Too Young to Kill?
Connecting with children through nature has become somewhat of a myth. In fact, the entire definition of ‘connecting’ has changed in the modern era. In the face of technological abundance, why hand your child a flower when you can hand over an iPad with Google images bringing forth far more than you ever could? It’s phenomenal – a simple search may produce images that you may never witness first hand. Rather, images which you never feel the need to witness first hand. The scent of these flowers, one can only hypothesise. No wonder it is theorised that the coming generation will, for the first time in history, die younger than their predecessors. Experience the world, but don’t move a muscle. Our children know everything about the planet, everything about the ecosystem and its integral role amongst our forests – yet so few are venturing out there. Die, adventure, die.
It’s this disconnect from the real world that’s the underlying issue here. From fake snow in the Dubai desert to virtual reality gaming. Witness a glorious sunset in 3D IMAX and be wowed, but dare we travel to the horizons soaking up those nourishing rays. Be served the finest steaks, but dare we visit the abattoir to see ‘suffering’ cows. Refreshing colognes made from the finest artificial molecules, but dare we venture out to smell the fresh air.
We’re kings that want to be served. Dare we become labourers. So when we take a bite out of that fine, fine quarter pounder, we do not care how it ended up in our hands. We want to be oblivious because that’s how the system works. We go to the supermarket, pick up a shiny bag, and consume from the contents therein. We’re served, because in our busy corporate lives, dirty hands are a liability.
‘Let man consider his food’ (Qur’an, 80:24)
Here’s the raison d’etre for this article. I decided to take my 3-year-old son fishing. For the first time in my life, I’d be catching my own meal, and I was about to teach my son how it’s done. To be frank, it was somewhat disconcerting. We’re not cavemen! We wander in to a Fish n’ Chips shop, order a golden battered cod and devour it with a dollop of curry (or gravy, depending on mood). That’s who we are. First world people. We’re all city folk and as far as we’re concerned, the fish always looked like that. So when we caught that first fish and saw it alive, flapping uncontrollably in the dirt, it was a uniquely sadistic experience. Fishermen in close proximity were knocking the fish on their heads with hammers to end their suffering, but I couldn’t bring myself to go that far. So we let the fish fade in to non-existence, as the flapping became more muted with passing seconds.
Surprisingly, the experience for my son was the least traumatic, whilst the trip indirectly introduced the idea of death and the food chain. Once the fish lay lifeless on the floor, my son attempted to step on it – something I sternly reprimanded. I made it a point to respect the fish once it had passed away, because hunting for food and hunting for sport should never be mixed. One is survival, the other is insanity. Fishing for fun is up for debate, but today wasn’t the day to start. It was absolutely imperative he understood that torturing animals for the sake of being cruel is unacceptable, but rather hunting them was permitted by God, and it was necessary. Crucially, even in the death of an animal lies respect; a condition that is a must before any animal is slaughtered in a halaal fashion. This is not an argument over culinary preferences and the ethics of meat-versus-veg-consumption. We feed our children meat every week, but we expect to be silent, dishonest, about its journey to the plate? ‘Just eat what we give you’. Awareness about these ideas at an early age inculcates the notion that everything in this world has a place and a role – and it’s only traumatic if you make it so. Arguably, the correct age for this is somewhat debatable, and really rests on individual merit and maturity. But it’s necessary.
It was a few discussions with family and friends after this trip that led me to write this piece. How could you take your son to murder animals? Perhaps I could have just taken him to the animal morgue that is the supermarket refrigerator instead? We’re no longer conditioned to hunt. We’ve become sedate and lack the patience to sow seeds or hold a fishing line. We reside in a world where desires require immediate fulfillment and our predatory reflexes are good for Candy Crush alone. So let others do the murdering, but we’ll happily ignore that process has to exist.
