In Surah Maryam, we are told of Prophet Zakariya’s (as) invocation to Allah (swt) for someone to inherit his prophetic legacy. His prayer was stimulated by his desire to see his mission continue after him and to pass on to the future, the treasure of wisdom, knowledge and faith he had acquired over the years. Allah (swt) blessed him with a righteous, noble son to inherit his legacy and to make it live beyond human mortality. It highlights the importance and role of parenthood as a means to reach out to the future and make the best in you live beyond your limited span of life.
The family lives of prophets give us important insights into their roles as parents. The manifestation of Luqman’s wisdom that Allah (swt) chooses to record in the Quran is what he taught his son. These words of advice are perhaps the best example today for Muslim parents.
The primary thrust of Luqman’s teaching is on belief in the Creator. His words are warning against associating with Allah (swt) anything of the creation. The tone, however, is not overassertive but explanatory, describing Shirk as the ‘greatest injustice’ against the Lord of the universe. Parents must teach their children the rights of Allah (swt) along with His attributes of absolute uniqueness and incomparability, so as to build in the consciousness of their children, recognition of Allah (swt) from their earliest years. It teaches complete reliance on Him for all needs and roots out all likelihood of Shirk.
The centrality of Tawheed in teaching the young recurs yet again in the words Ibrahim (as) and Yaqoob (as) say to their sons. Allah (swt) quotes them as saying: “‘O my sons! Allah has chosen for you the true religion, therefore die not save as men who have surrendered (unto Him)’… Yaqoob said to his sons: ‘What will you worship after me?’ They said: ‘We shall worship your God, God of your fathers, Abraham and Ishaq, One God and unto Him we have surrendered.’” (Al-Baqarah 2:132-133) Also, in this instance, the strong concern to ensure that their inheritors are saved from misguidance is very noticeable. It emphasizes that fear of Allah’s (swt) displeasure is the most powerful restraint against sin. As parents, it is our prime responsibility to plant in our children from their earliest years this seed of Taqwa (God-consciousness), motivate them to do good and restrain them from evil. Yaqoob (as) stresses the importance of staying forever in a state of submission to God by instructing his children to hold fast to faith and “die not, except as Muslims”.
Just as the Quran often instructs believers to obey parents right after the command to obey Allah (swt), Luqman teaches his son the importance of kindness to parents. He adds that the command of God is of the highest importance – if an order by parents violates this, they are not to be obeyed. However, in this case, children should not abandon kindness and gentleness in dealing with their parents. It is this unconditional attitude of respect towards parents that keeps filial ties intact and vital and, hence, protects the moral fabric of the society by giving every individual a personal source of authority and guidance to fall back on and seek recourse to.
After sowing in the heart the seed of faith, Luqman teaches his son to worship Allah (swt) with the heart and soul, fulfilling all the rites of His worship perfectly, for prayer is the best expression of submission to Him. He also prepares his son for the hardships that come in the way of the struggle to establish virtue and eliminate vice, advising him to stay steadfast, to persevere and to trust in Allah (swt): “… bear with patience whatever befalls you.” (Luqman 31:17)
Next, Luqman takes up character-building, which is closely connected to faith in God. Faith in the heart is the fountainhead of humility and gentleness in dealing with others; the source that impels one on the path of righteousness and good conduct. He teaches moderation, gentleness, etiquette and mannerism and warns against the hateful sin of pride, which does not befit man. What strikes one about Luqman’s advice to his son is not just the comprehensive nature and content of his teaching but also how it is ordered, linked and prioritized. As parents, we must likewise prioritize what we teach our children, keeping central to all teaching faith in Allah (swt).
Prophet Muhammad (sa) taught and trained his cousin Ali (rta) as his own son, and it was under his guidance that Ali (rta) grew into a living treasury of immense knowledge. Fatima (rta), his youngest daughter, brought up under his love and protection, became a woman of extraordinary perseverance and patience. What must be taken note of is how her blessed father insisted that her relationship with him could not guarantee salvation; it could not be taken advantage of, and that individual effort and personal sacrifice had to be made to gain Allah’s (swt) love and find a place among the righteous. When Fatima (rta) came to her father to request for a slave-girl to help with household chores, the Prophet (sa) instead taught her words of remembrance of Allah (swt) to give her ease. What is obvious here is fatherly wisdom to make his children go through toil and labour and achieve a higher station of faith by facing all the rigours of life and learning to rely on Allah (swt) alone. We also see how the Prophet (sa) rejects for his children all privilege that came with his spiritual and worldly position.
Anas Ibn Malik (rta) reminisces, how in his years of service to the Prophet (sa), he was never reprimanded even slightly for his mistakes, and was always gently instructed and taught by example. He mentions his mildness of nature and readiness to forgive and overlook faults; such traits make one learn and grow, without any feeling of being ordered and instructed. It creates in the learner a fondness for the teacher that makes obedience and learning a continuous pleasure.
Ibn Abbas (rta), who was also honoured by being taught by the Prophet (sa) and grew up to become one of the greatest scholars of Islam, reminisces: “I was riding behind the Prophet (sa) one day, when he said to me: ‘O son, I am going to teach you some advice: Observe Allah (swt), He guards you. Observe Allah (swt), you will find Him ahead of you. When you ask, ask Allah (swt). And when you seek help, seek the help of Allah (swt). And be certain that were the whole nation to collaborate to benefit you, they would never benefit you, except in a thing, which Allah (swt) has already foreordained for you, and if they were to collaborate to harm you, they would never harm you, except in a thing which Allah (swt) has already foreordained against you. The pens are lifted and the sheets have become dry…’” (At-Tirmidhi) The child is being taught complete trust in Allah (swt) and submission to His decree, a belief which makes one courageous, steadfast, patient and full of hope.
Parenting is a sacred duty we owe to the future. A righteous child is our gift to the future of the Ummah. In order to instill in our children the values that can make them a means of Sadaqa-e-Jariya for us in our afterlife, we must follow the ways and methods by which the prophets and the righteous taught their progeny. As parents, teachers, and elders we have a tremendous responsibility towards those who will live out our legacies after our time is up.