once upon a story

There is something simply wonderful and magical about storytelling. If you want to see something truly beautiful, one of life’s simple pleasures, tell a child a story and see the wonder in her eyes. See the shine of her mind’s eye painting scene upon scene, hearing the voices and sensing the twists and turns of the story. And if you want to see something even more wonderful, ask the child to tell you a story. Then sit back and listen. Listen closely, sit close to the child, look deep into his eyes. Think to when was the last time you connected this closely to one so young. Then let the wonders of imagination and language work as the child spins his tale.

I was blessed to sit with two beautiful children the other day–my husband’s cousins, 4 and 8 years old–as we all three wove stories together. I first told a story, one I read in a story book by Rukhsana Khan. It was about a boy and Fajr prayer and as stories go, the Islamic moral or lesson was fairly obvious. I was afraid the eight-year-old would roll his eyes at such a didactic story, but he actually went along with it and when it was his turn, told his own story about generosity and sharing that was rather morally centered as well. The four year old girl told a typical fairy tale of dragons and the fight between good and evil, and I was amused to hear words such as “sneakily” and “visible” worked into her tale.

My mother used to read and tell us stories before going to bed, and it is one of the most memorable aspects of our family life. Her trademark stories about a family of rascally monkey children that coincidentally paralleled her five children have become a family legend, a source of inside jokes, and something to reminisce about long after the stories have ceased to be told. The tradition of story telling brings us together somehow, knitting our minds and hearts together as we turn language into a toy, teasing it out into enjoyable adventures and tales. It really touches me when my husband’s small cousin comes up to me and says, “Tell me a story!” and I wonder if my own son will do the same one day.

Storytelling has a way of getting to the heart in a way that mere telling doesn’t. The Qur’an is replete with stories of the people of old, “that ye may reflect” or “that ye may remember” as Allah tells us. The Prophet Muhammad would gather his companions and tell them of the prophets of the past, of righteous or ignoble people of the past and their fate. His companions would sit spellbound, absorb the lessons from those stories into their hearts, and use them to build their character.

I hope that I can build storytelling into my own family traditions. I would love to revive this oral culture and tradition and use it as a tool for living and learning……..“Tell me a story, mama…”


4 thoughts on “once upon a story

  1. I, too, love stories and was brought up with a huge fondness for imaginative tales and also books. My goddaughter used to climb onto my lap when she was small enough, either bringing me a favoured book or (my favourite) just asking me to make up a story for her. It could sometimes turn out to be a rather long-winded affair as she asked questions about everything from the pirate’s parrot’s feather colours to the name of the king’s cousin – a ploy on her part, I strongly suspect, to delay her bedtime a little!

    I had to laugh at the idea of your mother’s stories about the ‘five rascally monkeys’…and it’s a trick I may have to remember for those times in my future when I’m exhausted and a story is called for! 😉

    I’m an English woman living in Edinburgh, Scotland, and we have a very strong oral storytelling tradition throughout the British Isles. In recent years there has been a reawakening awareness of these important but endangered arts, so I was thrilled to see the opening of the Scottish Storytelling Centre here a few years ago (see http://www.scottishstorytellingcentre.co.uk/ if you’re curious). This is based on the very traditions you so colourfully describe in your article – of pure, imaginative storytelling from the heart, without the use of a computer or book. Our oral traditions – wherever in the world we live and whichever culture we belong to – are precious, and I hope more centres along these lines open in the future.

    Sorry for the long response again! I tend towards rambling in writing anyway, and it’s so easy to wax lyrical about your blog. 🙂 Best wishes to you.


  2. Thanks, Gillian, for your heartfelt comments, I really appreciate them! I have left this poor brainchild of a blog so neglected it’s become a neglected garden gone to weed. My brain is full of rambles and rants, I have to sort through them, make them palatable for the general public, and get them online. That is, if my son will let me! Alas, alas, alas, my life is no longer my own!


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