Character versus Personality


In “The Power of Introverts in a World that can’t Stop Talking”, author Susan Cain writes: “We moved from what cultural historians call a culture of character to a culture of personality. During the culture of character, what was important was the good deeds that you performed when nobody was looking.” Prophet Muhammad (sa) symbolizes the culture of character, where he was only cognizant of the fact that he was answerable to Allah (swt) alone.

Today, our kids are personifications of the new ideal person. “…we suddenly had the rise of movies and movie stars. Movie stars, of course, were the embodiment of what it meant to be a charismatic figure. So, part of people’s [our kids’] fascination with these movie stars was for what they could learn from them…” (Susan Cain) They learn about being popular and getting ahead. Welcome to the culture of personality!

We wonder why our children are disobedient, do not listen, are rude towards others and give tart replies. The answer is obvious. It is the prevailing culture and model of success that has made them so. What can we do to counter it? After a survey of 8 to 15 year olds (boys and girls across 3 continents), we have compiled a practical guide.

  1. Be decisive: When you make a decision, stick to it. If something is off limits and not allowed, then under no amount of pleading or duress will it be permissible. Granted there are certain grey areas, but define those. For example, missing Salah is a straight ‘not to be done’. However, completing homework right now can be negotiable.
  2. Say it like you mean it: Kids of all ages have this uncanny sense of knowing, when you can be persuaded. They detect weakness in resolve and then move in with their innocent faces to plead till you relent. If something is non-negotiable, then mean it when you forbid it. Do not use “I’ll tell Abbu/Ammi” or “let your father/mother come and then we will see”, or any other such statements. You are the parent. You have the authority. Use it.
  3. The Rubric: A rubric is a tool used by teachers to assess a particular task given to students. Often, the students are given these criteria, so they know what areas they will be assessed in. Allah (swt) in His infinite mercy has given us such a tool; sadly, we rarely use it. Make a copy of the rubric below, personalize it and sit with your kids to decide, where each task falls and then hold them to it.





(permitted – neither good nor bad)

Makruh (disliked but not forbidden) Haram (forbidden)
Parent’s expectations non- negotiable discussion Negotiable discussion but probably not allowed or limited access not allowed – non- negotiable
Parent’s Reaction thrilled pleased concerned dislike angry
Tasks Salah (all the time and on time) studying and homework email friends Facebook/social media/TV going to clubs/movies that have Haram content
  reciting Quran everyday helping siblings/ taking out the garbage cell phone usage going out to the mall with friends reading books that have Haram content

Be as specific as you can be. Try not to generalize – that way there is no room for a: “I wasn’t sure what that meant” reply, which has become oh so popular.

  1. Islam as a Deen, not only rituals: Prioritize and schedule your activities and day according to Islam. If you make Deen a part of daily life, so will your kids. This is, of course, common sense, but we, as parents, do digress and as a result give our kids mixed messages. The most common example is lying on the phone about being busy, etc. Kids are confused: lying in any form is a sin, so why is what the parent just did acceptable, but when she/he lies it is not? Be the role model, do not let others (movie stars/singers/sports personalities) usurp that spot.
  1. Be fair: A rule that applies to one child, by default also applies to the rest. For example, if you do not let one child snack between meals then you cannot allow the others either. For most rules, age/gender does not play a factor. Treat them equally, so they know they are loved equally.
  1. Be a friend: “Most parents want a mutually respectful and loving relationship with their children, (…) this means giving in to their harmless pleasures, saying yes to the little things, so when you do say no to things that are absolutely unacceptable, they trust that you are not trying to control them but are ‘raising’ them. Parents need to know that kids are hitting puberty earlier, but we do not let them become adults until much later in life. Psychologists tell us that the reward centers of the adolescent brain are much more active than those of either children or adults.” ( So, let them have their absolute moment of joy, as long as it is permissible. Communicate with them, enjoy their exuberance. Do you remember how it felt to win?
  1. Responsibility and choices: Teach them that if they want choices, they will have to be responsible for the consequences. We do not teach them how to think critically. Let them make mistakes, nurture their hurt and teach them to become stronger after the fall. A mistake is not a failure – it is a learning situation.
  1. Be tech savvy: In the social media, super-connected world of today, parents really do themselves a disservice, when they do not educate themselves about gadgets and technology. Don’t give your child a smartphone, if you do not know how to use it yourself.” (
  1. Be informed: All kids are good; however, be vigilant. This is not a trust issue but a smart parenting move. Know who the friends/peer groups are. Check up on them unexpectedly. Have access to his/her phone, Facebook account, etc. Know what their daily routine is, ask them what they did that day. Communicate! Show them that you care enough to be there when needed.
  1. There is a connection between sensitivity and conscience. The more sensitive a person is, the more moral choices they will make. Guide your child to be sensitive to others’ needs and views, and not to criticize. The ‘cool’ of today is insensitivity. We need to cultivate kids, who think before they act/speak. To do this, programme yourself with this new line of action – your kids will follow.

