Thursday, September 24, 2009

Parenting in Islam

Many issues in the Muslim community have highlighted the breakdown in communication between parents and their children – especially teenagers. As parents we must do our utmost to protect ourselves and our family from the Hellfire. We cannot simply accomplish this by being a taskmaster. Rather we must build a relationship with our children based on respect, trust, love and friendship just as RasulAllah (saw) and the Sahaba (ra) did.

Men and Stones

Allah (swt) has laid a heavy responsibility on the parents for the well-being of their children in the Dunya and in the Akhira:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا قُوا أَنْفُسَكُمْ وَأَهْلِيكُمْ نَارًا وَقُودُهَا النَّاسُ وَالْحِجَارَةُ عَلَيْهَا مَلَائِكَةٌ غِلَاظٌ شِدَادٌ لَا يَعْصُونَ اللَّهَ مَا أَمَرَهُمْ وَيَفْعَلُونَ مَا يُؤْمَرُونَ
“Oh you who believe! Ward off from yourselves and your families against a Fire (Hell) whose fuel is men and stones, over which are (appointed) angels stern (and) severe, who disobey not, (from executing) the Commands they receive from Allah, but do that which they are commanded.”[TMQ 66:6]

In his tafsir, Ibn Kathir says, “Qatadah said [about this ayah], ‘He commands obedience to Allah, to not disobey Allah, he orders his family to obey His orders and helps them to act upon His orders. When one sees disobedience, he stops them and forbids them from doing it.’”Thus parents assume the role of managing the affairs of the household. They ensure that the obligations (fara’id) are being fulfilled and the prohibitions (muharamat) avoided by all family members.

The Prophet (saw) said:
“All of you are guardians and all of you are responsible for things under your guardianship; the ruler is a guardian (managing his state’s affairs) and he is responsible for things under his care, the man is a guardian over his family and responsible for them, the woman is a guardian of her husband's house and she is responsible for it. All of you are guardians and responsible for things under your control.”[Bukhari & Muslim]As parents our motivation should be in the certainty that Allah (swt) has endowed us with the responsibility to guard our families from the fires of Jahanam – a responsibility that He will ask us about on the Day of Judgment.Establishing the FoundationHow can parents do their best to raise their children on the sirat-al-mustaqeem?

The Prophet (saw) said:
“A father gives his child nothing better than a good education.”[Tirmidhi & Baihaqi]

Our best effort in achieving this would be to provide our children with the correct foundation built upon the Islamic Aqeedah. We should regularly engage in discussions with our children to teach them that the Islamic Aqeedah is based on reflecting upon the world around us and concluding that it is created by Allah (swt), the Creator of all creation. We should also teach them that the commands and prohibitions are from Allah (swt) and not us as parents. That is, we should make them realize that they are not ultimately accountable to us, but rather to Allah (swt) who is All-Seeing and All-Knowing. Once this basis is established we should then proceed to teach our children that all our actions must be based on textual evidences from the Quran and Sunnah. Our children must also be immersed in the vivid descriptions of Jannah and Jahanam, so that their emotions are linked to the rewards that Allah (swt) has promised and the punishments that Allah (swt) has warned us about.

A Look at the Fathers of the Past

Knowing that Allah (swt) has placed on our shoulders the responsibility of managing our family’s affairs, we should look to the examples provided to us in the Quran, Sunnah and the generations thereafter.Allah (swt) revealed to us in the Quran how Luqman had advised his son:

يَا بُنَيَّ أَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ وَأْمُرْ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَانْهَ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ وَاصْبِرْ عَلَى مَا أَصَابَكَ إِنَّ ذَلِكَ مِنْ عَزْمِ الْأُمُورِ (17) وَلَا تُصَعِّرْ خَدَّكَ لِلنَّاسِ وَلَا تَمْشِ فِي الْأَرْضِ مَرَحًا إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ كُلَّ مُخْتَالٍ فَخُورٍ
"O my son! Perform As Salat, enjoin (on people) Al-Ma'ruf , and forbid (people) from Al-Munkar, and bear with patience whatever befalls you. Verily, these are some of the important commandments (ordered by Allah with no exemption). And turn not your face away from men with pride, nor walk in insolence through the earth. Verily, Allah likes not any arrogant boaster. And be moderate (or show no insolence) in your walking, and lower your voice. Verily, the harshest of all voices is the braying of the donkey."[TMQ 31:17-19]

