Ask The Savvy Parent: Overcoming Shyness

handholdingMy son aged 5 years is very fussy with eating. Secondly, he is very, very shy and reluctant at school. Kindly suggest some ideas that can be helpful in resolving these issues peacefully.

First off, you are not alone in this. There are many parents who face similar challenges. We have covered fussy eating last week; you can check it out here: Mealtimes are Wartimes.

Here is the answer to the second part of your question. Shyness is a personality trait/temperament. There is nothing wrong with being shy. First, recognize that you are blessed with a sensitive, deeply caring, reserved child, who is slow to warm up to strangers, approaches social relationships cautiously, but generally seems to be a happy person. It is very common for parents to respond very apologetically to excuse their child by saying, “He’s shy,” especially in front of your child. This is the first thing one should stop doing; in many ways this makes you an enabler vs. empowering your child. Here are some tips:

  1. The more you push the more he will retreat: It is natural for a child to feel socially awkward when meeting adults and especially new people/children. It is a very common practice amongst parents to try to coerce a positive response from the child but in doing so, it is more likely he will retreat and clam up. It is best to help create a comfortable environment that lets his social personality develop. For example, if you are going to visit a friend and you want your child to make a good impression, avoid the standard: “Don’t be shy; say Salam to aunty.” This is guaranteed to make him even more recluse. The child is already self-conscious and this will make him even shyer. Talk to him beforehand about what is expected of him and keep your expectations reasonable, for example, a simple ‘Salam’. Another option would be to have him bring along a toy or activity. This can act as a communication bridge with aunty. It essentially distracts the focus and attention off him, allowing him to ease into the situation and get comfortable on his own.
  2. Avoid putting him on the spot: Your relatives are visiting and you are excited to show them that your son has memorized a short Surah, for example. Rather than putting him on the spot when they arrive, prep him beforehand. Talk to him in a gentle tone saying, “You recite the Surah so well. Can you please recite it for grandma when she visits today?” Some children are natural born performers; others are cautious and need time to become comfortable. Think about, for example, if you were put on the spot to recite Surah Yasin you just memorized in front of a group, with all eyes on you, how would you feel? Even for a social person like myself, it would not be easy; so cut your child some slack.
  3. Create smaller social settings: As a teacher, I have discovered that it helps for parents to have one-on-one play dates with fellow classmates. Are there any children that your child seems to gravitate towards or you feel would be a good companion for your child? Ask the teacher for suggestions. This allows your child to form bonds with other children in a more intimate setting and will help him come out of his shell at school.

How do I know if it’s just shyness or something more?

Mostly, shyness or quietness is not a serious problem. However, in some rare case, it may indicate that your child needs professional attention. Ask yourself the following questions. Does your child cry or throw a tantrum on a regular basis before or at school? Is he significantly withdrawn most of the time, making little eye contact? Does he act violently in school, hitting other kids or teachers? If the answer to these are no, you have nothing to worry about.

Insha’Allah, I hope this helps. Happy Parenting!

The Savvy Parent

Catch more tips by Farah Najam in her article: Working with Shy Students.

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Ask the Savvy Parent: Mealtimes are Wartimes

Image courtesy http://mommabird.net/

Image courtesy http://mommabird.net/

Dear Savvy Parent,

How do I get my 4-year-old son to not be such a picky eater, and also eat on his own without my husband or I having to feed him?

Dear parent,

First off, you are not alone in this. There are many parents who face similar challenges. It is important to remember that picky eating is temporary. If you don’t make it a big deal, it will usually end before school-going age.

Change will not happen overnight. It will take some time for you to see any changes or improvements. Don’t give up and always be consistent. Relax and take it easy. The key is consistency.

Here are some proactive things you can do to deal with fussy eating and help your child learn to eat on his own and try new foods:

  1. Offer the same foods for the whole family. Don’t be a “short-order cook,” by making a different meal for your child. Never cook something for your child that you would not eat yourself. Most children like to eat the meals their parents are eating.
  2. Make sure your child eats with the whole family. There is no point making him or her sit and eat, while no one else is. You would end up fighting a lost battle.
  3. Most kids like to try foods they help make. Encourage your children to help you prepare meals and snacks. Let them help you with the grocery shopping. Teach your child to tear lettuce or add veggie toppings to pizza, for example. You will be surprised what you can get children to eat if they have helped to prepare it.
  4. Try to make meals a stress-free time. Talk about fun and happy things. If arguments often happen at mealtimes, your child may develop unhealthy attitudes toward food.
  5. Offer two choices. Rather than asking “Do you want broccoli for dinner?” ask: “What would you like for dinner: broccoli or cauliflower?”
  6. Use the Bowl of Bites Method to decide the number of bites the child must eat.  At times, trying to negotiate the number of bites can be never ending and lead to arguments. This is where the bowl comes in (explained below).
  7. Your children will be okay even if they don’t eat a meal now and then. Children never starve themselves. If they are not eating, leave them be. Make sure snacks are out of reach, though. Carry on with your meal. Eventually when they do get hungry and want food bring out the plate of food that was not eaten during mealtime. Eventually they will give in and eat it. At this time, give them verbal reinforcement.

Bowl of bites
For some parents, establishing a required number of bites can help. Select a reasonable number of minimum bites, for example, five. Two or three bites are not enough. In a bowl, keep about 10 pieces of small paper, folded in half, with a number written inside them. Have a variety of numbers ranging from the minimum (in this case, six) to about nine. During mealtime say, “Let’s see what the bowl of bites decides for us.” Allow your child to pick out a piece of paper and read the number on it. Whatever the number says is the number of bites that are required to be eaten. If your child is the type to go back and forth negotiating to get his way, the best way to get around such a situation to remove yourself out of the negotiation. These “bowls” can also be adapted to be used in many other situations.

