Thought for the Day - 15/10/2013 - Professor Mona Siddiqui

Over 2 million people will have performed the Hajj this week, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, a defining point in the lives of many Muslims. The steps of the Hajj correlate with the story of Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael and the rituals associated with this story can be hard and demanding. When I was a toddler we lived in Saudi Arabia for a few years. One year my parents went on the hajj and afraid that I might get hurt in the crowds and in the heat my mother approached a fruit seller whose stall was close to the Kaaba. He was happy to sit me down on the wooden stall where I could eat and play with the colourful fruits while she performed the rituals. When my mother returned, I was soaked in fruit juices, having messed up his stall but happily playing with the vendor oblivious of her absence.
In later years I would often ask my mother how she had just left me, wasn’t she worried in case something bad might happen. Her reply was always, I never thought I was leaving you, I was just placing you in a kind person’s care for a while and for your own safety. In many ways, we were both reflecting two very different emotions. My mother was talking of trust, the kindness of strangers and living with hope and faith in God’s protection, while I saw the whole story from the prism of fear, of the unknown of the potential dangers of unfamiliar people
My mother died seventeen years ago well before the growth of stories around paedophiles and child abductions. I don’t know how she would have reacted today to the tragic stories we now hear of abducted or murdered children, or the stories of the parents who live not knowing such as the McCanns for whom after so many years new images of a possible suspect might offer some hope.
My mother’s generation was probably a less fearful generation when parents allowed children to wander off into the neighbourhood and play. Strangers were everywhere but we didn’t grow up afraid of adults. But I also didn’t tell my parents so much of what happened outside in the streets because it was part of growing up, and just seemed trivial. And yet when my own children were very young, I had to know where they were all the time. This change in attitudes in just one generation may be about genuine concern but it’s also about a culture of fear. We shouldn’t romanticise the past but nor should we be paralysed by the possibilities of what ifs.
Today for various reasons none of my children will be at home for EID. Yet, as they have grown up I’ve come to realise that the best thing we can do as parents is to love our children and let them live with some risk even as we struggle to balance our own fears and hopes.

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