The advice shows the concern of a father for the well-being of his son not only in this life but, more importantly, in the akhira.
When we look at the ayat together we can visualize the advice being passed from a loving father to his son rather than a set of orders being handed down. As parents we need to establish a relationship with our children where we are not simply ordering them “do this” or “don’t do that”. We must first build a bond with our children so that they are willing to receive and accept our guidance. This can only be achieved in a relationship that is based on mutual respect, trust, and love. As parents we must take the time to understand our children and their personalities and tailor our conversations with them accordingly.Our greatest example is the Prophet (saw). He was like a father to his Sahaba (ra). Looking into his life and how he treated his Sahaba (ra) we see that he spent a great amount of time and effort to know their personalities. He took a great deal of effort to understand their needs and what would motivate them to be the best believers in Allah (swt). Regarding his attitude towards the Muslims, Allah (swt) revealed:

فَبِمَا رَحْمَةٍ مِنَ اللَّهِ لِنْتَ لَهُمْ وَلَوْ كُنْتَ فَظًّا غَلِيظَ الْقَلْبِ لَانْفَضُّوا مِنْ حَوْلِكَ فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ وَشَاوِرْهُمْ فِي الْأَمْرِ
“And by the Mercy of Allah, you dealt with them gently. And had you been severe and harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about you; so pass over (their faults), and ask (Allah’s) Forgiveness for them; and consult them in the affairs.”[TMQ 3:159]

For example, Anas (ra) (when mentioning his childhood) narrates, “I served the Prophet (saw) for ten years, and he never said to me, "Uff" (a minor harsh word denoting impatience) and never blamed me by saying, "Why did you do so or why didn't you do so?"

The Sahaba (ra) continued this relationship of being conscious of their children’s affairs and advising them with the best of speech. When Aisha (ra) was accused of committing adultery her parents did not cut her off and sever ties with her although this was a heavy accusation made against her. Rather her father, Abu Bakr (ra), and mother allowed her to return to their home until the issue was resolved. Aisha (ra) said, “So I continued to cry that day and my tears would not stop flowing until I believed that my liver would split open due to my tears. While I was sitting and crying, my parents were with me, and one of the Ansar ladies asked permission to enter and started crying with me.”

In another situation the Sahaba (ra) were sitting with the Prophet (saw) and he asked about a specific tree. None of the Sahaba (ra) knew the answer except Abdullah ibn Umar (ra). However, Abdullah ibn Umar (ra) remained silent. After the halaqa was over, when Umar (ra) and Abdullah (ra) were returning home, Abdullah (ra) told his father that he knew the answer but had remained silent out of respect for the older Sahaba (ra) who were present. Umar (ra) was disappointed and told Abdullah (ra), “Had you said that it meant the date-palm tree, this statement of yours (would have been dearer to me) than such and such things.” It was clear from his statement that Umar (ra) was teaching his son to be confident when upholding what is right and not to shy away from it.

Inculcating the Lessons in our Youth

With this heavy responsibility placed upon us we might be inclined to assume the role of a taskmaster, and order our children around as though they were servants, as it is always easier than earning their co-operation and help. But we must refrain from this type of thinking because it will establish a sense of dread and fear in our children, making us, their parents, the last people they turn to and trust. Rather we should mentor the hearts and minds of our children to hope for the mercy of Allah (swt) and fear His anger. Verily, in our absence, it is Him who is aware of their actions and who will account them accordingly.

In an athar of Umar bin al-Khattab (ra) he said: "Play with your children until the age of seven, educate them for another seven, and befriend them for another seven.” From this advice we can discern that as parents we should understand that our relationship with our children progresses as they grow older and should not remain as it was when they were infants or small children. As they mature, we should strive to establish with them a relationship of companionship. To establish a friendship based on mutual trust, respect, and love we must ensure that the atmosphere in our homes is conducive for this. When we speak to our children we should try and speak to them using the best of speech. We should select the best terms/words and talk to them in a respectful manner. We should ensure that what we say is clear and easy to understand, so that they are not misunderstood by our children.

At the same time we should listen to what our children have to say. We should not 'over interpret' what we hear or try to 'read between the lines'. Rather we should allow for open dialogue and clarification so that our children will feel that if they have something to say that they will not be belittled or dismissed.

We should have patience and be gentle in our dealings with our children. We should create an environment where they feel that they can come to us for advice or to entrust us with information without fearing that they will not be understood, or that they will get into more trouble by speaking. We need to establish an understanding with our children that we are here to help and guide them and not to reign over or control them.

Finally we must do our utmost to be good role models for our children as it is our actions that they pay attention to rather than our words.May Allah (swt) be pleased with the way that we raise our children and may our children be a means of continuous rewards after our death insha-Allah.

Allah (swt) says in the Holy-Qur'an
إِنَّمَا أَمْوَالُكُمْ وَأَوْلَادُكُمْ فِتْنَةٌ وَاللَّهُ عِنْدَهُ أَجْرٌ عَظِيمٌ
“Your wealth and your children are only a trial, whereas Allah! With Him is a great reward (Paradise).”[TMQ 64:15]


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