By Mirza Yawar Baig
It is when parents bring up self centered children focused on consumption, that in their fight to get the most for themselves, they think nothing of breaking family ties. When children are focused to what they can contribute and with a constant awareness of Al Aakhira, they will work for the benefit of others and win hearts and minds to Islam in the process. It is the connection with Allah that is the primary responsibility of the parent to build and constantly strengthen and which is the biggest and best protection against all the evil that seems to surround us, ever more closely.
The biggest mistake that parents make is not to define boundaries. Parents must parent. Many parents today seem to be too focused on being ‘friends’ to their children at the expense of parenting. In this endeavor they bend over backward trying to be nice to the children and basically do whatever the children want Bringing up a Muslim child them to. Boundaries are therefore never firm and clear. They are always open to negotiation and children push the boundaries until they get what they want from parents who have confused parenting with being ‘friendly’.
Parents must remember that their children can have many friends but they have only 2 parents. Parents have been assigned the role of parenting. Every other role is optional. The only assigned role is that of parenting and so they need to do that first and foremost.
Children are forever testing boundaries. So these must be clear. For example, that you can disagree with parents on issues provided you do it in the right way by being respectful and not cheeky. That cheekiness is not cute, it is insulting. That joking and insulting are two different things. That assertiveness is to insist on your rights without violating the rights of others. That aggressiveness is to violate the rights of others. One is commendable, the other is reprehensible. That caring for your environment (read: home, office, bathroom, car, garden, pets etc.) is your job and not the job of Bringing up a Muslim child parents, or servants. Servants are supposed to clean the home once in a day. Not every time the child makes a mess. It is a common sight in the East, especially in wealthy family homes, to see the mother or a servant picking up after the child who is a moving litter creator.
Children must learn that making a mess of the home or your own room is not acceptable. That your room is your own but not to do with or in as you please. That the rules of the home apply even inside your room. Children must be taught how to speak to elders and teachers and to their own younger siblings. They must learn that respect is due to age, learning and character; not due to possessions and money. They must learn that their behavior will define them and that when they show respect for others they are merely demonstrating their own upbringing and bringing honor to themselves and those who brought them up. When they are disrespectful the contrary is equally true. Being disrespectful is not insulting to the other person; it merely demonstrates the dishonorable nature of the doer. It is strange that today it is very common to ask someone, ‘How are you?’ – Only to hear the rude answer, ‘Good!’. That’s all. No, ‘Very well, thank you. And how are you?’ It is common for people to speak without saying, ‘Please’ or to take things without asking permission or to simply walk away after having stamped your foot or kicked your briefcase or sneeze in your face; and not bothering to say, ‘I’m sorry.’ Muslim children were once known for their upbringing. Not any more.
Children must be taught that meal times are sacred because the home is not a hotel where one can simply order room service. Meals, especially the one meal at which the whole family eats together, may not be missed or interrupted. Mealtime is for the family and any family guests. It is okay to invite friends to a meal at home but not okay to talk to them on the phone while the rest of the family eats. Children must learn that their guests must also follow the rules of the family home. That exams, games, TV shows, football, cricket or basketball matches and so on are not acceptable excuses for missing the family meal.
Naturally it is the parents who have to set the norm. If the father misses the meal without comment, then so will the child. If the father sits in front of the TV because he wants to see what happened to his favorite team and to be able to do that, moves the meal to the living room so that everyone eats mechanically with eyes glued to the screen, then this will become the norm and he will have no moral authority to insist that the children do something different. If parents sit in their favorite chair and shout out to the servant to get this or that, so will the children. If parents litter, children will too.
If parents pay children to wash cars, mow lawns, clean attics or garages, instead of personally doing these things taking the children along with them, then children will learn that as long as they can throw money at some poor person to do their work, they need not care for their own environment. Not only will they not learn to take care of their common spaces but they will also learn to treat some jobs with disrespect and to look down on those who do those jobs.
Each of these things above can be linked to one or more of the evils of our society. A society that is stratified according to economic circumstances, not according to knowledge, moral values or being honorable. A society where people don’t care for other people. Where the self is worshipped and indulgence is the supreme goal. Where freedom is defined as the ability to indulge your whims with impunity, even when some of this indulgence may be breaking the laws of God or country.
Where the law is applied differently based on who has the money to circumvent it or to get out of trouble by paying their way. Where the ones who create the corruption by paying to get benefits out of turn, then turn around and whine about what a corrupt society we have. Where justice is denied to some because others pay ‘speed money’ to an ‘educated’ judge and then they complain about how corrupt the judiciary has become.
Where the fact that the effect of one’s own activity, speech or conduct may be infringing on the rights of others, is not even part of any discussion. They must be taught Akhlaaq (manners) that will differentiate them from the rest and make them stand out as Standard Bearers of Islam. Apart from all things to do with social graces and politeness a Muslim child must be taught those things that Allah considered important enough to mention in the Qur’an. Allah said:
Al Hujuraat 49:10. The believers are nothing else than brothers (in Islâm). So make reconciliation between your brothers, and fear Allâh, that you may receive mercy.11. O you who believe! Let not a group scoff at another group, it may be that the latter are better than the former; nor let (some) women scoff at other women, it may be that the latter are better than the former, nor defame one another, nor insult one another by nicknames. How bad is it, to insult one's brother after having Faith [cursing, using bad language]. And whosoever does not repent, then such are indeed Zâlimûn (wrong-doers). 12. O you who believe! Avoid suspicion, indeed some suspicions are sins. And spy not, neither backbite one another. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would hate it (so hate backbiting) . And fear Allâh. Verily, Allâh is the One Who accepts repentance, Most Merciful.
Muslim children must learn that Islam is not just a set of rituals of worship but a complete way of life where duties to people are mentioned with duties to Allah.
Mu’minoon 23:1. Successful indeed are the believers. 2. Those who offer their Salât (prayers) with all solemnity and full submissiveness.3. And those who turn away from Al-Laghw (dirty, false, evil vain talk, falsehood, and all that Allâh has forbidden).4. And those who pay the Zakât .5. And those who guard their chastity 6. Except from their wives or (the captives and slaves) that their right hands possess, for then, they are free from blame 7. But whoever seeks beyond that, then those are the transgressors 8. Those who are faithfully true to their Amanât (all the duties which Allâh has ordained, honesty, moral responsibility and people’s trusts) and to their covenants; 9. And those who strictly guard their (five compulsory congregational) Salawât (prayers) (at their fixed stated hours).10. These are indeed the inheritors.11. Who shall inherit the Firdaus (Jannah).They shall dwell therein forever.
All these things will make the Muslim child a walking, talking example of the Way of Islam and will differentiate him from the rest and make him a benchmark and a role model for others. This is the essence of Islam and the example that Rasoolullah and his Sahaba left for us, when they used to say to anyone who asked about Islam, ‘Become like us.’ That was because they were Islam personified. And that is the first duty of the Muslim parent – to mould the child in the Islamic Way by demonstrating.