Sunday, June 26, 2011

Parenting in Islam


Maryam Sakeenah

In Surah Maryam we are told of Prophet Zakariyyah (A.S)’s invocation to Allah 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. It reflects his responsibility to and concern for the future. Allah blessed him with a righteous, noble son to inherit his legacy and carry it on into the future, 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 on earth.
The role of prophets and righteous people as parents and how they taught their young needs also to be understood because we suffer from patriarchal mindsets which carry an exaggerated emphasis on parents’ rights as opposed to parental duties. In a tradition, when a father approached Caliph Umar (R.A) with a complaint against his son, the Caliph questioned him instead about whether he had first fulfilled his duty to educate his son in basic values. Raised as role models to be followed, the family lives of prophets give us important insights into their role as parents. Recorded instances of this are not rare. The manifestation of Luqman’s wisdom that Allah 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 instil pristine Abrahamic Monotheism and carry a warning against associating anything of the creation with Allah. 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, His attributes of absolute uniqueness and incomparability so as to build in the consciousness of their children a recognition of Allah from their earliest years. This helps a child develop a relationship with Allah and a familiarity with His attributes. It teaches complete reliance on Him for all needs and roots out all likelihood of shirk. Luqman’s words convey a sense of the enormity of the sin of ‘shirk.’ Parents must, alongwith building a recognition of the Creator, warn against all forms of polytheism_ explicit and implicit. “O my son! Join not in worship others with Allâh. Verily, joining others in worship with Allâh is a great injustice indeed.” (The Noble Quran, 31:13).
The theme of the centrality of tauhid in teaching the young recurs yet again in the words of Ibrahim (A.S) and Yaqub (A.S) to their sons. Allah 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)’…Ya’qub 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.’” (The Noble Quran 2:132-133) In this instance too, the strong concern to ensure that their inheritors are saved from misguidance is very noticeable. It emphasizes that fear of Allah’s 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) to motivate them to do good and restrain them from evil. Yaqub (A.S) 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.’ Luqman creates this God-consciousness in his son by explaining to him Allah’s attribute of Perfect Knowledge and the eventual accountability to Him thus: : “O my son! If it be equal to the weight of a grain of mustard seed, and though it be in a rock, or in the Heavens or the earth, Allâh will bring it forth. Verily Allâh is subtle in bringing out that grain, well aware of its place.” (The Noble Quran, 31:16)
Just as the Quran often instructs believers to obey parents right after the command to obey Allah, Luqman next teaches his son the importance of kindness to parents. He adds to it that the Command of God being the highest in importance, if the parents’ order violates this, they are not to be obeyed. However, in this case too kindness and gentleness in dealing with them is never to be abandoned. It is this attitude of respect towards parents unconditionally 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 with the heart and soul fulfilling all the rites of His worship perfectly, for prayer is the best expression of submission to Him. Next he instils sincerity and a sense of responsibility towards fellow beings by enjoining him to ‘command the doing of good, and forbid evil (gently and without harshness).’ (31:17) This is holistic worship which culminates in a strong sense of social responsibility, making a child grow up with a conscientious sense of duty towards his community.
Alongwith this he 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 trust in Allah: ‘Bear with patience whatever befalls you.’ (31:17) Luqman next 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: “And turn not your face away from men with pride. Nor walk in insolence through the earth. Verily Allâh likes not each arrogant boaster. And be moderate (or show no insolence) in walking. And lower your voice. Verily the harshest of all voices is the voice (braying] of an ass!” (13:18-19)
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 and educators we must likewise prioritize what we teach our children, keeping central to all teaching faith in Allah and a recognition of Him through His attributes, love for Him and fear of losing it. When this basis is created, it becomes easier to construct on it the edifice of a strong Muslim personality exuding righteous conduct.
The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) taught and trained his cousin-brother Ali (R.A) as his own son and it was under his guidance that Ali (R.A) grew into a living treasury of immense knowledge. Fatima (R.A), 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 Love and find a place among the righteous. When Fatima (R.A) came to her father to request for a slavegirl to help with household chores, the Prophet (SAW) instead taught her words of remembrance of Allah 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 alone. We also see how the Prophet (SAW) rejects for his children all privilege that came with his spiritual and worldly position. Anas bin Malik (R.A) reminisces how in his years of service to the Prophet (SAW), he was never reprimanded even slightly for his mistakes, and always gently instructed and taught by example. He mentions his mildness of nature and readiness to forgive and overlook faults; it is this that makes one learn and grow without feeling one is being ordered and instructed. It creates in the learner a fondness for the teacher that makes obedience and learning a continuous pleasure.
It is the same attitude we find in the Prophet (SAW)’s relationship with his beloved grandchildren Hassan and Hussain who basked in his compassion and love as they learnt from him gems of wisdom and were guided under his shade_ a guidance that directed their journeys in life long afterwards, till their noble end. Ibn e Abbas (R.A) who too was honoured to have learnt under the guidance of the Prophet (SAW) and grew up to be one of the greatest scholars of Islam reminisces hence: “I was riding behind the Prophet (SAW) one day when he said to me, ‘O son, I am going to teach you some advice: Observe Allah, He guards you. Observe Allah, you will find Him ahead of you. When you ask, ask Allah. And when you seek help, seek the help of Allah. And be certain that were the whole nation to collaborate to benefit you, they would never benefit you except in a thing which Allah 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 has already foreordained against you. The pens are lifted and the sheets have become dry. Recognise Allah at times of ease, He recognises you at times of difficulty. And rest assured that whatever misses you, it would never befall you, and whatever befalls you, it would never miss you. And you should know that victory comes with endurance. And the relief comes through distress. And along with difficulty comes ease.’” (Tirmidhi) The child is being taught complete trust in Allah 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.The concept of ‘continuous reward after death’ (sadaqa e jaarya) is very important in this regard. According to a hadith, one of the three means of reward after death is ‘a righteous child’ (Sahih Muslim, hadith no. 3084). A righteous child is our gift to the future of the ummah. In order to instil in our children the values that can make them a means of ‘sadaqa e jaarya’ 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, elders we have a tremendous responsibility towards those who will live out our legacies after our time is up.