Subhan’Allah, and may the odds be ever in your favour.

Raising Muslim Children in Present-Day America: Challenges and Opportunities

New in USA

A few months ago upon returning to the States from a vacation in Pakistan, we waited in line at Chicago O’Hare airport. Our turn came quickly. The immigration officer looked at me and my family, scanned our green cards, smiled and said “Welcome Home.”

Two words, but they had a great impact on me. Was this home, or did we just return from home? Can we have two homes? What about our children who were born in America, yet visit Pakistan annually for a month or two? Lots of questions but only one answer. Yes, this is our home because everything happens by the Will of Allah (swt). However, while we are here, do we just blend in with the crowd or do we make good use of our time?

As Muslims in a post 9/11 America, we are ambassadors of Islam 24/7 whether we like it or not. Yes, the entire Ummah is a Khaleefah, but how many times have we taken our faith for granted when we are comfortably nestled between Muslims? How many times have we had to actually defend our faith?

The moment I step out of my house, my Dawah gear is on auto-pilot. I could be doing negative Dawah by being late for an appointment, being rude to a bank clerk or breaking a red light on a busy street. But I can be doing positive Dawah by smiling at my son’s teacher, holding the door open for someone at the store or sending brownies to my neighbour.

So the next time they see a woman in Hijab or a man with a beard being stereotyped, they may pause to think: “Hey, that’s not representative of the Muslims I know.”

We may not be able to change foreign policy or stop injustices across the globe, but we can change perceptions one person a time. We need to do it – not just for ourselves – but for our children.

Does that mean we just try to ‘blend in’ and not stand out as Muslims? Should Samia become Sammy and Bilal Bill?

However, if our Iman is strong, why not tell people that we are regular, law-abiding citizens who do not have bomb-making cells in their basement.

Thousands of Muslims have reported to have been victims of discrimination, harassment or attacks since 9/11. Children have seen their parents under great stress whether it is a name called on the street, or someone being laid off or even deported.

Our children are innocent spectators and unless we do something to change perceptions, they could grow up feeling insecure.

So, how can Muslims who have decided to live in the West make the best ambassadors?

And how can Muslim parents instill Islamic values in the entire generation of American children they are raising?

Preserve Muslim Identity

From a young age, we have to make our children proud of their faith. Whether it is making a big deal out of Ramadan, throwing them an Eid party or enrolling them in Sunday school, we have to make the sacrifice if we want our kids to have an identity.

A misconception that prevails in many minds is that a ‘Muslim-American’ is an oxymoron. They believe that you have to be one or the other, not both. But there are thousands of Muslim-Americans, whether by birth or naturalization who are excellent ambassadors of Islam.

Connect with the American Society

In order to be contributing members of society, Muslims should not just stay within their own community bubble. If we have decided to live here, we have to reach out to our neighbours, co-workers and yes, even the lady at the post office.

If we keep our children in the Muslim bubble, they will not know how to interact with their peers at school or in the work force. We need to enroll them in park district soccer leagues and school Girl Scout troops. If non-Muslims don’t know any Muslims, they will be forced to believe whatever the mass media feeds them.

We should not confuse our children with constant references to ‘back home’. They were born in the US, and yes, they are Americans. If you insist your son plays cricket, then you’ll have to fund an entire team, find coaches and gather support. If you overcome the cultural barriers and encourage him to play baseball, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to connect with mainstream society.

As parents, we have to choose our battles. Paratha is not more religious than pizza. Our children should respect their parents’ culture, but they should not be made to constantly choose between here and ‘back home’. They should respect their grandparents’ traditions but be allowed to make some new ones.

We may never have been out rafting, or gathering for story-time by a campfire; but these are some American traditions that do not contradict Islamic teachings. It just proves that there are Halal avenues for fun and it is up to us parents to provide them in contrast to always saying no to our kids.

Find a Mentor

Our parents are the best mentors we have. However, they did not raise children as a minority in a foreign land, and therefore it is important for us to find families who have done a good job in raising Muslim American children. Their experiences can help you formulate your parenting strategy.

Children spend so much time at school that it is imperative to know what they are being taught. Even though American public schools are not allowed to teach religion, they can teach about religion.

Parents should join the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) and volunteer in their kids’ schools. Offer to give a presentation on Ramadan, Eid or Hajj. Tailor it to your child’s age and follow protocol such as asking for permission and discussing plans with teachers.

Previous generations have laid a great foundation in the U.S. by building mosques, Islamic schools and Zabeeha meat stores. However, they did not have to face the unique circumstances we younger parents are facing in a post 9/11 America where our children are not just ‘cultural aliens’, but rather ‘enemy aliens’. We need to unite forces if we want to raise a confident generation in unconfident times.

