Muslims as an Ummah and as individuals bear the ultimate responsibility of living this life according to the teachings of Islam as revealed in the Quran and Sunnah. Islam comes with clear guidelines for every aspect of our lives and one of the most important responsibilities is raising our children according to the teachings of Islam. This obligation is especially difficult when societal norms are not Islamic, as is the case in the west. Nevertheless, living in the west, or anywhere else in this world, is not an excuse to relax our standards and surrender our identity as Muslims. Islam provides us with clear commandments that are valid in every time and place.
Muslim families in the west are vulnerable to the overwhelming influence of secular values manifested in every aspect of daily life. The struggle to preserve our children’s identity starts from the very moment they are born.
Regardless of the challenge, Islam gives us clear and categorical instructions for raising pious and strong leaders. In order to achieve this goal, it is pivotal to have absolute conviction in the correctness of Islam and full adherence to its teachings without regard to the obstacles faced and the results achieved.
When to Start
Following the Sunnah of the Prophet (saw), the task of raising our child starts the moment it is born with the calling of the Athan in his/her right ear and the Iqamah in his/her left ear. Giving a good name for the new born baby is a right of the newborn child on his/her parents; the name will stay with the child for the rest of his/her life and will play a role in his/her sense of belonging to the Muslim Ummah. When giving our newborns names we should always remember that non-Muslim names are not a ticket for an easy life in the west. Disguising our child’s identity due to fear of discrimination and material hardship contradicts our belief that Rizq and life are decided by Allah (swt) and not humans. Allah (swt) is the one to be feared and not human beings.
Building the Foundation: Obedience to Allah (swt) Alone
Children must be taught as they grow that their actions are measured only based on the Ahkam Shariah and not on anything else. Allah (swt) revealed:
وَمَا آَتَاكُمُ الرَّسُولُ فَخُذُوهُ وَمَا نَهَاكُمْ عَنْهُ فَانْتَهُوا وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ شَدِيدُ الْعِقَابِ
“And whatsoever the messenger giveth you, take it. And whatsoever he forbiddeth, abstain (from it). And keep your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is stern in reprisal.”[TMQ 59:7]
It may be asked as to what is the most effective way to do this? Some parents rely on their authority to impose the ahkam upon their children. Under this approach, the child will pray, fast, wear hijab, be modest, etc, based upon fear of their parents. However, there is a risk that once the child is exposed to liberal thoughts of society through their peers, the media, and the education system, that they may question the basis of their belief in Islam. Some may go so far as to rebel against their parents. Children and especially teenagers might contemplate that, parents are human beings just like them, so why should they be obeyed?
It is also equally dangerous to present the ahkam as a matter of benefit and harm. This teaches the child to abide by the ahkam when it is in their benefit to do so and reject them when it is in their benefit to do so. For example, if fasting is taught to children as beneficial for their health, they may not fast if they become convinced that it is unhealthy. Similarly, if the hijab is taught as an expression of modesty, they may take it off if they feel that wearing loose clothing achieves the same degree of modesty.
To avoid putting our children into such a bind, it is absolutely crucial that we teach our children the Islamic aqeedah as the sole reference point. That is, they should understand that Allah (swt) is the only reason why they do something or abstain from something. The parents need to establish the reality that Allah (swt) exists, and that He has full Knowledge of all things and most important of all, that both the parents and the children will be held accountable by Allah (swt) on the Day of Judgment. The child should be taught that his/her parents will be just as accountable to Allah (swt) as he/she will be. Consequently, the child will learn to fast, pay zakah, shun riba (interest), wear the hijab because of their love for Allah (swt) and His Messenger (saw).
Once this seed is planted in our children as the only perspective for making decisions and making choices, they will always have the fear of Allah (swt) in every step they take and in every act they perform. The fear of Allah (swt) is the only self sustainable protection we can provide our children with. They will realize that even if they can escape the watchful eye of the parent, they can never escape Allah (swt). Growing up in non-Muslim lands, it is critical that our children are taught to act out of fear of Allah (swt) – not fear of parents, family culture, benefit, or anything else.