For a child who will not eat on his or her own, the bowl of bites can also help by establishing the number of bites the child has to eat on his own. In this case, the numbers could start smaller such as three. Alternatively, taking turns can help. Your child takes a bite on his or her own and then you feed them the next bite and so on. Eventually, as they get comfortable with this, you can feed less and less bites.

Change will not happen overnight. It will take some time for you to see any changes or improvements. Don’t give up and always be consistent. Relax and take it easy. The key is consistency.

Insha’Allah, I hope this helps. Happy Parenting!

The Savvy Parent

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Ask The Savvy Parent: Aggression in Toddlers

Dear Savvy Parent

My 2.5-year-old son is unable to express himself. He hits continuously till others respond and others think he’s a bully. All I want is to help him but how? How to stop him and what should I do to help him express himself with words, not actions?

When he’s not bothering others, give him lots of attention and praise so he eventually learns that negative behaviour will not work and will not get him any needed attention.

Dear parent

First off, he is not a bully. He is just 2.5 years old and is still learning. He’s not trying to be mean; rather, it sounds like attention-seeking behaviour. If this is the case (and you know best), one should not give any attention when he behaves this way. He seems to be doing it because he can’t get the attention he wants by behaving well; so he misbehaves to get attention. Children will get attention any way they can. They prefer positive attention, but if negative is the only way to get it, they will purposefully do perform actions to get that negative attention. The way to nip this in the bud is to give no attention when he misbehaves. He knows he is doing something wrong; use minimal words and remove him from the situation. When he’s not bothering others, give him lots of attention and praise so he eventually learns that negative behaviour will not work and will not get him any needed attention.

If you are in a public place, such as a park, you have to be more mindful and keep an extra eye on your son. Intervene if he starts to hit another child. Use language such as “Be gentle” and show him how. Sometimes children at a young age don’t mean to be aggressive; sometimes they touch out of love and because they are still learning to control their body it can be rough. So give him a chance to be gentle. If he is really being disruptive, redirect him away from that area of the park to some other area. If he has had several chances and is still not listening, then it’s time to let him know that if he cannot behave, you will take him home. Making sure you follow through with this.

If he is hitting without any reason, then you need to take him away from the child or children he is hurting and find something else for him to be busy with. 

As far as hitting or bothering other children, since they are also young, the adults (you in this case) need to intervene and may need to remove your son from this situation. First of all, try to identify why he is hitting. Did the other child do something? Did he hit him first? If this is the case, then you need to teach your son the appropriate language, such as “Please stop!”, “I don’t like that” and resolve the situation together.

If he is hitting without any reason, then you need to take him away from the child or children he is hurting and find something else for him to be busy with. Have a brief and calm conversation and let him know that this is not kind; if he hits someone again, you will remove him and he will not be able to play with the other children. Don’t elaborate any other reminders; when it happens, you can simply say, “You are hurting (name of child), so now you have to leave and do something else. Redirect him towards something else that he can be busy with. The next time after that, you don’t need any words. After a few times of doing this, he will learn that you are not giving him attention for this negative behaviour.

Yelling at your child will not resolve the issue. One has to be calm and level-headed. 

Remember to give him LOTS of positive attention when he’s not doing this. This way he learns that he gets attention ONLY when he’s behaving well. When he’s misbehaving, don’t say anything and don’t make eye contact because all of this is attention and the point is to NOT give attention in ANY FORM when he’s trying to seek it doing something inappropriate. Depending on the situation you either need to help resolve the conflict or redirect the behaviour. Be mindful of your reaction and tone as well. Children learn by example. Make sure you are using a calm manner to discipline your child. Yelling at your child will not resolve the issue. One has to be calm and level-headed. It is difficult, I know, but take a deep breath before you act and Insha’Allah, it will get easier to handle.

With regard to your son learning to express himself, he is still young and learning language. Teach him appropriate words and the correct language. Be a role model of positive language and help elicit the words from him. For example, short phrases like “Milk, please” “I don’t like that”, “No, thank you”, “I want ____”, “More, please” etc. Have him repeat after you before you do what he wants. Do this throughout his daily route; this way he will begin to pick up the language. Encourage him to use the language and reward him when he does. It is even more important to make sure he at least attempts to use his words, when upset.

Insha’Allah, I hope this helps. Happy parenting!

The Savvy Parent

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Dear Haadia

Haadia

We find two Ahadeeth with criteria for selecting one’s spouse-to-be. In one, Allah’s Messenger (sa) has advised to pick a wife who follows her Deen, and keep other priorities, such as her wealth, status and lineage, on a lower scale. On the other hand, there was an occasion, when he advised a Sahabi to look at the girl he was getting married to. Can we have an explanation for the above two, in order to guide youngsters who are planning to get married?

Answer: We can easily reconcile these two apparently contradictory scenarios that are found in the Sunnah.

For marriage, a Muslim man should give the highest priority to a girl’s piety and practice of religion, as you have stated. However, our Prophet (sa) advised looking at her towards the end of the proposal process, when the two families have negotiated other matters, and a positive outcome seems imminent. At this point, the young man may look at the girl, in order to prevent possible disappointment or physical revulsion, when he sees her in person after marriage.

