Sunday, February 20, 2011

Review: Al-Khidr: The Green One: Adult Book in Child's Body

Al-Khidr: The Green One
Story adapted by Hugh Talat Halman
Illustrations by `Abdallah Lipton

Technically, this book is very well done. No grammatical and spelling errors plague the text. The binding and paper are of high quality. The illustrations are amazing.

I just don't know if the story of Al-Khidr (verses 60-83) is a story for children. In particular, the episode of the killing of the boy is relayed in this book in both a casual and graphic manner, which is faithful to the original text (hadith 124). Thankfully, the illustration is not graphic.

I'm no expert in child psychology. I often puzzle how to convey to young children episodes of violence in our religious texts.

Obviously, the murder of one child is just one example of this. The drowning of Pharoah and his soldiers, the attack on Abraha and his soldiers and the destruction of nations which disobeyed their prophets are all integral parts of "stories of the Prophets."

On the other hand, our modern affluent suburban society hides its extraordinary level of violence. People know but don't internalize that their ground beef comes from slaughtered cows, that "gang violence" is actually somebody's child, that drone missiles do land and kill whoever happens to be there and that the "war on drugs" is actually a war on people.

So what are we to do? Are we supposed to dumb down and dilute texts instead of learning how to deal with them? Think of the current Mark Twain controversy regarding his use of the word "nigger" in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Proponents of the version which replace this word with "slave" (is that an improvement?) claim that it will it least get this major work of American literature back in public schools. My opinion is that our public school education should be improved so that children can handle the original literature. You can't throw Othello at the 11th grader if you've been feeding him or her Reader's Digest corn mush in grades 1-10, especially in the areas of history and social studies.

Having said this, I believe the story of al-Khidr is above the level of children. This is a book for adults fit into the format of a children's book. Parents who acquire this book should discuss each episode with the child and make sure the child understands that the actions of al-Khidr are meant to illustrate that, out of Allah's mercy, we followers of the Messengers salla Allahu `alayhim wa sallam are not held to account for the ultimate consequences of our actions. We are held to account for our intentions and actions after we have made every reasonable effort to know those consequences.