Children are blessings. It’s a known fact. When an impending birth is being announced in the Quran, there is always a narration of the angels announcing joyous tidings. It’s no wonder that Muslim families often celebrate their children and tend to have many. Many children, many blessings. It does seem like the most natural way to feel.
However, when it comes to parenting children, especially in today’s world, it’s not always joyous. There are challenges. And while parents brace these challenges, they can sometimes rub off poorly on their children. Arguably, Muslim families that are very inclined to culture, are often associated with discipline, reprimands, requests for unconditional obedience, and in its ugliest form, dictatorial parenting.
Muslim youth often talk about their parents “telling” them what to do, how to behave, what they are expected of at school and what they should be when they grow up.
Many times, children are labeled as being disobedient if they have differing opinions or interests, and even as adults – (post-puberty) – are often reprimanded for being rebellious. At times, they are “cast away” from families, if not physically, then very much emotionally. This may seem as an extreme anecdote, but there are cases where scenarios like this surface.
Finding the Balance between Them and Us
Extreme dictatorial parenting or anything that skews itself towards an imposition of parental rights over and above the rights of children is a breeding ground for disaster within a family.
It is true that children are required to be THE BEST to their parents, but harping on this right of parents cannot obliterate the rights of children into a dark hole. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) reminded believers to adopt kindness towards children and parents have a host of responsibilities towards them as well.
The responsibilities of parents include giving children a good and robust education. A good and robust education is subjective as times change, and it cannot be solely definitive to the child’s ambition and how much he or she earns once he or she is an adult.
I’m highlighting this because it is also common in many Muslim cultures that parents impress upon their children that true success of themselves will have to materialize in a medical degree (best case scenario). If not a doctor, children are expected to emerge as engineers, lawyers, accountants or have IT qualifications in order to be recognized as successful individuals.
Of course, it branches further into the type of house they can afford and all the amenities that go with it, including a large screen television and matching furniture; and the fancy car that they drive.
While it is not forbidden for children to go on to be professionals, certainly, this journey should not compromise their journeys of their faith. Having a strong aqeedah, taqwa with credence, a sense of tawakkul in Allah, and fantastic adab, are all roots of a robust education for a Muslim.
Letting them be their Own Person but Provide Guidance and Support
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) once advised that a believer should do whatever he wants as long as it does not embarrass him. (Bukhari)
Obviously, this advice has to be read with the injunctions to not transgress or approach matters that are haram.
Parents need to step back in parenting. Rather than assuming the role of an authoritarian and forcing children down the paths that do not interest them when it comes to learning, perhaps allowing children to explore the world on their own, would be more beneficial. Of course, the required guidelines in Islam steps into play here.
Many “brands” of modern parenting encourages all learning to be child-led, without parents putting a curb on their interests even. Obviously, this only bodes well with our religion when a child keeps within fields of interests that do not come close to the haram.
Besides that, allowing a child to explore his or her interests from a young age, helps them engage with their passions and develop self-motivation for learning, opening doors of opportunities for the long run.
On a related note, job markets are changing so rapidly with times that disciplines that were extremely important 20 years ago, may not even be relevant today. Today’s iPhone in fact, is probably tomorrow’s dinosaur. So, Ali bin Abu Talib’s advice of educating our children based on their current needs and not ours, is rather apt.
We come from different generations. While parents can share wisdom and experience, what children are learning and need to learn, differ greatly from expertise of the past. And of course, knowledge is always evolving. Really ,It would be a detrimental for parents to impose their ideals without considering the contemporary issues that are present in today’s educational environment.
There are now plenty more avenues for young adults to earn a living and build a career upon, and it pays for parents to honor that. In many respects, we really just need to give them wings to fly, after implementing confident roots.
Teaching the Right Things – balancing between Dunya and Deen
Education for Muslims looks beyond “secular education.” In fact, deen should come before dunya. Unfortunately, some families often feel to cowed into their fears of living in the now, that they only impart survival skills for this world – ie, through means of garnering an income, and in some cases, to provide for their parents when they are older.
However, for many of the youth, Islamic education can sometimes turn into a subset of their lives, just like Islamic studies is a “subject” at many Islamic schools or schools in Muslim majority countries.
What parents need to work on is encouraging Islamic beliefs to intertwine cohesively with daily living, as learning how to be a good Muslim cannot be fished out of an Islamic textbook. Muslims, in fact, need to emulate the Prophet’s character and be the “Qur’an in motion,” as coined by the Prophet’s beloved wife Aisha Abu Bakr.
Instead of constantly impressing what is halal and what is haram (and sometimes getting this wrong and mixed up with cultural beliefs), parents need to educate children on who Allah really is. Why He decided to honor and create us, (hence molding our higher purpose in life); building aqeedah and how it applies, why we pray, what Ramadan really means, why we go on Hajj and how those rituals honor the wonderful family who “founded” Islam, why girls wear hijab, and the list goes on.
That way, when children venture out into the secular world, they are able to carry values of their deen with them. And if the Qur’an has strong presence in their hearts, it doesn’t matter which halal routes they choose to go down, they will – in their best efforts – continue to ask for guidance from Allah, and not deviate from their deen.
Keeping Relevant, Keeping Human
Children of today are flooded by information from multiple sources and it’s not uncommon for parents to put a cap on such floodgates; such as the television, magazines and even the internet. I would even say it’s commendable to do so. But while building a strong aqeedah for our children, the reality is that they will also be exposed to the Big Bad World, and we have to not only be there for them (in a composure that is not flanked with prejudice or judgement), but we also have to keep relevant in their lives.
It starts from young, really. Children below the age of seven are to be played with, to be entertained, to have fun with. If we are inattentive towards them from a young age, it is highly likely that we will encounter difficulties when it is our obligation to teach them during the short time frame of 7 years to 14. And by the time they hit adulthood and spread their wings, they won’t have second thoughts of leaving the nest, if not physically – again, emotionally.
Keeping relevant to children assures that we understand the hardships that they are going through, and – we, as parents – are ready to stand by them. It is not only about keeping relevant, but a reminder to both ourselves and our children, that we are also human and make mistakes. In fact, there is no better combo (besides spouses) than a parent and child duo, to help remind each other of their deen.
Sharing stories of our own childhoods, challenges, and how we overcame them, or even the mistakes we made, will encourage children to open up to us, rather than feel obliged to obey, just because “dad said so.”
All this can be done in a delicate balance without eschewing the role of a parent as a parent. After all, parents in Islam still deserve the honour and respect, and in two words: THE BEST. This can only be done if we educate our children properly. Not as dictators, but also not as doormats. An easy ticket for our children to attain Jannah is for them to give us THE BEST, but we really need to give them our best beforehand.
Children are blessings like no other, and can elevate us through Jannah, if we strive for Jannah ourselves and provide them the best education from a young age. There is more to parenting than expectations, reprimands, authority and the expectation of our rights to be fulfilled. Children are human beings too, and we need to find a balance between rights and responsibilities of both, as and while they are growing up – without imposing ideals that could drive them away from the nest, even before they learn how to fly.
First published: May 2013