I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that humans were first made out of soil/earth/clay/mitti. It’s a common theme in many creation stories. The Islamic story narrates that God asked the Angels to bring soil from all corners of the Earth and created the first man – Adam (as) from all the different colored soils.
I’ve loved using this analogy with my own children to initiate discussions about skin color and origins. Recently, in a children’s education coop led by a group of Muslim mamas, when one of the moms said her 4 year old had started asking questions about skin color I had just the right lesson plan for our garden time activity.
After our ‘salaam song’, we began by sitting down together under a tree -to talk about ‘soil’. How it is so much more than ‘dirt’. What it’s made out of. Its benefits and uses. This was for children aged from 2-5 years old needless to say, we kept it simple – but accurate. Then we talked about how soil is a gift from Allah and that Muslims should walk gently upon the earth (literally as well as figuratively) and not ‘stomp about in a grumpy way’. The reference for this is one of my most favorite lines of the Quran.
وَعِبَادُ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الَّذِينَ يَمْشُونَ عَلَى الْأَرْضِ هَوْنًا وَإِذَا خَاطَبَهُمُ الْجَاهِلُونَ قَالُوا سَلَامًا
The servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say words of peace.
Surah Al-Furqan 25:63
In a class with older children I might have recited this and even asked them to write it down in their nature journal.
It would be a fun activity to even get up and let the children show you how they would ‘walk gently’ (I only thought of this afterwards while doing the write up but would have been adorable to see)
Ideally it would have been lovely to get actual soil samples from a garden store – but I’m going to be real here and admit that due to time constraints I did the next best thing – a picture of them.
To me this simple image is breathtaking – subhanallah the signs of Allah are there for those who ponder. This image of different colored soils from different parts of the earth just speaks as they say ‘a thousand words – or in this case ‘faces’ !
While the children looked at this image I narrated the part of the creation story where Allah asks the angels to bring Him soil from all corners of the earth and uses it to make Adam as and as the children of Adam as we are all different colors too – just like the soils. I asked the children to think about all the people they see in the mosque and now they know the reason why we are all of different colors. Because Allah made us like that beautiful and varied so that we may learn about each other.
Again for such young scholars, I did not recite the actual verse I was referring to but it would be ideal for older students. Take a moment to read the next ayah – and really emphasize the idea that it is not our appearances that matter to Allah or make us better or worse than others – it is our actions. For older students – take a moment to talk about the science of skin tone.
Then we went exploring and digging the soil. We touched it to see if it felt cool or warm (it felt comfortingly cool on a sunny warm day) . We rubbed it and crumbled it to see what it was made out of. We met and made friends with a few earthworms and we also took a moment to smell the soil – and thank Allah for giving us this gift.
Then it was play time in the park and we read the book The Colors Of Us about all the beautiful shades that ‘brown’ can be. Cinnamon, chocolate, peanut butter honey, toffee, butterscotch. Alhamdulillah it was a beautiful day to be outside. Inshallah the children took something good away from it and I hope you found this post useful and can relay it to your own children
and others in your community.
A wonderful follow up activity to this could be to have the children mix up paints to make the exact shade of their own skin color to use for a self portrait. You can take this lesson as deep and far as you like, for as someone once said ~ Soil is the greatest connector of lives, the source and destination of all.
Talking of which, it’s important to note that the lesson I described and facilitated was primarily for very young children, focusing on the concept of skin color not Race. This is not to say that race discussions can’t happen with very young children, they certainly can, but I wanted to be clear that that is not what happened in this particular lesson. The lesson plan can be used as the beginnings of a discussion that can be built on further and to open up that conversation or certainly set the tone for later conversations surrounding race. You can read about some ways to do that here – Five excellent resources to help you explain racial bias to your children
Soil image credit : geologyin.com