“And invest my descendants with righteousness (46:15).”
The Holy Prophet (SA) said, “The right of a child over his parent is that he should give him a good name, make his manners good, and teach him the Qur’an.”
Parents are privileged to be guardians of the treasure God has placed in their lives; however, this gift brings with it tremendous responsibilities. There is no doubt that parenting itself is a difficult challenge, and more so if we are trying to raise our children to be good Muslims and believers (mu’minin). This task becomes even more difficult if one lives in an un-Islamic environment. Yet, we should be hopeful and grateful because Islam is the perfect way of life and it has guided us in every aspect required to lead a successful life. Furthermore, the followers of the AhlulBayt(as) are blessed with their teachings, in which it would be difficult to find an aspect of life which has not been mentioned.
Contrary to what we may think, our child does not belong to us so that we may do with him or her as we please. A child is an amanah (trust) of God, whom we should bring up as He desires us to. He has blessed us with a beautiful gift, and this upbringing itself is a way for us to attain the pleasure of God.Parenting implies that we should work on making ourselves better parents and not necessarily make the child the focus, for in this process of training the child we are actually training ourselves. “O you who have faith! Save yourselves and your families from a Fire (66:6).”Not only is this verse instructing us to save our families, but to save ourselves. A person who is drowning himself cannot save others; likewise, a parent cannot save his family if he has not saved himself. Of course, this does not mean that we should stop teaching our children things like prayer and Qur’an; rather, the point is that we have to first train ourselves.
The Holy Prophet(s) said,“Train your children in three things: the love of your Prophet, the love of his progeny [Ahlul Bayt], and recitation of the Qur’an.”According to another beautiful tradition, if a child learns the Qur’an when young, it becomes part of her flesh and blood. It means that whenever she will do any action with, she will do it according to the teachings of the Qur’an. The AhlulBayt have taught us things which psychologists and scientists are promoting today. One of these is the importance of loving our children from birth. This expression of affection and love is so vital in forming the child’s personality and is the foundation for instructing them in later years. A child who has always received love from her parents will then trust what they teach her around the age of seven.
According to the traditions of the AhlulBayt(a), young children think their parents are their lords because they give them sustenance. Parents should thus keep their promises because it is through their love that the child will eventually learn the love of God. However, a child who does not receive love from his or her parent may, God forbid, find it difficult to love others.
We may think that Islam wants us to teach our children prayer and Qur’an from sunrise to sunset, but that is definitely not the case. Playing with our children will help them develop a balanced perspective on life. The lives of our Imams show that they played with their children. Many accounts mention the Holy Prophet(s) playing with Hasan and Husayn(a). Any permissible entertainment or pastime is allowed as it strengthens the family’s relationship. The Holy Prophet encouraged parents to teach children archery and swimming.
Furthermore, children will have a more positive perception of religion if the occasions at the mosque are appealing and in a language that they can understand. We should try our best to avoid the development of any negative or adverse attitudes; for instance, if anything bothers the child it should be addressed. If the child is getting tired or hungry then he will complain later that he does not want to go again.
The Holy Prophet(s), in a beautiful narration, has divided the upbringing of a child into three stages; from birth to age 21. “The child is the master for seven years, a slave for seven years and a vizier for seven years. So, if he grows into a good character within 21 years, well and good; otherwise, leave him alone because you have discharged your responsibility before God.”
Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq(a) further explains this hadith, “Let your child play up to seven years, keep him with you [for education and training] for another seven years; then if he succeeds[well and good], otherwise, there is no good in him.”
We have discussed the importance of love in the first stage. It is in the second stage that children understand logical reasoning and abstract ideas. Interestingly, girls understand abstract ideas earlier than boys and this may perhaps be a reason they are able to start their wajibat before boys. In the second stage, children’s interest in acquiring knowledge is at its peak, and they are not burdened by responsibility. We should really endeavour to teach our children what we can in the second stage as their characters are shaped by the time they reach the teenage years. It is crucial to note that if the correct work has been done in the first two stages, then the teenage years should pose no problem. There is no phenomenon of dreaded teenage years in Islam; rather, Islam praises the youth for their energy and optimism. It is the age for assigning responsibilities and trust to the child, as the first was for showing love and the second for instructing and teaching. In the third stage, the child of yesterday becomes the youth of today and understands that soon he will have to become more responsible and independent.
Imam Hasan(a) gathered his children and those of his brother’s and said to them, “All of you are the children of today’s society and, it is hoped, the leaders of tomorrow’s society. So learn and make efforts in the acquisition of knowledge.” In another tradition from the Holy Prophet, we see how he praises his grandchildren before others: “Hasan and Husayn are the leaders of the youth of paradise.”
The Holy Prophet (s)said, “A righteous child is a flower from God He has distributed to His servants.”
Parents may feel overwhelmed when their children encounter peer pressure; indeed, it is no surprise that Islam has described the significance of the influence of friends. Imam ‘Ali(a) states, “True friends are a single soul divided between different bodies.” Now, that should make us consider who our children’s friends are and who they should be. The Holy Prophet says: “The conduct of everyone will be according to the beliefs and principles of his friend.” Hence, it is evident that good friends can have a great impact on our children’s character; parents should thus be aware of their children’s friends’ manners, habits, and usage of language.
Another important factor in a parent-child relationship is communication. There is a beautiful and profound tradition from Imam al-Sadiq(a)which states, “Teach traditions to your children as soon as possible, before opposers[to your beliefs] reach them before you do.” An example is teaching our children from a very young age that we should always be truthful and honest. If they grow up with that belief, then God willing, people who later try to teach them otherwise will be unsuccessful.
An obvious and practical issue that Muslim girls face in today’s society is the observance of the Islamic code of dressing. A girl who wears hijab should always be praised and encouraged, and if she does encounter problems, as is inevitable in the age we live in, the parents should always praise her for her faith.
Imam ‘Ali(a) said, “I have not asked my Lord for children with beautiful faces, nor for children with good figures, but I have asked my Lord for children who are obedient to Him, who fear Him, so that when I look at the child, and he is obedient to God, my eye is delighted.”
We should try to use our experience and judgment and the advice of others where necessary, but most of all we should adhere to the teachings of the Holy Qur’an and the AhlulBayt(as).Parents should model forgiveness and kindness, and above all, we should try to control our anger. Thus, there may be times when it is the parent who needs to apologise. Our moral standards, values and our following of the teachings of Islam should be constant for us and each member of our family. This constant adherence to prayer, telling the truth, keeping promises, reciting the Qur’an, attending majalis, observing modesty and Islamic rules are what we will instil in our children and what they will continue to teach their children. It is evident that parents are their children’s role models and the children learn from their parents’ actions, and not necessarily what they say, especially if it is contradictory to their actions.
In conclusion, although parenting is a constant challenge, Godwilling its rewards are also eternal. Mothers do not earn Paradise under their feet without struggling and making sacrifices. Yet, in the daily routine, we should not forget to enjoy our children (and take lots of photographs) with all their interesting mishaps and adventures, as the precious time goes very quickly. Those parents are indeed fortunate who leave behind in this world a pious child who prays for them.
Kubra Rizvi is an Honours Psychology graduate from Loyola University Chicago. She writes and lectures on various religious topics.