous and interesting as it incorporates a spider, which all kids find fascinating, as well as containing elements of danger; and Allah, by using the spider, coming to the rescue adding a good (happy) ending to the story.
Later as the child progresses in learning, the whole picture, as well as all the life lessons it contains, will gradually unfold, thereby making it possible for him/her to take full benefit of the story. The benefits of story telling are immeasurable, from development of imagination and creativity, to transmitting value and morals. This practice has gone on since time in memoriam and it is a valuable tool for us to continue, If Allah so wills it.
*Good imagination and an inquiring mind are essential in a scholar as it encourages one to find innovative solutions to problems as well as to question the best manner to do all things. As long as this is not contrary to Islam(dīn )it will actually be in conformance to Allah’s (SWA) commands to ‘ponder’ and reflect’.