It was narrated that a man wanted to marry a daughter of one of the Companions who was a resident of Madinah. The Prophet (sa) said to him: “Go and look, and then marry. There is something in the eyes of the Companions.” (Muslim)

As this narration indicates, it serves as a safety net to look at the prospective girl in order to identify any deformity or physical defect that can turn off her future husband, or vice versa. Marriage means conjugal relations, for which physical attraction plays an important part. Though it is mostly enough for his female relatives to describe the girl to him, a man is still permitted to look. As to the extent of looking and what the girl is permitted to show, Shaykh Uthaymeen at IslamQA.com gives us the details in Question 102369, where he says:

“It is permissible for the suitor to see the woman to whom he is proposing marriage, but that is subject to certain conditions:

  1. That he needs to see her. If there is no need, then the basic principle is that a man should not look at a woman, who is a non-Mahram to him.
  2. He should have made up his mind that he wants to propose. If he is still hesitant, then he should not look, but if he has made up his mind, then he may look.
  3. This looking should be without being alone with her, i.e., it is essential that she has one of her Mahrams with her.
  4. He should think it most likely that she and her family will accept. If he does not think it is most likely, then there is no point in looking, because his proposal will not be accepted, whether he looks at her or not.

In this situation, the woman must come out to the suitor looking ordinary; she should not come out wearing beautiful clothes or makeup, because she is not yet his wife.”

The practices of dolling up a girl, asking her to entertain her potential suitor’s family or dressing up to catch public attention for a future marriage proposal are high despicable.

Allah (swt) knows best.

Dear Haadia

Haadia

I recently got married into a well-off family. Alhumdulilah, we have plenty of domestic help around the house. This often leaves me with absolutely nothing constructive to do. My mother-in-law is involved in mainstream Dawah work, and I would like to help her out. But somehow I get the feeling that she neither likes me to be too involved with the work that she is doing, nor does she appreciate that I do nothing to help her. I am quite confused. Please direct me towards some productive work, which I can do to utilize my free time.

Answer: The time you have right now will never come back, particularly once you have children, Insha’Allah. So, it is very commendable that you wish to use it productively. There are many things one can do in this regard. For instance, you can join an Islamic course. This will provide structure to your day and give you something to look forward to on daily basis. In addition, you could also pursue a hobby and take it up in a more serious manner. For instance, if you enjoy drawing, painting or crafts, you could take an art class and hone your skills. If you enjoy stitching or knitting, you could enroll yourself into proper sewing classes. If you are a reader, join a book club. If you can’t find one, start one!

There may be times when you find that you are not fitting into activities that are already around. That’s okay – you can always be proactive and initiate constructive endeavors. For example, perhaps you don’t want to commit yourself to an Islamic course right now. So get a few friends together and organize a weekly study circle. As a group, you can decide what focus you want your Halaqah to have: Quran, Ahadeeth, a book-study, or a mixture of all three. For such self-initiated ventures to be successful, though, do make sure that meetings are consistent and everyone stays on-task. Another word of caution: we often think of food when it comes to any gathering, but sometimes food takes over the entire event. Keep food to a minimum, if at all necessary.

Reading good books is always a constructive activity. If you wish to focus on yourself more, take up a certain aspect and study it. For instance, you could decide to delve into the Seerah of the Prophet (sa), read and reread any relevant books and dig into online resources. Make notes, and consider it as self-education. Similarly, you could also take up something like the history of Pakistan and read up on it. Unlike school days, you may actually enjoy it. In fact, you can couple it with outings to important landmarks in Karachi, such as the Quaid’s house-museum, Frere Hall, Mohatta Palace, etc. Next time a relative is visiting, you can add a different flavor to their trip by taking them to these places as well. When visiting another city in Pakistan, make it a priority to go historical sightseeing.

Writing is another productive activity. You can share your thoughts on life, religion, books or other topics by submitting articles to newspapers and magazines. Once you start doing this, you might actually realize, how much there is to be written about and find a comfortable place for yourself in it.

Have you considered working? If you’re not career-oriented or cannot afford to be away from home for long periods, think about a part-time job. It could be based on your degree or something completely different. Many women like to teach; others prefer office work.

Decide if this interests you and start searching. Alternatively, you could consider volunteering your time at an Islamic organization, school, hospital or an NGO. The rewards and the gratification one derives from volunteer work are immense. All you have to figure out is what will be most feasible for you and then go after it.

Don’t worry too much about your mother-in-law – it might be possible that she is quite confused herself, as to how your role will play out in the home. You’ll have to play it by the ear and learn over time how to strike a balance. In the meantime, keep yourself busy with things of your own to do. You won’t have to look to your mother-in-law for constructive activities, and she also will not have to wonder why you are not involved with her.

Lastly, I want to stress again that the time you have right now is irreplaceable. Later on, you will think back to this time and wonder why you didn’t do such-and-such a thing, when you had the time. If the above ideas don’t seem to speak to you, you can always type “free time” in any search engine, and I am sure you’ll get plenty of suggestions that way. The possibilities are endless! So, harness your time right now and don’t let go!

Dear Haadia

Haadia

I am a teenage boy, who is very protective of my younger sister. Thankfully, she observes Hijab, and it makes me feel proud of her. The way girls are dressing up nowadays is highly provocative. And these are girls from reputed families, whose parents aren’t concerned about their Satar (portion of the body that has to be covered). I know many boys, who discuss such girls in a very indecent manner. I fear such talks can corrupt these otherwise decent girls. What can be done?

Answer: You are raising a very important issue, which is plaguing our society. While fashions have always come and gone – from tight, short shirts to baggy and long ones, from Shalwars and trousers to flappers – the recent influx of western-style designing is alarmingly changing the entire landscape.

Nowadays, we commonly see sleeveless shirts and capris on the Pakistani media. Many young and impressionable girls, as well as women, are enamored by this glitz and glamour and sadly, have assimilated such dressing into their everyday lives. For them, this is the face of progressive thinking, taking them forward to an advanced future. They do not realize that it only betrays an insecure sense of identity.

