Fathers and mothers are like shepherds. Their children are like their flocks.
Let us feel the seriousness of this Hadeeth narrated by Abdullah ibn Umar (rtam): Allah’s Messenger (sa) said: “Everyone of you is a guardian and is responsible for his charges. The ruler who has authority over people is a guardian and is responsible for them. A man is a guardian of his family and is responsible for them. A woman is a guardian of her husband’s house and children, and is responsible for them. A slave is a guardian of his master’s property and is responsible for it. All of you are guardians and are responsible for your charges.” (Bukhari)
Our pious predecessors made Deen the top priority of their lives. Teaching their children Deen and raising them as good Muslims was a topmost concern. Asma bint Abi Bakr (rtaf) is a shining example, raising a son like Abdullah bin Zubair (rtam). So is Umm Sulaim (rtaf), mother of Anas bin Malik (rtam). In the later years, we have the mother of Imam Shafai, who, despite being a widow, sacrificed a lot to make her son a scholar.
A child’s first years of life are critical, as during this time, he absorbs a great deal. His mind and memory are remarkable. How can we capitalize on these years, in order to teach them Deen and raise them as good Muslims? Here are some thoughts:
Be a Role Model
Children don’t listen to what we say. They listen to our every deed. They observe what we do. Be a role-model for them. Acquire the qualities you wish to see in them. Rid yourself of traits and habits that you do not want in your child. Following are some examples:
- We want our children to be close to Allah (swt). Are we close to Allah (swt)? Do we think of Him often? What’s our first response when something pleasing happens? How do we react when something displeasing happens?
- Do we model gentle, kind and tolerant behaviour for our kids? Do we keep losing our cool, yelling and hitting often? Then when the kids yell and hit, we become angry and tell them not to do so. If yelling and hitting are bad, how come they find us doing that?
- If they spoil or spill something, do we lose our temper, or are we patient and forgiving? Our behaviour in these everyday incidents can teach lifelong lessons to our children about patience and forgiveness.
- Do we tell them not to touch our things? Then when they do not share their things with siblings and others, do we get irritated and advise: “You should share. It’s good to share”?
- Do we always speak the truth, even when it is difficult? A Mumin (believer) does not lie.
- Every now and then, we make promises to our kids. When they ask for something, we say: “I’ll give you later, or I’ll take you there, or I’ll show you that.” Now, that’s a promise, and it needs to be kept. If we keep our word, we’ve taught our kids, without lecturing, the importance of keeping one’s word. But if we don’t, we’ve taught our kids that promises can be broken without a second thought.
- When we make mistakes, are we humble and honest enough to accept them? Can we say sorry, without trying to justify the wrong behaviour?
- What kind of a relationship do we have with our spouse? Is it based on mutual respect, care and understanding? When children see their father respecting and caring for their mother, and their mother being obedient and caring towards their father, they learn similar good behaviour. For Allah’s (swt) sake and then for our own and our children’s sake, we have to care for and value our spouses. If we have differences with them, we should discuss them privately.
- Do we fulfill the rights of our relatives? Do we prefer friends over family? Do we have good relations with our parents, siblings and in-laws? What kind of an example are we setting for our children?
- Do our kids see us caring about others, especially our Muslim brethren? Do they see us giving away our favourite things to others? From as early as two, we can talk to our kids about poor people and together select things for giving away. We can also place things and money in their hands to give to the needy.
- Adults often tell their little ones: “Say Salam to aunty/uncle.” The Prophet’s (sa) way was different. He used to say Salam to kids. There is a Hadeeth in Sahih Bukhari narrated by Anas bin Malik (rtam) that he (Anas) passed by a group of boys and greeted them (said Salam) and said: “The Prophet (sa) used to do so.” Often, small kids feel shy to say Salam to adults. Following the Prophet’s (sa) way, we should not hesitate to offer Salam to our kids and other people’s kids. Insha’Allah, as they grow up, they will return this goodness to us.
