Raising Activists 

The importance of involving children in advocating for the oppressed

By Sundus Abrar 

Jan/Feb 2024
Muhammad’s children, Jonah, Kareemah, Zakariyah and Rheyanah Williams protesting for Palestine.

Protests calling for a ceasefire in Palestine are drawing increasing and diverse attendees. As Israeli attacks on Gaza continue with complete disregard for civilians and international law, Palestinians remain committed to broadcasting the atrocities inflicted upon them on social media. For Palestinian journalists, this task of accurately documenting the genocide takes precedence over their own personal safety.

According to The Washington Post (Nov. 14), “At least 42 members of the media have been killed in the Israel-Gaza war since Oct. 7, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, making this past month the deadliest for journalists since it started gathering data in 1992.”

Despite social media censorship and the mainstream media’s blatant efforts to suppress and discredit the content coming out of Gaza, the images and videos of the violence being inflicted upon Palestinians are circulating pervasively. A harrowing narrative is emerging, and the dire conditions are difficult to process. 

Some parents, out of concern for their young children’s emotional well-being, may decide not to share everything about these events. However, Fatmah Muhammad, a Palestinian-American residing in California, strongly encourages parents to involve and inform older children about advocating for the oppressed. “They think they are protecting their children, but who are these children going to be as grown adults? How is the ummah going to change if we are raising our youth to be complicit?” she asks. 

Muhammad grew up learning about Palestine through her parents, who were born and raised there. She participated in protests against Israel’s illegal occupation, but didn’t fully realize the extent of the occupation. When she first visited Palestine, aged 12, she came to an alarming awareness of the extreme restrictions they endure while living under constant surveillance and policing. Her children had a similar experience during their first trip in the summer of 2023. 

Her 10-year-old daughter Kareemah was distraught when their car was stopped at a checkpoint while driving to Ramallah. Israeli soldiers pointed guns at them as they searched the car, before letting them go upon realizing that they were American citizens. “We told our cousins about what happened, and they told us this is the norm. We were so terrified,” shares Kareemah. 

Muhammad’s children feel a sense of privilege compared to their family in Palestine. “When I go there, I get treated nice. I feel that I don’t deserve to go there. I can move around and go places. We can leave checkpoints, but Palestinians who live there can’t go everywhere,” shares 12-year-old Zakariyah. Some people born in Palestine are even prevented from visiting the al-Aqsa Mosque. This imbalance is what propels Muhammad’s children to actively advocate for Palestinians. 

Non-Palestinian Activists

I don’t care if they become doctors, engineers or whatever they want to become. That’s secondary to me,” said Syed Rahman, an artist and parent of two in Chicago. “My primary concern is that I want them to be leaders in the ummah.”

Rahman, whose family originates from Hyderabad, India, is also profoundly aware of his privilege. Living as expats in Saudi Arabia, his parents couldn’t discuss politics openly or protest. Rahman is grateful for his parents’ efforts to immigrate to the U.S. “They struggled so I don’t have to.” 

A dedicated philanthropist, Rahman is also founder of the popular small business @ModernWallArt, which sells unique Islamic art. Having garnered a significant audience on the business’s social media account, he utilizes his reach to raise awareness and fundraise. Through the contributions from his online and immediate community, he has raised over $1 million for Human Concern International (HCI) for aid in Gaza. 

In collaboration with Jannah Circle, a Muslim women’s nonprofit, on Nov. 4 Rahman hosted an impromptu charity bazaar in his warehouse space in Skokie, Ill. Participating vendors donated all or at least part of their proceeds. Though the event coincided with the largest protest in Washington, D.C., it still drew over 500 attendees and raised $20,000. 

 Syed Rahman always on the forefront to raise awareness and funds for a good cause.

Rahman and his wife Mehreen Bukhari are keen on educating their daughter Ilyana, 6, about Palestine. Bukhari is forthcoming in her unwavering efforts to advocate for Palestinians, “I boycotted Starbucks before and then stopped. I would go to protests, but then when the ceasefire was announced I’d stop following up.” These fluctuations fuel her urgency in involving youth in activism. “I didn’t learn about it growing up. It’s only now that I am in my 30s that I am more aware and able to advocate for oppressed people. We can’t delay any change the next generation can bring.” She believes that their charity bazaar provided an opportunity for young kids to also learn about the situation in Palestine. 

Diversified Activism

In addition, Muhammad has diversified her activism while continuing to participate in protests. She has an immense following on her social media @KnafehQueens, where she markets her business that sells knafeh, a famous Palestinian dessert. On her Instagram account, she has sought to inform her followers and engage those who are new to the cause.

“I am trying to bring up the cause to people at different levels of awareness. Not everyone can talk politics,” says Muhammad. “By taking a public stance, I have lost some customers, but I trust in Allah.” She has encountered abuse and threats online, but remains firm in doing all that she can to raise awareness. “People have told me you should be careful. But this is my duty.” 

Muhammad’ and her family visiting the village, Al Mazarah Al Sharkiya, where her parents were born and raised.

Her daughter Rheyanah, 17, is also engaging the community by organizing protests, fundraisers and qiyams. Muhammad cautions her daughter to find a balance between her academics, but is also immensely reassured by her children’s dedication. “It gives me hope. Israelis have said over and over that the kids will forget about Palestine, but Allah wants it in our hearts because there is so much beautiful history [there]. It’s a blessed land, and I hope to see that my kids are in it till the end.”

Like many others, she too draws her motivation from the Palestinians who, while living under the grueling conditions of oppression, continue to be resilient and retain their spirit of hospitality and kindness. She shares the welcome her family received during their trip to Palestine. “How they lead their lives every day is beautiful. The ones who have the least will give you the most,” she said. 

More people are gaining awareness of the severe oppression Palestinians have been living under for the past 75 years. The diversity at protests and the increased conversations online are a reassuring indicator of this. Every parent knows how much to share with each child, but there has to be some level of awareness in all Muslim children. Several parenting blogs and authors like Noor Kids have shared simple ways of explaining the occupation to young children. They don’t need to see graphic, violent images, but they do need to be aware. As parents living comfortable lives thousands of miles away, this is the least we can do.

Sundus Abrar, an undergraduate degree in professional writing, aspires to generate dialog around current concerns within the Muslim community.

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