Shura Training in the Family
It is clear that the majority of Muslims today suffer from a lack in implementing shura, not only at the higher political levels, but also at many other levels in society.
Just as the construction of a high tower starts from its foundation, the culture of shura in society should start with Muslim children from their early years, at the family level and at school. The values and the discipline that children acquire during the first 14 years of their lives leave a strong impact on their personalities and their whole way of thinking till old age. So, educating our children from an early age at home and at school on the basic shura concepts is crucial for their long-term success.
In the context of the family, the husband is the leader (qawwam) of the family as defined by God. Therefore, the Muslim family, like all other Muslim institutions, formal and informal, should ideally be run with mutual consultation.
Too often parents dismiss the opinions and thoughts of their children, thinking their youth and inexperience mean they are too young for shura. However, this is wrong. Children are intelligent beings who have much to contribute in family discussions.
Practicing shura in the family helps children learn how to communicate effectively in a safe, comfortable environment. Parents need to remember that their love is crucial in raising their children, but it is not enough to raise a “well-adjusted,” happy child. Communication is the key to successful development.
In an article titled “Shura in the Family,” Abdul Malik Mujahid suggests important principles that encourage children to communicate effectively and participate in family shura. These principles include the following:
• When your children are very young, get them into the habit of talking with you about their thoughts, feelings, needs, and activities.
• Children should be full participants in any formal or informal shura in the family, unless the issue at hand has to be between the father and mother exclusively.
• Children speak up in informal talks more than in formal ones. Allow them to express themselves informally, and do not force them to engage in formal conversations.
• Children love to ask questions. Answer their questions with one of yours: “What do you think?” Think of their questions as the start of a two-way conversation (mutual shura may pop in any time).
• Let children come up with solutions. Instead of giving advice, ask, “So what would you like to do about this?” or “How do you think this should be handled?”Carefully listen to what your children say without being judgmental or critical.
• Delegate an area of responsibility to your child instead of adopting a “do this, do that” style of communication with them.
• Avoid electronic overload: TV, stereos, computers, etc. are convenient ways for kids to close off themselves.
• Keep your sense of humor. Laughing will not undermine your authority or sabotage the lessons. Rather, it will enhance your capacity to communicate.
• Respect children’s opinions and reward good ideas.
• Carefully listen to what your children say without being judgmental or critical.
At the level of implementing the decisions taken based on a shura process, give children the chance of trying to perform relatively complex tasks, even if they fail at first, as this is part of their learning experience. If they are not involved in putting the ideas they have contributed into practice, they will not get the real life experience and hands-on insight needed for refining and improving their future ideas and decisions.
Children learn from what they are taught and from what they see on TV and on their PCs, but they learn most from what they do themselves. As the wise rule goes, “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” Therefore, occasionally give them the chance to put into practice what they have suggested, even if you know they may be wrong. We often learn from our mistakes more than what we learn from our successes.
Another important area for children in their learning about shura at home is their interaction with their brothers and sisters, as well as their play and joint activities with their peers (neighbors, relatives, friends, etc.). So, what can parents do to facilitate a positive environment for children to learn shura principles in a group?
By nature, children can be selfish, competitive, and impatient. They often want to do things their way, without taking into account what other children want. They often believe they have the right to be first and to get all the toys and prizes and do what they want. What parents need to do is design group activities that encourage children to work in a team and to cooperate together while at the same time discourage impatience and selfishness.
Before taking a decision that would affect the whole group of children, the guiding parent should take the children’s advice on what to do next, and then take a vote before making a decision. In this respect, the parent should always abide by the majority vote.
With time, such a decision-making procedure will become the norm for children, and they will grow to implement it in their lives. There are certain games that can further reward mutual consultation, and as children learn a lot through play, such games should be made available to them, and new games with this approach should be invented.
Shura Training at School
Moving from informal to formal shura, one finds that training ideally takes place when children start going to school. It is very important for our educational system to be enhanced to accommodate this important dimension of children’s discipline and character building. An enlightened teacher who is aware of how to teach a class of children the discipline of shura can in a short duration of time make them learn principles that would need many years to understand and appreciate later on in life.
The age between 7 and 14 is an ideal age for children to learn and appreciate how to abide by formal shura principles and how to naturally implement them in their daily lives without problems.
But, as this learning experience is not confined to the classroom, the whole school environment should be “shura-friendly.” This means that school administrators and principals must also be trained to offer students a school experience that rewards and encourages the practice of shura.
School curricula must include important lessons on shura and its applications at different levels, including group activities and projects that encourage and reward collective shura-based decision-making. Summer camps, as well as informal extracurricular activities and projects, can further enhance teamwork skills and the understanding of shura concepts, which all contribute to the formation of creative leaders and citizens inculcated with the principles of shura. Therefore, these principles will naturally be implemented in the everyday life of children and in their collective decision-making at the family and community levels.
The accumulation of centuries of political dictatorship, in addition to the social and cultural stagnation in some Muslim countries, has certainly had a negative impact on the formation of traditional Muslim families, most of which now suffer a near total absence of the culture of shura.
The family is the nucleus and main foundation of any Muslim society, and the impact of such cultural deficit can stay with most children in their adult lives and causes them to form a dictatorial management style when they later become leaders in business, politics, and other public fields.
Part of the remedy suggested for this problem is spreading the culture of shura and the basics of implementing it successfully, as well as highlighting its importance in the lives of Muslims as families, communities, organizations, and nations.
The first part of this series of articles looked at some suggestions for long-term shura training for children in their families and schools. The forthcoming article will look into what can be done in the medium term to strengthen the culture of shura at the level of business organizations, universities and small communities.