Most parents probably could produce a long laundry list of things that they would have done differently in raising their kids. What immediately comes to mind for me is how I lost control of dressing my twin daughters. I thought I had until they reached about four years old before they cared about what they wore, but before two they already had an opinion. One went with your classic pinks and purples, while the other one decided upon, as she put it, “dull” colours – greys, blues, tans, greens – loose and no frills, which she found primarily in the boys’ department. I decided to let her choose, overcompensating for my childhood sartorial ‘trauma’. My mother allowed me to wear whatever I wanted most days of the week, but Thursdays and other special occasions were hers – and that was enough to do some permanent damage. I was dressed in costume. Through elementary school I donned Austrian dirndls and Scottish kilts, with a matching plaid cap and horrifying grouse-claw pin. To the Japanese steak house, I wore a kimono. It was awful to say the least.
When my daughter was a little older, I asked her why she liked dull colours. She told me that when she dressed in colourful and ‘girly’ clothes, she got too much attention. People left her alone when she dressed dull. I liked that she had devised an effective solution to unwanted attention and wanted to encourage her problem-solving attitude. But here we are now at ten years old and I am still fighting with her every ‘Eid or special occasion to put on something nice. Most of the time, she’ll reluctantly wear a very plain black or grey abaya, but that’s it. She has even willingly missed parties because she has refused to wear even that. Sometimes, I think, “if I had only maintained more control when she was two… if only,” but, of course, that was not meant to be.
If a calamity befalls you, do not say, ‘if only I had done that, it would have been like that.’ Say instead, ‘qaddara Allahu wa ma shaa fa‘al’ [it is the destiny of Allah and He does whatever He wishes]; for surely ‘if’ opens the door for Satan.” (Sahih Muslim)
But in the scheme of things, there are big battles and smaller ones. My daughter knows that her days are numbered shopping in the boys’ department, as we have discussed that there are plenty of “dull”, loose fitting, comfortable, non-frilly girls’ clothes available, not to mention the relevant hadith on cross-dressing. She is a modest dresser and, for now, that’s what counts.
But I know with any child there can, and likely will be, big battles. And that point became abundantly clear to me after reading some essays from Muslim women who were involved in things that were clearly not sanctioned in the deen. Frankly, some of the stories scared me. I couldn’t help wondering to myself what went wrong and, oh my gosh, how can I prevent that!
Two recurring themes seemed to emerge in these essays and elsewhere about what not to do when raising your children, if you want to increase the odds that your children will be practicing Muslims. I purposely say “increase the odds” because even with the best of parenting, kids can go astray. One need only look in the story of Musa and Al-Khidr in Surat al-Kahf for an example. And it works the other way as well.
Don’t pick and choose from the deen
The first thing not to do is expect your children to follow the deen if you pick and choose what to follow. Years ago, I interviewed a young Muslim woman in her twenties who wanted me to advertise an upcoming matchmaking event on a blog I was writing for. In answering a question about the event, she replied, “there will be appetisers and music and mixing and mingling and possibly dancing.” Dancing! Hmm, that doesn’t sound good. I inquired further and she explained that her intention was not to “facilitate” dancing, but there will be a DJ and people “might break out into a little dance here or there”. She then discussed double standards and that she knows “plenty of people who look down on dancing in public, but those same people eat meat that is not zabiha”. She questioned that if they can overlook a ‘rule’ because they were living in the West, “why can’t a little innocent dancing be permitted?” She then continued with her explanation and justification.
Once again, another young sister made me think. What kind of messages are we sending to our youth? Do they see us missing prayer times? Backbiting? Paying interest? Is it reasonable to expect our children to follow the Qur’an and Sunnah if we are lax ourselves? Can a parent bend a rule from time to time and not expect her child to do the same? Is it fair to complain if a different rule is bent? Hypocrisy doesn’t play well among the youth, nor should it. Ultimately, we answer to Allah (SWT) about how we raised our children – a daunting prospect, indeed, because raising children has its challenges, especially in a world fraught with what appears to be limitless temptations. By protecting ourselves from going astray, we can help to protect our children as well.
“This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed My Favour upon you and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.” (Al-Ma’idah:3)
Don’t avoid the tough questions
The second thing not to do when raising kids Muslim is to avoid answering tough questions about the deen by simply responding, “because the religion says so.” Last year, my daughters and I were reading about the training of American soldiers at Valley Forge during the American Revolution. Baron Friedrich von Steuben, a former officer in the Prussian army, volunteered to train the ill-equipped and undisciplined men to be real soldiers. He had to change his tactics though. The American soldiers wanted to know “why” they had to do something and if it made sense they then would do it. I suspect the youth all over the world are like that today.
Why do women cover their hair? Why shouldn’t a Muslim woman marry a non-Muslim, but Muslim men can? What’s wrong with a little innocent dancing? The list of questions that can be and are asked is long. Islam does not ask us to leave our brains at the door – quite the opposite. Parents need to have answers and if they don’t know, they need to say so. But that shouldn’t end the discussion. We need to investigate the answer and return to the discussion. There were many things I didn’t understand as a new Muslim. But through research and discussions with other Muslims, I eventually understood the wisdom behind many rulings. And for those questions where there may not be an explanation found in the Qur’an, hadith or scholarly works, the answer then is to explain why we choose to obey Allah’s (SWT) commands.
Raising children is not easy. We will do some things well and some things badly. I don’t think a night goes by when I don’t evaluate my parental successes and failures of the day. I always fall short on the parent I would like to be and there is no guarantee that no matter how good the parenting, the child will be a righteous servant. But if we are lax in our practice or we do not know our deen or are not striving to improve ourselves in these areas, we are not doing our best. May Allah (SWT) count us and our families among His righteous servants.
Louise Adamson talks to the founder of Outstanding Muslim Parents, Nazir bin Naseeb Al-Mujaahid.
Khalida Haque introduces the series on raising sons by exploring the concept of a good Muslim man.
J. Samia Mair is the author of five children’s book, the most recently to be published a chapter book, The Great Race to Sycamore Street, and Zak and His Good Intentions. She is a Staff Writer for SISTERS Magazine and Discover, The magazine for curious Muslim kids and has published in magazines, books, anthologies, scientific journals and elsewhere.