So, what better way to teach my child three invaluable lessons in life? Firstly, not everything in life is given on a plate and survival involves incredible effort. Whether it’s a meal, achieving that spot at university, or marrying the girl of his dreams – without perseverance and hard work, he won’t prevail. Secondly, it inculcates patience. We spent two hours and caught three fish in the windy chill of South Wales – yet he stood by my side patiently (albeit eating the sweet corn bait whilst we waited). Even if the fish latches on to the hook, you need to fight a mighty fight to bring in the catch. And if you lose the fish, you’re overcome with that sense of loss, that humility, as you relinquish that perception of control. Thirdly, the ability to reflect. In the fast-paced social media era – when do we get the time to reflect outside our routine actions or worship? When was the last time we stood, silently staring at nature? Quite profound, if you think about it. When fishing, you’re sitting there – watching, waiting, thinking, collecting your thoughts. This applies to any outdoor activity – walking, jogging, hiking. There’s a reason why Prophets (peace be upon them) were shepherds – it grounded them in the reality of God’s Greatness. It allowed them to be at one with His creation and to truly ponder at His might. Over the centuries we’ve become obsessed with our ‘own’ constructions and locked ourselves within our arrogance – and it’s time to break free.
Victory lies in the union of patience and effort, and fishing is the perfect poetic embodiment of this lesson. Honestly, I cannot wait to start planting seeds with my children.
The world comprises of academics and labourers. One cannot survive without the other yet unfortunately society as labeled manual workers with a lower social status. If my son eats the food that farmers and fishers toil day and night to procure – he better appreciate the challenging task they face, whilst being compensated almost nothing in return for their sweat. Some of these labourers are probably his age, too. So whilst he may still be a little young to fully grasp the societal implications of his day to day meals – building a foundation towards this is vital.
Fishing for me was never easy either. It was my first time too, and consuming something I once saw alive left me a little queasy. Admittedly, that makes me feel somewhat inadequate as a human. We’re meant to toil and work, whilst appreciating the bounties of God. Having been given everything by the Grace of God with relative ease, it’s easy to waste away with obesity and ingratitude.
‘Verily We have created man into toil and struggle’ (Qur’an 90:4)
I’m not suggesting we all go out of our way to farm, slaughter or pick crops. Life’s been made easy for us and we must take advantage of that. This process is a reminder, a reconnection. My son needed to witness nature in action, so he can truly appreciate the gifts of God first hand – like our beloved Prophets, peace be upon them. God mentions crops, cattle and fruit as a bounty for us in the Qur’an that is eternal, because these are the signs that are truly impervious to time.
Supermarkets are designed to somewhat veil the manufacturing process and we slowly become unappreciative of our blessings and their true origins. These multinational corporations, too, are built on the resources of this world – no matter how impressive their facilities are. Factories and industrial machines are a testimony to mankind’s progress, but are ultimately rendered useless if the sky withheld its rain and the ground withheld its produce. They farm, they slaughter and then they sell us the final rehashed product. That’s what we connect with as a majority – the final stages of packaging and seductive marketing.
Reconnecting with nature allowed my son and I to truly appreciate where everything in this world comes from and Whom we have to thank. It removes this reverse hypocrisy of being repulsed by slaughter, but being comfortable with consumption. I instruct my son not to step on flowers, but then I feed him crops that are ripped from the ground? Certain plants are for beautification, some for construction and others for consumption. In the same way, eating meat does not in any way imply disrespect or hate of animals, and that has to be clear. My son knows certain animals are cute, cuddly and strictly not for eating whilst others are herded for their meat. Everything does not fit in to a blanket category – a general rule in life. As for that which God has permitted for us, it’s a process of teaching him how we respectfully, with gratitude and kindness, fulfill their purpose in this world as sustenance. Furthermore, animal sacrifice is a pillar of Hajj, and central to our Islamic and prophetic history. How can we ignore that concept in its entirety? I was a child when I saw the slaughter of a lamb and the blood of that process still stains my mind. The first time you witness the death of an animal will always be a shock to the system, regardless of age. My son may be a little young right now by western standards, but I’m grateful I saw it because it opened my eyes to the reality of our existence. It made my heart firm in the knowledge that everything we do is over-ridden by our love for God. It did not make me murderous, or violent, but on the contrary ignited compassion and a real sense of animal welfare. Animals have always been slaughtered for food, and always will be. It’s how we grant justice to this process that defines us. We have to start somewhere, and fishing is a fantastic start for your young one, even if it means we become ‘cavemen’ for a day.
From Pond to Plate
By: @Raztweets (MW Contributor)
Raz is a medical doctor and researcher by profession, but a social media & creative arts fanatic by passion.
Based in the small but beautiful country of Wales, Raz has an ambition to change the world-wide representation of Muslims through humour, inspiration and visual media. He is blessed with a wife and two children, who inspire every minute of his existence.