On the other hand, Islam has timelessly defined the parameters of proper clothing to be worn in public. At its most basic level, it specifies the need for women to wear non-sheer, non-fitted clothing which covers all parts of their body “…except only that which is apparent…” (An-Nur 24:31). Similarly, men are instructed to conceal themselves in loose, opaque clothing from navel to knee and preferably also the rest of their body, for the Prophet (sa) was rarely seen with his body uncovered.

In this context, it must be mentioned that men should also exercise caution. Body-hugging jeans/trousers and shirts are not allowed. Likewise, shorts must cover their knees whether out on a morning run, in the swimming pool or at the beach. Very often, men are more worried about women not realizing the fact that they too are stepping beyond their Satar and making women quite uncomfortable due to their immodest attire.

As far as boys talking indecently about such girls, the first question which must be asked is: does a person’s dress give someone else the license to backbite or slander? The answer, of course, is no. We are each accountable for our own acts to Allah (swt). If the girls are dressing in a revealing way, they are responsible for that. If the boys are gawking at them, they are answerable for that.

In fact, such behaviour of both boys and girls corrupts not only them but also the society at large. If anyone researches the marital relationship history within the United States, they will see that it all began with chaste courtships for marriage. Now, centuries later, the American society is beleaguered with such vices as premarital sex, teenage pregnancies, HIV/AIDS, same-sex relationships, abortions, etc. Unfortunately, we are jumping the gun by importing their culture indiscriminately, and we run the risk of spreading similar problems much faster.

The umbrella of Islam shades men and women from such corruption and provides a moderate lifestyle, in which men and women show respect towards themselves as well as others through modest dress, controlled talk and purified hearts. Yet, people will discern this only if they experience Islam in a positive way. For instance, trying to tell a non-practicing person not to dress a certain way because Islam forbids it always backfires, because the roots required for the flowering of Islam are missing. After all, they are already more or less aware of the Islamic point of view – but averse. We have to work on their hearts, before we tell them to cover their bodies. Indeed, the injunctions for Hijab did not come with the first revelation of the Quran. Rather, they came much later, when the novice Muslim women’s hearts had already been infused with the love of Allah (swt).

Active Dawah and education about the basics of Islam in a beautiful and pristine manner are the needs of the hour. At an individual level, you and your sister can attend lectures and youth-oriented activities currently taking place in the city. Then, both of you can encourage your respective friends to join in, too. Creating an awareness of the fundamentals of what’s right and wrong is always the first step toward adopting the right and rejecting the wrong. While it may seem difficult in the beginning, have the courage to calmly and politely advise those among your friends who indulge in gossip about girls; similarly, your sister can counsel her friends to dress more modestly.

Instead of name-calling or even pointing fingers at another culture, it is better to use simple logic to convince those around us of the dictates of Islam. Slowly, increase the circle of people, whom you are giving Nasihah (advice) to and Insha’Allah, you will feel that you are doing something about this epidemic. At the same time, do remember not to measure the worth of your actions only with results – after all, only Allah (swt) can change the hearts of people; our job is only to convey the message in a beautiful manner, full of wisdom. And on the Day of Judgement, Allah (swt) will not ask us about the actions of someone else, but what we ourselves did.

Let us rise to the challenges that our society faces and pray to Allah (swt) to help us in His cause.

Dear Haadia

Haadia

I’m a 21-year-old and have an extremely important question. When I was 15, I was very outgoing and had loads of guy friends, including a boyfriend. As circumstances should have it, things did not work out, and he got married to someone else. Since then, I have tried to be a good Muslimah. I want to have a family of my own now, but I don’t want to betray my future husband by having another guy in my mind the whole time. My parents also want me to get married, but I feel I cannot get married. Everything seems distorted. Please help.

Answer: Firstly, I would like to commend you on being such a brave individual and for having grasped the handhold of Islam. This, indeed, is what will lead you to inner peace and harmony, Insha’Allah! Moreover, to realize one’s mistakes and then to beg Allah (swt) for forgiveness is truly a blessing of our Creator. I can understand the grief and despair you are engulfed in; remember that these are very natural emotions and we see the grief of Hazrat Yaqoob (as) in the following Quranic Ayah: “… And he lost his sight because of the sorrow that he was suppressing.” (Yusuf 12:84)

Now, a question may come to one’s mind – why was a Prophet of Allah (swt) tested? Let’s again refer to the Quran: “And certainly, We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits, but give glad tidings to As-Sabirin (the patient ones, etc.).” (Al-Baqarah 2:155)

What are these glad tidings? They are our purification – they will elevate our levels in the Hereafter. So what should one do? The Quran gives us the answer in the next Ayah:

“Who, when afflicted with calamity, say: “Truly! To Allah we belong and truly, to Him we shall return.” (Al-Baqarah 2:156)

“And seek help in patience and As-Salat (the prayer).” (Al-Baqarah 2:45)

So pray to Allah (swt) to give you the strength and the Sabr to forget about this boy, who is now married, and to move on with your life!

When we look around ourselves and contemplate the power of Allah (swt), may it be in a flowering plant, it will give conviction that He is the Almighty, Who can erase any painful memory. Often, our vision is myopic – what we may think to have been good for us might have been on the contrary. So have full belief in Allah (swt) that He will guide you towards a better future!

Now that you have identified what is happening to you, use the above solutions to overcome this situation. You can also join a group of young girls for understanding the Quran. As you are still studying, I would recommend a weekend class by the name of “Towards the Light” at 14 Sehr, Defence Housing Authority, Karachi on Saturday afternoons.

There are times, when we wonder, why Allah (swt) would let us go through such trials and difficulties. But Allah (swt) knows that when He puts these things all in His order, they always work for good! We just have to trust Him, and, eventually, they will all make something wonderful! Loads of Duas for you.

