Using Light & Shadow To Teach The Seerah
So few months back my son asked me for an Eid party and sadly I hadn’t delivered. It was all in my head – we were going to have an ice cream theme – party paraphilia had been collected… But Eid came and went and along with it summer and we had had no official ‘Eid party’. In the worlds of Pinterest and Instagram it was basically a mommy fail moment but in terms of real life – it was just that. Real. Life.
It’s around this time of year, that Muslim parents all start asking the same questions revolving around Halloween. Should it be celebrated? If not, how do we say no? Should the kids participate? It’s the same thing every year. One must admit, it is a winning combination. Costumes and Candy? Yes and Yes! And no matter where on the spectrum your religious views on this fall, most parents find it really hard to be the “bad guy” and say No. Well, this year too, Halloween is around the corner and kids especially, here in North America, where Halloween is a big (money making!) deal are excitedly taking about it.
Without going into too much detail, we had decided to nip the Halloween spirit in the bud when our eldest was just 3 years old and starting to ‘notice’ it. We told him he could wear costumes anytime he wanted to, and indulged him in buying all manner of fun ones (mainly superhero). As for sweets, it was a always a Friday tradition to give him a mix bag of jelly sweets so he never felt left out in that sense. Plus one year when he was was four, we organised a ‘Costume Eid party’ that was great fun for all his friends and definitely got the Halloween wiggles out of them all!
But that was two years ago… it was high time for another ‘party’. We had already missed the ‘Eid Window’ and there would be no Halloween for us here, yet, we had the start of the Hijri new year and what an amazing opportunity for celebration?! Celebrating anything other than the two Eids can come with its own bit of controversy, so when I initially ran this idea by my friends one of them wondered if we could somehow make it into an educational event too.
I was determined, the teaching part should be the most fun part. That was the challenge. I wrote a quick message to my group of Halaqa Mamas, asking if they were up for a kids party. A date was set, this thing was happening!
I must make it clear, this was not a ‘Halloween alternative’ as such, but I do remember the words of a parenting panellist once, who said if you say ‘No’ to your child for something seemingly ‘fun and enjoyable’ make sure you have two other ‘halal’ options you can say ‘Yes’ to them for. And you know what, this idea has kind of stuck with me.
Here is how our ‘Hijri Party Planning went down :
Four days before the ‘party’ two friends asked if I needed ‘help’. I grabbed them by their hands and somehow, in the 5 minute brainstorming session between us we came up with a rather ambitious idea of narrating the story of the Hijra using puppets. Not just any puppets. Shadow puppets.
There would be costumes… I’m afraid for the sake of anonymity, this little fox was the only one I could capture!
There would be candy! (of course)
There would be cake. This beautiful cake was created by my talented friend Leila, who not only made the cake but generously offered her home for the venue too! Can you believe those rocks? (Yes, they are edible!)
And there would be a Show!
We met up in one house on Friday morning to prepare for a party to start the next day!
Amongst the other 7 mamas and 20 kids in our regular Halaqa group word had gotten around that there would be a ‘special presentation’ but it’s enough to say we suitably wowed everyone with our efforts.
For the shadow puppet theatre : I googled ‘shadow puppet DIY videos’ and used the second one that came up. The first did seem a little primitive even by our beginners standards.
This is a great step by step, we didn’t use any other ‘tutorial’ at all.
TIP – when choosing the screen, go for parchment paper instead of wax paper. We tried both and the former is better.
We used an old moving box.
Measuring and cutting.
Since our box was pre-used, we spray painted it using Rustoleum in gold (I happened to have an unused can of this at home!)
You don’t have to wait till after dark to put on the show, we used blackout curtains and even left some fairy lights on! The light source for the screen was a simple table lamp. We used this one as it was flexible and easy to manoeuvre.
The best thing about this party was that I wasn’t stressed out, the simple reason being that I was not doing this on my own. TIP – DO NOT attempt this all on your own. Ok just a few times before Friday when it was all talk and no action I did wonder what we had signed up for, but once we started rolling it took the three of us all of one day and later on a couple of hours at home, with the help of hubby, after kids slept to get everything ready.
We printed the illustrations on to plain white paper and then glued it to black card-stock. If you don’t have a scalpel/craft knife – you must borrow or get one – you do not want to be attempting these using scissors!
The book illustrations themselves mirrored this shadow puppet ‘theme’ , and I absolutely loved that animals were used to tell the story, which is the way we chose to ‘narrate’ our’s too.
Read my narration here and feel free to use as you wish.
