Someone asked me recently to conduct a storytelling class for children on a distant continent by Skype. I was skeptical, to say the least, because during my fifteen-year stint of teaching storytelling intensively, twenty years ago, I always felt it was the physical presence of the children that drew out my abilities, as if in response to their needs.
I am surprised and bemused to see that the first class was actually a bit of a success, if you judge by what happened for at least one of the (7 year old) children after it ended:
I think it was a good idea that you dictated the children the notes. She used those notes to write the story in her own words and performed it (she did it all on her own without any prompting from me)….in front of our whole family ….MashAllah they were all so impressed….:)…actually so was I because I had no idea she was such a good listener and knew so many big words….
This girl was retelling a story which is actually about each one of us, at one time or another. A prince, through the patient efforts of his teacher to expose him to some new voices and perspectives, discovered that he was on a path that would wreak destruction for his whole kingdom. The message got through; he was willing to walk a different walk and alhamdulillah everyone lived happily ever after, which is what actually happens in the wake of true repentance, though if you look around in the collective cultures we share today it seems that few remember this.
A little traditional folktale shared playfully and for the purpose of developing language capacity flowered into this: a young muslimah got to grapple with – and transmit – truly beneficial information. This, too, is information that is almost obliterated in the popular culture all around us. It is everywhere in our deen, of course, in the Qur’an and hadith literature, but that isn’t enough. It must be part of the small change in people’s pockets too, the everyday ordinary state of affairs, and that’s why storytelling is so crucial to us. Allah tells us in the Qur’an: relate to them….tell the story…because it’s not enough for the story to exist. It must be told, and heard, again and again. Teaching children to appreciate and tell stories is a vital way of protecting what we have been given by the grace of Allah, Who is creating us anew in each moment, as we process each word, each letter. And He knows best, and is the Best to decide. I still have reservations about being the reason a child would turn to the computer. I still am not willing to use my camera so they see my image, though I do see theirs and pray that since it is electronic, ie without substance, Allah will accept it. I was worried that my disembodied voice would distract them but alhamdulillah it seems it did not, and it seems that the essential thing, the story, is what got through and was able to work its benefit on them. We, all of us in this umma, are in such need of help and support and education, may Allah help and protect us.