“No means No! And don’t talk to me that way!” With these words ended a conversation between a mother and her tween-aged daughter about putting away her game. Sounds familiar, right? What if I told you that it was the daughter speaking to her mom, not the other way around? Shocked, are you? Well, these types of conversations are becoming quite commonplace in our day and age and sadly even in our own Muslim community. Such explosive verbal exchanges of spite, anger and helplessness remind me of a Hadith of the Prophet, peace be upon him, which tells us of a sign of the end of time is when the slave will give birth to her master. Parents today are becoming slaves of their children and doing them a disservice by not giving them their rightful upbringing with proper tarbiyya.
Chances are, you have not heard of Shaykh Muhammad Maulud or his text, Birr Al Walidayn. Probably because you, like most parents, never learnt it. This text usually taught first in a traditional Islamic educational model, still in practice in parts of the Muslim world, deals with the rights of parents, which seem nonexistent in today’s society. This text explains how much respect and obedience parents truly deserve and teaches every Muslim their role and responsibility within the family. It is incumbent upon every family to educate their children holistically, and we, as Muslims, cannot for any reason shy away from the divine responsibility of Tarbiyya. With hoards of powerless Muslim parents giving up their roles as teachers and disciplinarians out of the fear of child abuse, we are falling into the reversal: parent abuse.
The word Tarbiyya in Arabic, means “to cause something to develop from stage to stage until reaching its completion [full potential]”. How can we cultivate in our children the skills necessary to reach their full potential of becoming Allah’s khalifas on this earth if we haven’t taken the time to teach and train right from the start? Kids are a trust from Allah, so how do we teach them to obey Allah if they don’t obey their parents? How can our kids be expected to serve Allah if they haven’t learned to serve their family or community? We have to guide them through the stages of their lives teaching and influencing them more than the society at large.
Modern television, public education and counter culture teach disrespect, bad Adab (deportment) and ill temperament with parents and society. Islam expects just the opposite from us. Tarbiyya is hard work because in today’s world we are teaching the exact opposite of what our kids see and sense on a regular basis, regardless of how protective a parent we are. Yet, if we succeed, the payoffs of sticking through are great. Too many parents dismiss bad Adab with the “just a phase” or worse yet, “every child is like this” excuse. What we do when we succumb to our children’s bad Adab is teach them to succumb to societal pressures. We have to strive to correct them at every instance of error, gently of course and reassuringly, so they see through our consistency that the matter being corrected is serious, just like we are. Good tarbiyya of our kids implores us to be on our toes as well. We have to not just display good adab and akhlaq at all times to be role models for our young ones, but also watch our kids closely and even limit their exposure to other children who may be sources of ill influence on them. I do not need to quote scholars after scholars who have advised us to protect our children from bad company as we have all heard the Sahih Hadith about sitting in good company being like sitting in a perfume shop and sitting in bad company like sitting with a blacksmith and the outcomes of each. In fact, students who have returned from studying in Tarim, Yemen, the place where sunnah thrives in every home, tell us how protected the children of the scholars are to ensure more than excellent upbringing!
Looking beyond how we as a family can teach our children to have good Adab or Deportment, is how we as a community can teach this. We have all been in situations where we are uncomfortable with the way a child behaves and the parent ignores the behavior, or the parent is not around to correct the child. Do we feel a communal responsibility to correct this child? Is it even our business? What does, ” It takes a village to raise a child” really mean? Well the jury is still out on what is the correct societal etiquette on whether or not you should correct another person’s child, but as an Ummah that is supposed to act as one body, how can we ignore a child’s cry for attention, aka, misbehavior? Sometimes it’s important to show the child that their behavior is public and we all see it. Sometimes it’s important to address the behavior, especially if it’s dangerous to them or others around them. Sometimes it’s just important to not ignore and take charge, for the sake of bringing something to the parent’s attention, which they can miss as a caring but busy parent. I’d like to know if my child has been misbehaving or up to something unpleasant. Wouldn’t you?
How do we handle it when our child has been corrected by someone else, or if our child’s errors have been brought to our attention? Are we open to criticism? Are we accepting of our children’s faults? Do we rush to cover up and excuse them? Or do we become the embarrassed, angry mom who explodes like a bird in a video game? Does our child “get it from us” right then and there because an adult caught them? Do we step back, listen and give each party the chance to explain themselves before doling out the verdict? Sometimes correction of a child’s errors is seen as a correction of the parent and parenting style, when it does not have to be. Every parent wants the best for their child and the moms I know have put every ounce of energy they have on their children. So it should not be an attack on them. After listening to and reading Purification of the heart, by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, I realized that my attitude towards what is being said to me is just a reflection of the state of my heart. If I cannot accept criticism and correction, then I’m not ready to grow. At the same time, society needs to learn the skills of language necessary to tell someone that there is something wrong in the mix. Our Prophet advised us to use the best of language at all times and if we look at all children as our very own, and truly want the best for them, then it’s easy to correct them. If we look at our society and people at the masjid as one Ummah , it’s easy to take criticisms without offense. We have to change our state of mind but that can only happen with a change of heart.
My children learn a martial art, like a lot of other children in this country. Our family chose to take Aikido, over the more popular Karate or Tae Kwon Do because it trains in adab first and martial skills later. This ancient Japanese martial art places utmost emphasis on training the mind to coordinate with the body so that the actions and emulations necessary to for the body to accept training become easy. Whether it is sitting still in meditation exercises, or thanking the teacher when you are called upon before responding to him, or walking on the outside of the class rows if you have to go to the front of the class or working with different level and skills to ensure humility in yourself, they are all good ways to teach Adab. “The art of non dissension applies directly to being able to get along with peers, siblings, family and all adults in life.” 1 This training in self discipline is an important step to learn good Adab. We may initially have to do the actions, perhaps even meaninglessly, until they become second nature and then comes ease, followed by sincerity. In the words of Ibn Ataillah, “Actions are lifeless forms, but the presence of an inner reality of sincerity within them is what endows them with life-giving spirit.” This will be what the correct Tarbiyya will offer.
It’s disheartening to read articles about parents who are genuinely afraid of their children. Parents of teens now need helplines and hotlines to help them cope with their children’s anger and frustration towards them. Some even fear for themselves and their littler ones. A Parenting Plus article cites numbers of distressed, helpless parents calling in for help and sometimes protection from their own children has grown steadily to almost 1200 calls a day! 2 This cannot be the state of our Ummah, who are commanded by Allah to love, obey and respect their parents.
The rhetoric of fear and punishment has to be toned down in our homes and societies and the love of our Lord and His beloved have to be nurtured. Children who grow up with love, will learn to love back and we need to create an environment where there is a balance between teaching and tyranny so our children learn with patience and know themselves and understand their deen. As parents, we have to play our part as teacher and nurturer, with both love and mercy. We need to inculcate in our children that the reason to do good is for the pleasure of Allah and the Prophet, peace be upon him, not just to relieve ourselves from punishment of the akhira. If we all move on a path with a desire of becoming television free, God centered, nature driven, holistic human beings with a love of Allah and all His creation, spirituality will flow with ease into our lives and it will bring Ihsan with it, inshaAllah. Above all else, we have to make sincere and constant dua that Allah grant us with children who are obedient to Him and who follow the Prophet’s sunnah for the pleasure of Allah. May Allah grant us all tawfiq in raising an Ummah the Beloved of Allah will be proud of, Ameen.