Dear Haadia

Haadia

I have studied in co-education schools since the very beginning and have had friends among boys. I have started adoring one of my friends (among boys). He has expressed his wish to marry me. We are both eighteen. Is it Haram to wish to marry someone? Should I express my wish to my parents? I feel that it will be unacceptable to them and also to the society in general, as teen marriages are very rare. Please, help me.

Answer: My dear sister in Islam, from your questions I can sense, how distressed and pressurized you are feeling. Let’s try to rationalize the situation and see what marriage, which is a Sunnah of our Prophet (sa), encompasses.

As a young couple, you both should understand that marrying young comes with responsibilities and commitments. Are you both ready for that?

It is true that society does not readily accept early teen marriages. However, the question is: are there any valid reasons, which we tend to overlook, as marriage is a decision of great magnitude? The importance of learning Islam is paramount. Sometimes, without the balance of reason, our hearts can blind us, because when we see only through the heart, our emotions colour our vision of what is real and what is unreal, as well as what is suitable for our needs.

Remember that fornication is a serious issue. In Islam, it does not begin at the point of sexual intercourse. It starts much earlier – with the look, the spoken words, the touch and then the rest of the body. The Quran says: “And come not near to the unlawful sexual intercourse. Verily, it is a Fahishah [i.e. anything that transgresses its limits (a great sin)], and an evil way (that leads one to Hell unless Allah forgives him).” (Al-Isra 17:32)

So there really is no excuse for relationships outside the domain of marriage. Now, let’s come to your questions.

Firstly, wishing to marry someone or marrying someone you wish to marry is not Haram, but how we do it is of great importance. In the name of adoring someone, Haram activities have to be avoided.

The consent of parents is also extremely important, and it is an Islamic requirement as well. This is because parents invariably know what is best for their children. In the context of male-female relationships, do remember that love should not be a means of satisfying carnal desires or material whims. Love should have a healthy atmosphere, where it can properly grow and be normally expressed – and for that, it should be covered by the protection of marriage, Islamic law and the consent of the family. The involvement of the family will help a lot in strengthening the marriage, because the choice of a partner is not based just on romantic notions; rather, the compatibility of the couple has been objectively analyzed. You will be spending the rest of your life with this man, raising a family, securing its future, facing joys and sorrows and aging together.

After marriage, you will have every right to enjoy each other’s affections, sheltered by the merciful umbrella of Nikah – a divine gift that Allah (swt) has established for loving souls. I recommend that your relationship should be in this light and with the blessings of both your families.

Sometimes, a trusted third party can help you to communicate with your parents; however, you yourself are the best judge of how to approach them. Remain calm through the difficult moments and do not forget to pray to Allah (swt) to make matters easy for you. Then, this man can propose to marry you, so that you can get betrothed to him.

And always, always remember to read the Quran every day and never neglect your obligatory prayers. Ask Allah (swt) for His help and ask Him to forgive you when you fail. With the help of Allah (swt) and your strong Iman (faith), you will overcome this difficulty, Insha’Allah.

Should you have any other questions, please, do not hesitate to write to me. May Allah (swt) always protect you and your family, Ameen.

Dear Haadia

I would like to commit my free time to some social work activities. Can you highlight some organizations for teenage boys and girls, where I could volunteer?

Answer:  Dear sister in Islam, your request for information about organizations where you could volunteer is very encouraging, and specially your interest in working with teenagers, who are an integral part of any society. Youth can be innovative, full of energy and can steer nations. Let’s look at some guidelines for social work that is greatly emphasized in Islam.

Firstly, the only motive of this service should be as described in the following Ayah, in which Allah (swt) says: “And I (Allah) created not the Jinn and mankind except that they should worship Me (Alone).” (Adh-Dhariyat 51:56)

Therefore, the essence of service to Allah (swt) is, firstly, to worship Him and Him alone and, secondly, to render service to His creatures for His pleasure. These are the two duties prescribed for the mankind. As regards the latter, let’s look at the following Ayah: “Those who spend (in Allah’s Cause) in prosperity and in adversity, who repress anger, and who pardon men; verily; Allah loves Al-Muhsinun (the good-doers).” (Al-Imran 3:134) Spending mentioned here would include all the tangible and intangible blessings a person may be bestowed with in different phases of life.

A great encouragement and motivation is expressed in a beautiful Hadeeth, which reflects the reward of visiting the sick: “The one, who visits the sick, is, in fact, like one, who is in the fruit garden of Paradise, as long as he does not return.” (Muslim)

Moreover: “Allah shows not mercy to them, who are not merciful to people.” (Muslim)

Now, let’s have a look at a few options, where you can volunteer. Do try to give your best for the volunteering work! Even time-wise – make conscious effort to contribute quality time, instead of just your free time, which is left over after your other engagements. Give to Allah (swt) your best!

At “Al-Huda”, volunteers can support the weekly children and youth programmess. Summer courses start in July in all branches. Help is needed with Dawah work, through promoting Dawah audio and written materials. Volunteers can also teach at the street children school run in PECHS, help emergency relief work in case of natural calamities and assist in packing during Ramadan food drives. For more information about welfare projects, visit http://www.farhathashmi.com/dn/WelfareDawah/tabid/641/Default.aspx

To register for volunteer work, write to: sadia@alhudapk.com

“Active Saturdays” is a series of programs for 11-19 years old boys, which involves them in fun and knowledge-enriching activities in an Islamic environment. Within the series, boys are involved in field trips with social implications, i.e., Darul Sukoon, Edhi Children’s Home, Civil Hospital, Husseini Blood Bank, Edhi Mortuary, etc. They also have such short social work projects as fundraising for digging a well, earthquake relief, etc. These are being held in various centres in Karachi. For further information, contact Saeed Motiwala at 0333-213-1788 or at saeedm@rocketmail.com.