- How important is Salah to us? Seeing their parents praying on time five times a day would teach kids a better lesson than an hour-long talk on the importance of prayers. (This is not to say that talks don’t have value.)
- Is learning the Deen a priority for us? Do our kids see us spending regular time with the Quran? Do we attend at least one weekly class to increase our faith and knowledge? Late Khurram Murad (Daee, thinker, writer, and Director-General of Islamic Foundation, Leicester, UK) was educated at home till the primary level. He dedicated his book “Way to the Quran” to his mother, saying: “At her knees, I learnt to read the Quran; upon her insistence that I must learn Arabic, I was sent to the school of Maulvi Sahib, who gave me the rudimentary knowledge, upon which I could build later; seeing her devotion to the Quran, reading it with understanding, for hours and hours, kindled a spark in my heart, which has continued to illumine my way; finally, through her example and silent but solid support, I found my way to a life of struggle in the way of Allah (swt).”
Children learn their real, lasting Islamic lessons by observing us. Our primary effort has to be focused upon practising Islam ourselves. If we succeed, then, Insha’Allah, the supplementary education (through books, talks, etc.) will be more effective.
Education and Tarbiyah
It’s amazing how children learn so much through everyday conversations, book-reading and story-telling. Here are specific things I did with my children, all below the age of seven then. The following is not to portray myself as an exemplary mother. I’m far from that and make mistakes every day:
- I starting reciting Duas for different occasions right from the time they were born, for instance, I would say Salam to them when they woke up, and recite the Dua when waking up and going to sleep, when going to the toilet, when leaving the house and returning, when sitting in the car, during illness, when getting up from a gathering, when sneezing, when seeing someone in a hardship, when it rained and so on. Often, after saying the Dua, I would further say out loud its meaning in simple words. This way, they would pick the meanings and realize that all these (Arabic) words have a meaning. For example, when saying the meaning of the Dua for boarding a vehicle (Subhan alladhee Sakhkhara lana…), I would say: ”Allah (swt) is Paak (glorified), Who gave this car in our control; otherwise, we could not have controlled it, and to Allah (swt), we are going back.” I would break up the Duas for my son to repeat after me, for example, Al-hum-du-lillah, as it was difficult for him to say it in one go.
- When they were babies (and also when they were older), I would recite the Quran to them. I didn’t fix a time or place for this. I would do so when putting them to sleep or while working in the kitchen, or when on the go. Children pick up a lot this way. My elder daughter could recite Surah Fatihah when she was 2 ½ but my son could not. Each child is different, and we should understand and respect that. When reciting the Quran, I would sometimes say its meaning in simple words. My daughter understood that these words have meanings, and often she would stop me during my recitation and ask what this or that word meant.
- I would refer to the Quran or Ahadeeth, as the situation arose. For example, once we were outdoors. It was cloudy. My daughter asked when it would rain; I replied: “I don’t know. Only Allah (swt) knows. He has mentioned in the Quran five things that only He knows (rain being one of them; see Surah Luqman, verse 34)”. If the child yawned and didn’t cover the mouth, I would tell them to do so and mention the Hadeeth about it.
- Learning the Deen must be a daily activity for Muslims. We read Islamic books and stories almost every day. If we want our children to follow the Prophet’s (sa) footsteps, then we must regularly tell them stories of the Prophet (sa), his companions and other prophets of Allah (swt). Children love stories, and these are the best stories. Avoid telling them nonsense stories because story-telling is not just for fun – it shapes their character.
When my son was a toddler, I told him the story of Prophet Yunus (as) in simple words, using actions (for instance, of the fish swallowing him). I’ve told him the ‘doggy’ story about a thirsty man who, after fulfilling his own thirst, gave the water also to a thirsty dog, for which Allah (swt) forgave his sins. My son loved this story and wanted to hear the ‘doggy’ story again and again. I would tell him about Prophet Musa’s (as) miracle. To explain this, I would take his hand, put it in his armpit, take it out and say that it would be shining. I’ve told him about Prophet Sulaiman (as) and the ants and about the Prophet’s (sa) grandson riding on his back when he was leading the prayer (and that the Prophet (sa) loved children).
