Raising our children is an important responsibility that Allah (swt) has entrusted us with. In Islam, parents are rewarded when this responsibility is carried out in the correct manner. In this society, Muslim parents are further challenged to raise their children in a manner that is pleasing to Allah (swt). The task is further complicated by the lack of communication that is needed between parents and their children – especially teenagers. As parents, we must do our utmost to protect ourselves and our family from the Hellfire. We must build a relationship with our children based on fulfilling our fard (obligations) with respect to raising them. This includes, of course, providing for their needs (e.g. food, shelter, etc) as well as ensuring that they are taught the foundational aspects of Islam. This includes the Islamic Aqeedah as well as the ahkam of Islam. They should learn from an early age that the only thing that matters is working to earn the pleasure of Allah (swt) and that their attitude – even to their parents – is solely determined by what Allah (swt) has revealed. Furthermore, we should not approach the task of parenting as an authoritarian taskmaster. Instead we should be companions to our children by dealing with them according to the ahkaam of Islam while being patient, just and honest with them. As we will discuss below, this is how RasulAllah (saw) acted towards his children and the children in his care.
Allah (swt) has laid a heavy responsibility on the parents for the well-being of their children in the Dunya and in the Akhira:
“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) are 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 for raising our children correctly is that Allah (swt) has endowed us with the responsibility to guard our families from the hellfire. And indeed He will hold us accountable for this duty on the Day of Judgment.
Parents must also take care in implementing Islam within their own lives. It is unrealistic for the father and mother to expect their children to abide by the hukm sharie, when the parents themselves fail to do so. For example, a child will imitate his parents: if they pray he will likely pray and if they don't, he will also likely ignore the commands of Allah (swt). To our children, our actions speak louder than our words.
Establishing the Foundation
How can parents do their best to raise their children on the right path? The Prophet (saw) said:
“A father gives his child nothing better than a good Ilm [i.e. sharie knowledge].” [Tirmidhi & Baihaqi]
Our best effort in achieving this would be to provide our children with the correct foundation built on the Islamic Aqeedah. We should regularly engage in discussions with our children to teach them and enforce fundamental concepts. For example, we should 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 from 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 Jahannam, so that their emotions are linked to the rewards that Allah (swt) has promised and the punishments that Allah (swt) has warned us about.
Role Models: 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 how Luqman advised his son:
"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]
This advice shows the concern of a father for the well-being of his son not only in this life but, more importantly, on the Day of Judgment. 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 to “do this” or “don’t do that”. We must first establish a bond with our children so that they are willing to receive and accept our guidance. This can be best 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). By 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:
“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, since that 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 so that they 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.
It is narrated that Umar bin al-Khattab (ra) 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. When we speak to our children, we should speak to them using the best of speech and talk to them in a respectful manner.
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.
May Allah (swt) help us raise our children in the way that pleases Him (swt), may our children be a means of continuous rewards after our death insha-Allah and may Allah (swt) guide and protect all our children.
“Your wealth and your children are only a trial, whereas Allah! With Him is a great reward (Paradise).” [TMQ 64:15]