Amidst other options is “Behbud Association” working towards poverty alleviation, especially among women. Contact: Behbud Center, 25 Mehmoodabad Road or St. 9, Block 1, Kehkashan, Scheme 5, Karachi. Ph: 021-5862093. Website: http://www.behbud.org

“Society for Educational Welfare” (SEW), which has a network of “Baithak Schools” for the under-privileged children all over Pakistan, is always in need of volunteers. SEW has started a Collaborative Community Development Programme (CCDP), whereby students can come to the “Baithak Schools” on Saturdays and share their knowledge and time with the underprivileged children. For more details, contact their office at 021-4800325-6, 9 am to 4 pm.

“Al-Khidmat Foundation” is also one of the places where you can volunteer. For more information, visit http://Al-khidmatfoundation.org

May your desire to volunteer encourage others to follow in your footsteps, Ameen.

Dear Haadia

I am a young man in my late twenties, studying in a professional medical college. My educational environment entails mixed gender situations, and sometimes I feel highly uncomfortable with my fellow female students, especially when we have to work closely. I understand that Islam expects me to maintain my distance, but how can I do this, if there are no segregated medical colleges for males?

Answer: Maintaining distance between genders does not necessarily mean shunning one another or existing in a segregated society. If we are raised in a modest environment, it is indeed natural to feel uncomfortable with members of the opposite gender – so be glad that you do.

Allah (swt) has made both genders in this world, so that they may coexist peacefully. For this purpose, he has set down certain injunctions, which must be followed during necessary interactions. Khalwa, being alone with a non-Mahram individual, is strictly prohibited. A Hadeeth, which clearly states that in such a situation, the third is Satan: “Whenever a man is alone with a woman, Satan is the third among them.” (Tirmidhi)

In public settings, if interacting with the opposite sex is an absolute necessity, certain rules must be followed: lowering the gaze, maintaining a business-like tone and ensuring that no physical contact (be it shaking hands, a friendly pat on the back, etc.) takes place. At the same time, these commands are not intended for robotic behavior.

For instance, lowering your gaze does not mean that you are never allowed to look at a girl during a discussion. It simply means that you should not make a sustained eye contact or stare at her. You can glance at her, then avert your eyes and repeat this with discretion. Similarly, talking in a business-like voice does not entail that you are not allowed to smile or laugh. Rather, you must not at any point become flirtatious. If you sense such an intention from a girl, change the topic or make an excuse and remove yourself from the situation. Worse comes to worst, request your professors to put you in a different group.

Do make sure that your behavior never arouses suspicion, even when surrounded by other people. For example, having a meal alone with a female classmate at a fast food joint is not allowed. It can lead to much speculation among people around you as well as in the mind of the girl herself. The concepts that ‘we’re just friends’ or ‘it’s only for fun’ are alien to the Islamic code of modesty between the two genders. (Likewise, if the intention for such outings is dating, then it is clearly forbidden in Islam, although unfortunately it is quite prevalent these days.)

Given your circumstances, do not forget the real reason you are at college: to gain knowledge. The girls are also there for the same reason. When you become a doctor, Insha’Allah, you will have to deal with female patients as well. Consider this a preparation for the future. Understand that one can interact with members of the opposite gender and yet maintain a distance figuratively. Internalize the commands set by Allah (swt) for such interactions and, Insha’Allah, He will make your task easier for you. And, of course, always make Dua that He keeps you on Sirat-e-Mustaqeem.

Dear Haadia

HaadiaQuestion: I am a single girl in late twenties. Circumstances indicate that I may never get married. I want to know what should be my purpose in life? Can you quote any example from the Islamic history of any such females and their mission in life?

Answer: Dear sister, never be disheartened with the will of Allah (swt) and never give up on His mercy, for we have absolutely no clue what He has destined for us. The mother of the believers, Aisha bint Abu Bakr (rta), got married to the Prophet (sa) when she was 6 years old, whereas Fatimah bint Muhammad (rta) got married when she was 18 years old, which might have been considered late during that time (1400 years back). So there is no right time, except the time that Allah (swt) has willed for us.

Regarding your purpose in life, unfortunately, we, females, have been conditioned to believe that marriage is the be-all and end-all of our existence. Although the Sunnah stresses that marriage completes half of ones Eman, Allah (swt) says in Quran: “And I (Allah) created not the jinn and mankind except that they should worship me.” (Adh-Dhariyat 51:56) So irrespective of who we are, the sole purpose of our life is worshipping Allah (swt).

How do we worship Allah (swt)? The answer is simple – by living our life according to His Deen (Islam). Whatever you are doing right now, see to it that it is done with the intention of seeking Allah’s (swt) pleasure. Whether you are pursuing education, looking after your parents or working for your living, do it with all sincerity and right intention.

To discover your purpose in life, ask yourself what it is that you wish to do. Do you want to pursue further education? Are you interested in a particular hobby? Probe yourself and you will discover that there is a lot you might want to achieve – and this will boost your self-esteem a great deal.

If you are disheartened because you have a lot of time and you don’t know what to do with it, then do think about serving the community. Join a philanthropic organization, volunteer for different causes, take up some specialized courses which match your interests, start giving tuitions to your neighbourhood children or set up a home business. The possibilities are endless.

One great example from Islamic history is that of Maryam (as). She was not married, yet we know from the Quran that such was her stature that Allah (swt) sent her food through angels. She had to face great trials and tribulations as a single mother – but she did so with great fortitude.