Once, when I was telling my daughter about the Prophet’s (sa) stay in the cave of Thawr during the Hijrah, I showed her a picture of Mount Thawr. My son got curious. I showed him the picture and told him a little about it. There will be such spontaneous moments every day for children to learn something. I don’t tell them fairy tales which contain such incorrect ideas as Shirk, pre-marital friendship, magic, lies or plain stupidity.
Our Deen differentiates between beneficial and non-beneficial knowledge. The Prophet (sa) has taught us Duas for seeking beneficial knowledge and Duas for seeking Allah’s (swt) protection from non-beneficial knowledge. Through personal example and guidance, we have to encourage our children to seek beneficial knowledge, and not to waste time and pollute the minds with non-beneficial knowledge. By refraining from junk literature, we set a good example for our children.
- We don’t have a T.V. We used to have a small TV set that was used sparingly for watching videos (Islamic or scientific). The harms of TV far, far outweigh its benefits, and given what Allah (swt) has said about alcohol and gambling’s sin exceeding their benefits, it’s best to say ‘bye bye’ to the TV set.
- Children learn much more by asking questions, than by answering them. I take my children’s questions seriously. This often means stopping what I’m doing to answer them or to look up the answer. They feel satisfied and their curiosity stays alive and grows. Once, before going to sleep, my daughter asked me who a Shaheed (martyr) was. I told her what I knew and asked her to remind me in the morning to look up more. In the morning, we found a list of possible Shaheeds: one who drowns, dies under a wall-collapse, dies due to plague, etc.
- From an early age (between the ages of 1 and 2), I informed them about the difference between our things and other people’s, for example, if they’d pick up an object belonging to someone else, I would tell them: “It’s not ours. We can’t use it without their permission.”
- I would encourage them to make Dua (though I need to do more of this). We had kept food for birds on our window-sill. Sometimes, the birds would come and sometimes not. My toddler son liked them very much and felt upset when none would come. I would say: “Oh Allah! Please send birds for him. Ameen.” As time went by, he got used to this, and when no birds would come, he would say to me: “Ameen,” which was his way of asking me to make Dua.
- I would try to link events to Allah (swt)’s Will and Qudrah. Once, when it rained, my son asked why, and I responded: “By Allah’s (swt) command.” I also told him about the water-cycle in simple words.
- I would tell them: “Allah (swt) would be happy, if we do such-and-such”, instead of: “He will punish us if we don’t do it.” Don’t mention hell-fire excessively when they are small (say, under 7). Present Jannah in a way they understand and feel attracted to. I tell my kids that the toffees and chocolates in Jannah would be such that they won’t spoil our teeth, and that we could eat as much as we want. I tell them about the Bazar held every Friday in Jannah. I tell them that we will see Allah (swt) there.
- I would attend Islamic classes (as a listener as well as a teacher). My kids would accompany me. While teaching the ladies, I would attend to the children’s needs, too (peeling an orange for them or nursing the baby). Somehow, adults in Islamic classes and Masajid often deal with children in a surprisingly harsh and cold way, which bears no resemblance to the Prophet’s (sa) way of dealing with them. Why don’t we consider this aspect of Sunnah as applicable to us? For shaping their Islamic character, it is important for Muslim children to attend these gatherings from a young age. In the Prophet’s (sa) time, children were a part of these gatherings and were not cut off from the lives of adults, as they are today. It would do the Ummah a lot of good, if Muslims studied and emulated the Prophet’s (sa) dealing with children. If children are welcomed in Islamic gatherings, they would turn out to be mature and better Muslims, and more loving towards their elders. Insha’Allah, we wouldn’t need to complain later that the youth is not interested in Islamic gatherings or the Masjid!
Parenting is hard work. We want this hard work to pay off in the Akhirah. Let raising our children as good Muslims be the focus of our parenting endeavours. Let pleasing Allah (swt) be the Niyyah in our journey. I pray Allah (swt) accepts the efforts Muslim families are making. Ameen.