As I sat listening to a lady who has decades of experience counselling Muslim children living in the West, she outlined her suggestions for raising children in this day and age. According to her, such an achievement requires a two-pronged approach: on the micro level, the relationship between us and our kids needs to be updated and, on the macro level, the home environment needs to be transformed. The entire family has to be spiritually centred and support each other in that goal.
The home environment needs to be such that achieving this objective becomes easier. Our homes need to be:
Shirk-Free: while Muslims do not associate partners with Allah (SWT), we can and often do commit shirk in our daily life. Many Muslims wear charms, amulets or other jewellery inscribed with a religious verse or names of Allah (SWT) with the hope that it will protect them from misfortune; others believe in evil omens when the Prophet (SAW) clearly stated that “O Allah, there is no good except from You and there is no misfortune except from You. Indeed there is no God but You.” Some may perform acts of worship for worldly reasons (riya), while others may be continuously discontent with the will of Allah (SWT). All of these acts are forms of shirk.
Violence/Abuse-Free: there is nothing more effective in shattering a person’s self-esteem than abuse towards them, be it physical, verbal or emotional. A spiritually-centred home must be based on mutual respect and effective, honest communication. I myself have noticed the way I speak to others outside the home can be very different to the way I might speak to my children in the home; we tend to give immense respect to strangers, friends and acquaintances, while often being absent-minded or even dismissive towards our own children.
Hate-Free: many parents without realising will say something deprecating about a politician, celebrity, or even relative, neighbour or friend, in the presence of their children. This sends out a message that it is okay to hate people. The Prophet (SAW) was not abusive, obscene, or foul in his speech.
Hypocrisy-Free: this is a very common disease amongst Muslims. Often we say one thing and do another; we have one rule for us and one rule for our kids. Kids can detect hypocrisy a mile away and this lessens their respect for our authority.
Du’a-Full: As a nation we have lost the art of du’a. It is the weapon of the believer and its power should not be underestimated. A spiritually-centred family should do du’a regularly. Our Prophet (SAW) taught us the most beautiful du’as and we should teach them to our kids from an early age.
The Parent/Child Relationship
This is all well and good, but what about the actual relationship between parent and child? What can we do better in an effort to arm them with the right tools to face the world? The solution insha Allah is the 3 Ms and the 3 Cs.
Mercy: Rahma is a characteristic of every believer and repels abuse. If we soften our tone of voice and our facial expressions, restrain ourselves from issuing a fatwa every time our child does wrong and practice biting our tongues instead of turning into self-appointed religious police at the slightest provocation, we can develop in ourselves this beautiful characteristic.
Modesty: Haya’ is the defining feature of Muslims. It is not just about modesty between men and women, but having haya’ even with Allah (SWT) – being ashamed of committing sin in front of Him or even thinking shameful thoughts. It is not just about lowering the gaze but also having haya’ with others, not denying them their rights. Above all, embedding it in our children by taking the teachings of our Prophet r seriously: separating their beds and eventually their rooms; making sure they feel ashamed of changing in front of others; giving them the responsibility of changing the channel or turning off the TV when faced with an embarrassing scene rather than taking control of the situation ourselves.
Moderation: We are people of the middle path. We are raising our children in an environment of kufr and we cannot expect them to behave like the sahaba. We cannot expect them even to behave the way we did because we were brought up in a Muslim country and, even if we weren’t, our times were not like their time, our ordeals were not like their ordeals. We have to be moderate and patient and realise that no matter how zealous we are in our faith, it will take time for our children to feel such love for Allah (SWT) and His deen. Our job is not to force Islam down our children’s throats, but simply to instruct, remind and warn. Guidance can only come from Allah (SWT).
Charity: When we give to others, we feel that our own lives are suddenly rich with meaning. Allow your children to experience the joy of giving as a family. Take part in a community project together or every member of the family choose one of their favourite things to give away to someone in need. If you give them a monthly allowance, teach them to give a fixed percentage to a charity of their choice. Show them the importance of giving not just monetary goods but also their time to a worthy cause.
Communication: In addition to being mutually respectful and listening to our kids more than talking to them (or at them), we must also engage in shura (consultation) and give them the right to voice their opinions and offer solutions. Create an environment where the entire family sits down and discusses a problem, brainstorming together to find a solution, coming to a compromise and committing to implement the solution.
Consistency: No matter how many great ideas you have, and no matter how well they work, all of it will go pear-shaped if you cannot implement them consistently. If you are Mum of the Year one day and unavailable for the rest of the week, the children will eventually ignore your authority because you keep fluctuating. Start with a small change, but do it consistently. Incorporate other changes a little at a time, giving each a few months to become embedded into the family life. Consistency in your salah and in your charity shows complete faith and reliance upon Allah (SWT), as well as making you a good role model for your children.
This list is as much a reminder for me as for anyone out there: how often have I caught myself raising the bar, expecting so much more from my kids than they are able to give? How often have I expressed anger instead of mercy when they have refused to pray? No doubt raising children in this environment is hard and more often than not it seems like they are slipping from my grasp, but there is a difference between religion and spirituality – our goal should be to build a sanctuary of spirituality in their hearts. It is not the dos and don’ts, the rituals and the rules, that will protect our children as much as developing taqwa and haya’ within them. If we are merciful toward them, help them to develop their core values and above all to really know and love Allah (SWT) then, insha Allah, their deen will also, in time, fall into place.
Based in Berkshire, Safia A. is a mother of two with a background in graphic design, interior design and creative textiles. She loves painting, writing, reading, and baking; and is very keen on a healthy lifestyle, with raw foods, yoga and taebo at the top of her list. Her work has been published in various Middle Eastern magazines and newspapers.