Ibrahim (as): Worshipping Allah (swt) from his Youth
As parents, we enjoy relating the stories of the Prophets to our children. However, the story of Ibrahim (as) is particularly important because it gives insight into how a child can attain understanding about the existence of Allah (swt) and His Oneness. Allah (swt) revealed:
فَلَمَّا جَنَّ عَلَيْهِ اللَّيْلُ رَأَى كَوْكَبًا قَالَ هَذَا رَبِّي فَلَمَّا أَفَلَ قَالَ لَا أُحِبُّ الْآَفِلِينَ (76) فَلَمَّا رَأَى الْقَمَرَ بَازِغًا قَالَ هَذَا رَبِّي فَلَمَّا أَفَلَ قَالَ لَئِنْ لَمْ يَهْدِنِي رَبِّي لَأَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الْقَوْمِ الضَّالِّينَ (77) فَلَمَّا رَأَى الشَّمْسَ بَازِغَةً قَالَ هَذَا رَبِّي هَذَا أَكْبَرُ فَلَمَّا أَفَلَتْ قَالَ يَا قَوْمِ إِنِّي بَرِيءٌ مِمَّا تُشْرِكُونَ (78) إِنِّي وَجَّهْتُ وَجْهِيَ لِلَّذِي فَطَرَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ حَنِيفًا وَمَا أَنَا مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ
“When the night covered him over with darkness he saw a star. He said: "This is my lord." But when it set, he said: "I like not those that set." When he saw the moon rising up, he said: "This is my lord." But when it set, he said: "Unless my Lord guides me, I shall surely be among the erring people." When he saw the sun rising up, he said: "This is my lord. This is greater." But when it set, he said: "O my people! I am indeed free from all that you join as partners in worship with Allah. Verily, I have turned my face towards Him Who has created the heavens and the earth Hanifa (Islamic Monotheism, i.e. worshipping none but Allah Alone) and I am not of Al-Mushrikun."[TMQ 6:76-79]
When this story is told to our children, it is important to take time to emphasize that the signs of Allah (swt) are with us where ever we are. We should never miss the opportunity to point out such signs to our children.
Sahabah (ra): Youth who Rejected Society’s Jahiliyah
Our children in the west will learn about Islam as much as we teach them. In addition to teaching them the pillars of Islam (as well as other basics of Islam), it is important to make them familiar with the heritage of Islam. This starts with the Seerah of the Prophet Muhammad (saw), the lives of the Sahabah (ra) as well as the history of the Khulafah Rashideen. The heart of our children should be filled with love and respect for RasulAllah (saw) and the Sahabah (ra).
Furthermore, it is important to emphasize how our children face challenges similar to what the Sahabah (ra) faced. The Sahabah (ra) grew up in the jahil society of Makkah. However, once the message of Islam came to them, they realized that it was the truth. They were rationally convinced that Allah (swt) exists, that the Quran was truly from Allah (swt), and that RasulAllah (saw) was indeed His Messenger. Based on this conviction, they referred to RasulAllah (saw) in totality – even if it meant abandoning the popular ideas and practices of the society around them. The Sahabah (ra) were raised to fear no one but Allah (swt), knowing that their lives and livelihoods were decided by Allah (swt) alone. They were taught to follow the Ahkam of Islam in everything they did. The Prophet’s way of raising his companions produced personalities who strived to take people from worshiping humans to worshiping Allah (swt). For example, Musab ibn Umayr (ra) was an extremely rich individual living the easy life. However, once he accepted Islam, he openly challenged the ideas of Makkan society. His mother tried to pressure him to abandon Islam by first “grounding” him and then by cutting him off from his “allowance”. But Musab (ra) remained steadfast in his obedience to Allah (swt) and His Messenger (saw).
We should explain how the stories of the Sahabah (ra) are relevant to our children in light of the challenges they face during their interactions with society. They should be able to draw lessons and be motivated to be like the Sahabah (ra) and reject the jahil practices of society around us (i.e. zina, dressing inappropriately, alcohol, etc), and insults to Allah (swt) and His Messenger (saw). When our children are older and encounter concepts about the political (i.e. democracy) and economic systems (i.e. Capitalism), we should also teach them to reject these concepts since they do not emanate from the Islamic Aqeedah.
Be your Children’s Friend and Teacher
As children grow up, they naturally look up to their parents for protection and the main source of learning and emulation. Parents have to be extremely vigilant during this phase of our children’s life and seize the opportunity to rightfully provide the guidance to Allah’s path. We sometimes take this for granted and miss this opportunity which is one of the biggest mistakes made by Muslim parents in the west; we forget that the safety nets that once existed in Muslim countries are not available in the west. Access to aunts, uncles and extended family is very difficult; there is no tight social fabric in the neighbourhood and Islamic thoughts and norms are not present in the popular culture which our children are exposed to on a daily basis. The role of parents in guiding the youth is far more difficult than what we take for granted. Under the pressure of this responsibility and the pressure of pursuing financial success to provide children with a “better future,” we tend to falter and lose direction leaving our children to become easy prey.
Being a role model is not a part time job or a weekend task; rather it is a continuous, deliberate and systematic effort of listening, communicating and building trust with our sons and daughters. We have to work hard at gaining the trust of our children and youth so that we can become their best friends and role models. We should always show them respect and never humiliate or belittle them, while being decisive and never compromising when it comes to living by Islam. We have to teach them to lead rather than follow and put in their conscious that the objective of their life is to carry Dawah and seek to please Allah (swt).
May Allah (swt) help us raise our children on Islam and may He guide us to maintain our faith through the rough times and guide us to establish the Khilafah Rashida to resume our leadership role to get humanity from the misery and tyranny we are currently in to the justice of Islam.
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا قُوا أَنْفُسَكُمْ وَأَهْلِيكُمْ نَارًا وَقُودُهَا النَّاسُ وَالْحِجَارَةُ
“O ye who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is Men and Stones.”[TMQ 66:6]