29-30 September 2010
Balay Kalinaw 
University of the Philippines
Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines

The concept of childhoods is seldom discussed in the context of Islam. It is usually consigned to the margins of discussions in favor of “more pressing” sociopolitical, economic, and religious issues.  In journals, conferences, seminars, and workshops few have attempted to better understand Islamic childhoods. If the Muslim children’s situation is discussed at all, it is often lumped with women’s issues (Almihdar 2008).

However, Muslim childhoods should be regarded as a stand alone issue distinct from women’s issues. While children share the experiences of marginalization and discrimination with women, children undeniably have experiences unique to their age and context because they are in the stage of socialization and development. This stage predisposes them to be more receptive to the influences of the institutions where they move and the people they encounter.

Islam and its precepts have an undeniably profound effect on the political, social, and cultural socialization and development of children.  It must be pointed out that although Muslim children share one religion, this does not mean these children have identical childhoods. While they may share some aspects of their lives with fellow Muslim children, there are others that are inevitably exclusive to them. This is especially true because socioeconomic, political, religious, and cultural issues unique to their communities actively shape and influence their childhoods. Thus, Southeast Asian Muslim children would have varying childhoods depending on the dynamics within their communities.

One of the more interesting dynamics that has to be explored has do to with Muslims either being part of the majority or the minority in a nation. In some parts of Southeast Asia such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei, Muslims comprise the majority while they belong to the minority in countries such as the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. It is important to document how such dynamics are shaping the childhoods of Muslim children.

Another important issue that affects the lives of Muslim children is Islamism, especially in States where Islamic fundamentalists hold sway and where fundamentalism is carried to the extreme. The effects could range from lifestyle restrictions (which could clash with hegemonic Western values that Muslim children are now increasingly getting exposed to given globalization, This could also create inner and outer conflict and tension within the lives of these children) to the radicalization of Muslim youths and their recruitment as armed combatants in jihadi movements(that may undermine the situation of peace in culturally diverse communities). The wake of extremism and terrorism also necessitates us to look at the values that are being passed to children that may be contributing to either their socialization into violence/extremism or into a culture of peace.   There is also a need to look at the role of poverty and marginalization and the role of identity politics in driving some Muslim children to lean towards religious extremism.

In multicultural communities, non-Muslim and Muslim children may be socialized into developing prejudiced views of the Other/other contributing to the brewing tension and conflict between these groups of people. In some instances, Non-State Actors actively engage in armed conflict with the government, which could pose threats to human security and peace.  However, efforts are being done too to build cultures of peace between Muslims and non-Muslims. An accounting of the efforts to bridge the gaps between Muslims and non-Muslims and to build cultures of peace in these communities is in order.

Another important issue that needs to be teased out is children’s rights in the context of Islam. This is especially relevant because not all the articles of the UN CRC go by the precepts of the Qu’ran. A study by Zainah Almihdar found that Islamic States in the Arab Region follow the precept that “where there is conflict between a Convention article and Islamic Law principles, Islamic Law shall hold precedence.” Is this principle true in Islamic States and communities in the Southeast Asian Region? What is the impact of this on children? Which parts of the UN CRC are congruent to Islamic precepts and where do they diverge?

Islam, Childhoods, and Building Cultures of Peace in Southeast Asia will attempt to arrive at a preliminary understanding of the aforementioned issues. It will look into the experiences of Muslim children in the Southeast Asian region and how their experiences are shaped by globalization, human security, socioeconomic, political, religious, and cultural issues that impinge on their lives.

The Conference will be a venue for scholars, academics, policy-makers, practitioners, and the youth to share how it is to grow up as Muslim children in the Southeast Asian region either as part of the majority (Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei) or as part of the marginalized minority (Philippines, southern Thailand, and Burma). It will discuss how the varying socioeconomic, political, and cultural contexts in these different Asian countries actively shape their childhoods and how this may predispose some children to be victims of conflict or to be fielded in as combatants of war.

The experiences of these children have implications both on the situation of peace in the region and the protection of their rights. This Conference will look into Islam’s view on children’s rights especially as regards the right to participation and development; the efforts from Muslim communities to uphold and protect the cluster of rights; and steps to mainstream children’s rights in Muslim societies such as the case of Indonesia, which produced the Child Protection Qanun together with UNICEF and local partners. It will also look at the congruence and disparities between the UN CRC and Islamic precepts.

Finally, we will also highlight the efforts to build cultures of peace and human security among Muslim and non-Muslim children in different Southeast Asian and Asian communities.  It is essential that we learn this because this will provide lessons in helping curb the rising problem of religious misunderstanding, intolerance, and extremism.