For the Shadow Puppets The only really daunting and time consuming task it seemed would be to either draw the puppets or scout the Internet ️looking for suitable images. Here is where we definitely lucked out. We received these hand drawn images to use for the story by our very own MAMANUSHKA artist Zarina !
The name might be familiar to you from all of the wonderful illustrations she has either drawn specifically for us or given us permission to use on the blog. (She is in fact the artist behind our header too)!
And because we love our readers – we have made these shadow puppet drawings available as a free download for you! See more and download them all right here. I’m telling you, When the first one came through the printer I was tempted to just put it in a frame and hang it up in my kids room – that’s how fantastic these looked.
TIP- Pay special attention to how the puppet is attached via masking tape – ( refer to video, it’s easy but just do it right)
Seeing as we were in Halloween season, we took full advantage and made a quick stop at the holiday section in Target. This yielded one one of the best ‘scenes’ of the show!
“Super fast and super skillfully she spun and spun with all her power and soon a beautiful web covered the whole mouth of the cave. When she finished she sat right in the middle of it as if to say ‘no one shall enter!”
The verdict? AMAZING! All the children were totally into it, from the just under three to the over eights and in between. With twenty five children and their parents – it was quite an audience! Both kids and grown ups asked for an encore (we obliged!)
Here are some of our favourite scenes :
“…His smile shone like a light in the darkness and not only did all children of Makkah love him, but he was so gentle that the animals and even the plants loved him too…”
“There were two very special things in Makkah. At the heart of the city was the Kaaba built thousands of years ago by the prophet Abraham and his son Ismail and near the Kaaba was the special well of Zam-Zam ….”
“…The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was not worried, he asked his cousin Hazret Ali to wear his green cloak and take his place by sleeping in his bed. He reassured Hazret Ali that no harm would come to him…”
“Hazrat Abu-Baker chose two of the strongest and bravest camels for the dangerous journey ahead. They felt like the luckiest camels in the world! And with the help of a guide they left the city of Makkah and made their way into the desert, carrying our Prophet and his best friend.”
After the first ‘show’ the children couldn’t wait to get ‘hands on’. They LOVED playing with the theatre and the puppets.
On the first round even the almost 3 year olds were too mesmerised to speak! By the encore. The kids we singing along to ‘tala-al-badrualina’ scene with such warm enthusiasm.
Wouldn’t it be a lovely idea to ‘show’ some more stories of the Prophets or stories from the Seerah in this way? My daughter who is soon to be three, genuinely loved watching it and while narrating I would glance her way to see her face in absolute rapture at the story. You will be surprised at how much even the younger ones understand, she said to me later (randomly and with much excitement!) ‘Abu-bakr was Prophets BEST FRIEND!”
If you want to try something smaller scale, this actually lends itself really well to home play. The kids were obviously inspired by the whole concept, and a few days later my 6 year old said ‘Mama I want to do something nice with you” Now he uses this exact sentence to basically mean ‘I need you to stop doing what you are doing and pay attention to me’. It was a week day and late, My house was a complete mess but I asked him anyway – ‘what would you like to do?’
‘I want to make a shadow puppet story with you”
This time I was not worried about scale and measurements or neatness. Using the same method as before, we used an empty diaper box and had this thing set up in less than 10mins.
They decorated it with star stickers and used their toys as ‘puppets’
So much awe and wonder.
Shadow Puppetry is one of the most ancient forms of storytelling, and it felt so inspiring to share the Hijra story with our kids in this way. The thing is, that wasn’t the most inspiring part. Sure it felt great when a six year old boy, called his dad and asked him to come to the party especially to watch the second show (he came). But it was the fact that we spent some time and effort in doing this for our kids TOGETHER. It wasn’t some ‘super mom’ attempt at throwing an ‘enviable’ or ‘Pinterest Perfect’ party. It was all of us, like minded mothers and fathers – taking the time out and working together for our children, our community. It might have taken three of us to execute the shadow puppet ‘play’ but the rest, bought food to the table, took time out of their schedules, played with the kids and contribute on other days in other ways.
In fact one of them is here with me right now, while I write up this post. She took time out today to specifically come with her own two year old – to play with my daughter, take her to the park, read her some books, so I would be able to write in peace and be able to complete this post on time to share it with all our readers across the globe. That is a direct reflection of Prophetic teaching. That is what I am inspired by.
You might not be able to make a shadow puppet show for your kids or take time out to help another struggling mama, but I know there is definitely something that you can do. You just need to figure out what it is and offer it. You don’t need to be able to do it all by yourself. Seek out your tribe, do things together, there is no better thing for your child than good company. A key theme in the Hijra story and beyond, when the Prophet reached Madina, is community spirit. This was my small way of feeling part of it.