Sunday, February 9, 2014

Reading: Faith

Courtesy of www.tabletmag.com
One of the biggest issues in our society is misunderstanding, which leads to intolerance for others and fear.  Often, these misunderstandings begin in childhood when children do not get to interact with people who are different from them.  Growing up in a small community in the Midwest, I wasn't aware of many cultures, nor did I learn about faiths that could be different than mine.  In fact, it wasn't until middle school that I realized there were many faiths and religions that people could choose from!  In high school, one of my friends celebrated Diwali and invited me to participate with her family traditions.  I felt honored that she included me in an event very special to her!  In college, I took my first Religious Studies course and got to learn about seven of the most common religions, their foundation, and their principles.  Interestingly enough, I found that their basic values weren't that different.  

Unfortunately, outsiders of one faith can find it to be threatening to their own, which has caused hate crimes, violence, prejudice, and even wars.  I think that if people learn about the existence of different faiths and the mores of those faiths when they are young, those types of tragedies can be prevented.  In the book Faith by Maja Ajmera, Madga Nakassis, and Cynthia Pon, children can visit other children just like them practicing their own faiths.  This book is a valuable tool that can be used to introduce new religions and to show how all faiths are united.

As I began reading through the book, I noticed many religions being displayed in photos that I have never learned about.  Each page details what people of different faiths do.  For example, one page says, "We pray."  Then, the surrounding photos show children of different religions and from different geographical regions praying.  The next page shows children of different faiths singing, and the following page depicts children reading their holy books.  I appreciated how this book approached different faiths in a positive way by showing what they have in common.  I liked how all of the photos showed children engaging with their faiths, often with a smile on their faces or the helping hand of an adult nearby.  Rather than separating children of different faiths, this book showed how people of different faiths help others and have hope. 

For me, it was amazing to see photos illustrating religions in regions that I hadn't associated with that religion.  For example, towards the end of the book, a young boy from Tanzania holds palms in his hand in observance of Palm Sunday.   I had never thought about Palm Sunday being observed so far away in Africa!  At the same time, there is another page of young, Caucasian children with blonde hair observing a Muslim celebration.  Normally, I think about Islam being a religion observed in the Middle East, so this book is a reminder to me that all faiths are observed throughout all parts of the world!  

Faith is not a subject that I tend to discuss with my students.  They ask me, from time to time, questions about God, and I have worked with students who are Jehovah's Witness and do not participate in our holiday celebrations.  Normally, we discuss how people have different beliefs, and some people don't believe in celebrating holidays.  This is normally a surprise to the majority of my students who cannot imagine life without Halloween candy or Christmas presents!  But the book Faith makes me want to have faith-based discussions with my class - not pushing a particular faith over the other but helping my students to understand that there are many religions with many similar traditions.  

After reading this book, I went on a search for more multicultural books about faith, and to my dismay, I found very few that seem appealing to children.  I will continue with my quest to obtain more books like Faith.  In the meantime, if you'd like to learn more about Maja Ajmera and her work, please visit her website

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