So, dear sister, don’t believe for one second that just because you are not married yet, you have no purpose in life at all. There is a purpose out there, waiting for you to discover it.

May Allah (swt) help us all in our pursuit of happiness in this world and the hereafter, Ameen.

Dear Haadia

Muslims are killing each other in our country. I don’t know, who is right and who is wrong. Honestly, I have even stopped caring about it! I just want peace in our society. What can we do to help this situation? Or is it not in our hands anymore?

Answer: First and foremost, we must realize that a Muslim cannot be a Muslim till other Muslims are safe from his/her hands and tongue. Verbally, emotionally, mentally or physically hurting another Muslim is a despicable crime in the view of Islamic teachings. So there is no doubt that what you are observing is indeed evil. Your cause for concern is justified.

Becoming numb is a somewhat natural psychological reaction to the repeated crimes we witness around us. The danger of such reaction, however, is that it eventually leads to apathy instead of action, and before you know it, you lose your faith.

Allah (swt) says to all Muslims: “You [true believers in Islamic Monotheism, and real followers of Prophet Muhammad (sa) and his Sunnah] are the best of peoples ever raised up for mankind; you enjoin Al-Maruf (i.e. Islamic Monotheism and all that Islam has ordained) and forbid Al-Munkar (polytheism, disbelief and all that Islam has forbidden), and you believe in Allah.” (Al-Imran 3:110)

So faith involves doing right by being an example to others to do right. As a Muslim, you do not live for yourself only – the problems of all Muslims are also your problems. So, if you are not actively enjoining good and forbidding evil, you are not functioning as a Muslim. Keep this in mind.

Furthermore, we cannot afford to stop caring about what is going on around us, because we will be answerable in front of Allah (swt), and we must strive towards spreading the message of peace. Allah (swt) will not ask you, why Muslims continued fighting among themselves during your lifetime, but He (swt) will ask, what you personally did for stopping it – what was your participation and contribution to end it? The following are some of the ways you can contribute:

Sensitize people towards the true nature and teachings of Islam as a method to spread peace at the grass root level.

Dua is a very practical way of handling problems around us, though we often tend to underestimate its power.

Umar Ibn Abdul-Aziz said: “It used to be that Allah, the Most High, does not punish the common people for the sins of the elite; but when the evil is done openly, and they do not repudiate it, they all become deserving of His punishment.” We should be careful about being passive onlookers of evil just shrugging our shoulders: “Who cares? It is not our business.” Should Allah (swt) decide to punish the evildoers, we would be included in the punishment for not forbidding the evil they were committing.

The story of prophet Lut (as) in the Quran and the Sunnah tells us of a pious man among the people of Lut (as), who did not commit the crimes his people did, but was a passive onlooker. When he walked among the people of Lut (as) and saw their atrocities, the colour of his face did not change in disapproval. So when Allah (swt) ordered Jibreel (as) to destroy the city, he was destroyed together with the rest of the people of Lut (as).

Remember that the result will never be in your hands, but your response certainly is. Do what you can, and leave the rest to Allah (swt).

Dear Haadia

My wife does not cover her head in front of non-Mahrams. I would really appreciate it, if she does, because I don’t want her to face Allah (swt) in such a state, and I am also possessive about her. She doesn’t realize the intensity of the sin she is committing. Kindly explain in detail the best way for me to guide her.

Answer: “And tell the believing women to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts) and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent (like both eyes for necessity to see the way, or outer palms of hands or one eye or dress like veil, gloves, head-cover, apron, etc.), and to draw their veils over Juyubihinna (i.e. their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms) and not to reveal their adornment… And all of you beg Allah to forgive you all, O believers, that you may be successful.” (An-Nur 24:31)

“O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies (i.e. screen themselves completely except the eyes or one eye to see the way). That will be better, that they should be known (as free respectable women) so as not to be annoyed. And Allah is Ever Oft-Forgiving, Most-Merciful.” (Al-Ahzab 33:59)

As the above verses specify, Hijab is a command from Allah (swt). Yet, another verse states: “There is no compulsion in Deen.” (Al-Baqarah 2:256). Hence, the decision to wear Hijab should be self-initiated, not imposed. It should be made with clarity in one’s mind that one wishes to please Allah (swt) by following His injunction. To understand and practice Hijab with such humility is indeed one of the greatest blessings of Allah (swt).

It is commendable that you are concerned for your wife. You as a husband are responsible for what is happening in your family and will be questioned about it. It has been narrated on the authority of Ibn ‘Umar that the Prophet (sa) said: “Beware, every one of you is a shepherd and every one is answerable with regard to his flock. (…) A man is a guardian over the members of his family and shall be questioned about them (as to how he looked after their physical and moral well-being). (…) Beware, every one of you is a guardian and every one of you shall be questioned with regard to his trust.” (Muslim)

However you should begin an earnest and open dialogue with her. Inform her of your apprehensions. Listen to her fears. Encourage her to explore the issue herself without prejudice. Offer her your full support in the process. Give her time.

Meanwhile, avoid constant reminding and nagging – these may unnecessarily irritate her and repel her from Hijab. If you succeed in cultivating a positive outlook, half your battle will be won, Insha’Allah.

Developing a more Islamic home culture is also important here. Instilling Islamic values in general in yourself and your family is vital in achieving Allah’s (swt) pleasure. Hijab should not be seen as an isolated command – rather, it is an integral part of the very fabric of a Momin’s life. Therefore, while you and your wife tread the path toward her acceptance of Hijab, both of you should simultaneously pledge to bring your everyday lives, the upbringing of your children and the general environment of your home closer to your Deen. Finding a social circle of like-minded individuals and families will not only positively influence your wife’s opinion of Hijab and Muhajjabas, but will also facilitate your submission to Allah (swt) as a family.