Our objectives need to be clear – we are out there to remove misconceptions about Islam. It is up to us to provide our children with a strong identity at home and the ability to connect with mainstream America in order to become the ambassadors of excellence for today and tomorrow, Insha’Allah.

Raising Confident Kids

Jan 11 - Raising confident kids

By Laila Brence and Maryam Asif

Every parent wishes to see their children grow into independent and confident adults, capable of handling their own life. In pursuit of this, many parents tend to fall into the trap of over-parenting, which, just like any other ‘over’, is not a desirable phenomenon. If you find yourself accompanying your grown-up children to job interviews to negotiate their salaries, it’s certain you’ve slipped into one of these ‘overs’. But how and where do we draw the line between getting involved in our children’s life, yet not accused of over-helping them which might result in the opposite of what we had in mind? The following ten suggestions will guide you towards developing your children’s confidence and self-esteem.

1. Believe in your children and show it

Let your children know they are lovable individuals. Show affection to your children – that extra amount of love will not spoil them but instead boost their confidence. If, however, you constantly show lack of trust in your children’s abilities and skills, the development of their self esteem will be hindered.

2. Give praise and positive feedback

Your children measure their worth and achievements by what you think of them. “Well done! That was hard and you managed it!” is music to young ears. Respect their struggles. Reassure them that it’s alright to make mistakes, and that it’s all part of growing up and learning about the world around them. Permitting your children to make decisions (even if wrong ones at times) helps them develop good judgmental skills.

When your children do something you told them not to and end up hurting themselves, refrain from statements such as: “See, I told you not to do it! Now, take care of it yourself!” Likewise, do not constantly threaten them with terrible consequences and punishments for not obeying you – that too can hurt their self-esteem.

3. Practice active listening

Listen carefully, repeat what you’ve heard to make sure you understand and give positive prompts to encourage your children to continue. Even if your child needs to tell you something when you’re extremely busy, do not multi-task – give them your undivided attention. Dismissing your children’s ideas and suggestions without hearing them out can hurt their self-esteem.

4. Acknowledge your children’s feelings and help them express them verbally

This is something every child needs immensely. Imagine a situation when your children end up fighting with the kids of your guests over toys. At this point, it’s important to address children’s emotions and help them articulate them. They might be feeling insecure, angry or helpless – acknowledge these feelings. This is not the time for a lecture on values and morals, as they are too occupied with their emotions, and your lecture will only aggravate their anger.

5. Criticize behaviour, not your child

This is a very easy trap to fall into. Too much criticism tells your children they are bad people. If such criticism continues over a long period of time, it can heavily damage your child’s self esteem. Be clear that it’s an action you’re angry about or it’s a behaviour you don’t like. Avoid such over-generalizations as: “You’re such a dirty kid! You never clean your room!” It may be that your children usually do clean their rooms, but on that particular day they didn’t, and you were in a bad mood anyway.

6. Focus on your children’s successes

Swimming, arts and crafts, cricket, technology, literature or social life – whatever they succeed in. It may be that they are good at swimming but not at academics. Acknowledge their success, instead of saying:

“Swimming won’t get you anywhere. If you do not do well at studies, you will never succeed.” If you acknowledge their strengths, it may be that in the future they will be motivated to work on their weak points as well.

7. Respect your children’s interests, even if they seem boring to you

Take a genuine interest in your children’s friends and what’s happening at school, and comment to show you’re listening. This will not only strengthen your communication but also give your children the message that you care about their life and interests.

8. Accept any fears or insecurities your children express as genuine

Even if they seem trivial to you, don’t just brush them aside. If your child says: “I’m useless in math,” say: “You’re obviously finding math a struggle – how can I help you?” Instead of passing such sarcastic remarks as: “With all that TV you watch, what else do you expect?” Treat issues independently, without connecting unrelated consequences to actions.

9. Encourage your children’s independence

Encourage them to take chances and try new things. Succeeding at new things gives a huge boost to confidence. Even if they will make mistakes by trying out new things, it will be a great opportunity for them to learn.

10. Laugh with your children – never at them

We all know that there are times when words can hurt more than actions. Don’t humiliate your children for their mistakes or misfortunes – if you won’t be on their side, then who will? Likewise, it is important to keep a sense of humour when difficulties arise, as it works wonders and helps your children focus on the truly significant matters in life.

Children have an innate capability to cope with the pressures and demands of the environment they are a part of. However, we cannot assume that they will learn to cope on their own. Parents should become the facilitators, who provide their children with the means to use this inner strength that they naturally posses. Simply treat your kids the way you yourself want to be treated and you can be sure to steer clear of all the ‘overs’.

The material presented in this article is based on a workshop titled “Raising Confident Kids” facilitated by Madeha Masood at ERDC (Educational Resource Development Centre).