As for your possessiveness, you need to remember that the foremost purpose of Hijab is to submit oneself to Allah’s (swt) will, not to hide a woman’s beauty from other men. In this light, both of you must remember that Hijab has a meaning far deeper than its external covering. Hijab is more than the physical – it has so much to do with the internal humility, beauty and spirituality of a woman. In this sense, Hijab is not just a destination, but a journey in itself.

For more information, you may wish to read up more on Hijab. Two articles on the Internet, which may interest you, are:

“Hijab: Unveiling the Mystery” (http://www.allaahuakbar.net/womens/hijaab.htm)

“Understanding Hijab” (http://www.messageonline.org/2004febmarch/cover3_opt.pdf.)

Dear Haadia

I try to learn Duas and Surahs from the Quran, but after memorizing them, I tend to forget them. Can you suggest a method for improving my retention?

Answer: I am glad you asked this question, because forgetting what we have memorized is not a light matter, especially in light of a Hadeeth of the Prophet (sa) reported by Al-Amash (rta): “The calamity which affects knowledge is forgetfulness, and wasting it is to convey it to those, who are unworthy of it.” (Darimi)

When it comes to memorization and retention, it’s important to find a strategy that works for you, whether it’s mine, someone else’s or your own. I have outlined below some of my simple and quick techniques which you can test on yourselves.

  • Firstly, it is obligatory to be sincere, purify your intention and correct your desire to please Allah (swt).
  • Make Dua to Allah (swt) for learning and retention, as each memorized apportion is facilitated by Allah (swt).
  • Be goAl-oriented and set targets to check what you have learnt and retained, being completely focused and realizing the importance of that which is memorized.
  • See the time chosen for memorization and retention – are you fresh at that time? Fajr is the best! Having said so also vary your study routine occasionally. If you are accustomed to study in one specific location, try moving to a different spot of study. If you study in the evening, try spending a few minutes each morning reviewing the information you have studied the previous night. By adding an element of novelty to your study sessions, you can increase the effectiveness of your efforts and significantly improve the long-term recall.
  • From the Seerah of Rasul (saw) it is clear that we should be consistent on whatever deed we adopt. Start with small Duas or Surahs and read them regularly, especially in Salah or before sleeping. You can repeat them by keeping a small Dua booklet at your bedside or by keeping your eyes closed, which will also make you sleep better, Insha’Allah. Over time, consistent repetition will lead to improvement.
  • Read with thorough understanding and absorb the meaning. Also, read the text loudly and clearly to familiarize yourself with the sounds and to be fluent in pronunciation. It can be helpful to read the text thrice by looking at it and then recite it without looking.
  • For memorizing Duas, an important tip is to post them at different locations in your house and/or work place. For example: on the main door – the Dua before leaving the house, in your bag – Dua upon entering the market, at the bathroom entrance – Dua before entering and coming out of bathroom after using the toilet. Visuals are great reminders!
  • For best memorization and retention, study in a way which appeals to as many senses as possible. By seeing and simultaneously hearing the material, you reinforce it in your brain. Try to listen as frequently as possible to tapes and CDs, as sound is an extremely valuable tool. You can also carry a walkman, which is an excellent way to utilize time while traveling or waiting for a doctor’s appointment.
  • Elaborate on the material by adding more information to the subject that you are studying. For example, apart from concentrating on the translation, study the definitions of terms and read a more detailed description of the meanings of words.
  • Involve your emotions – we remember things that are emotionally relevant to us.
  • Revise using the same copy of the Quran. This is because we tend to memorize the script and form – their places in the copy leave an imprint in the mind.
  • It is necessary for the memorizer not to depend on himself in the process of memorization. Rather, he should test his memorization by reciting the verses or Surah to somebody else.
  • Interestingly, physical exercise and a balanced diet improve the heart’s ability to pump blood more effectively, and, in turn, memory benefits from the improved blood flow.

The above suggestions come from students and teachers that kindly shared the tips, which practically helped them to retain what they memorized. May Allah (swt) help each one of us to benefit from them. Ameen.

Lastly, Abdullah Ibn Amr (rta) has narrated a beautiful Hadeeth, according to which the Messenger of Allah (sa) said: “It will be said to the reciter of the Quran: ‘Read and ascend! And chant as you used to chant in the worldly life. For verily, your station (in Paradise) will be at the last verse you recite.'”(Ahmad, At-Tirmidhi and Abu Dawood)

Dear Haadia

I am an above average O levels student (male) and work very hard to maintain my grades. However, sometimes I am not able to be the best. This puts a lot of pressure on me, especially from my parents. I am sick of being pushed around and now feel very depressed. What should I do?

Answer: You should keep up your hard work. In fact, you should feel proud of your efforts and understand that your parents only mean well, even if they don’t show it in the best of ways.

If things are getting too out of hand, perhaps you should try to convey to them that their forceful and persistent approach is actually hampering you from achieving success. Take both of them or one of them into your confidence. If this is difficult, then seek help from a relative who is mutually close to you and your parents. Your parents need to recognize that you are a self-motivated individual who needs to have some space in order to accomplish his studies. They also need to realize that any pitfalls here and there do not mean that you are no longer committed to your goal.

At the same time, you need to see that your parents’ concern is also quite understandable: this is a very crucial stage of your student life and will weigh in heavily into your future studies and career choices. So, don’t get unnerved so easily. Keep your calm and keep studying. They only want the best for you.

Feeling helpless and depressed is not the solution. Rather, it could have a serious impact on your studying, on your zeal, on your willingness to take on challenges. It is very important that you keep a clear head right now and deal with this situation in the best possible manner: through discussion, mutual understanding and, of course, continued hard work!