By J. Samia Mair
Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem
Not long ago I was sitting in between my girls at the masjid (mosque) before Jumu’ah (Friday) prayers and I couldn’t believe it—the top of their heads almost reached my shoulders. It wasn’t too long before that, or so it seems, that they were toddlers, little things by my sides, dressed in identical brightly colored dresses that I had thought perfect for twins. Now one daughter wears only ‘plain’ colors—blues, grays, tans, blacks, and an amira hijab, and the other twin concerns herself far more with fashion and does things with her hijab that I couldn’t replicate if I tried. The past decade went by way too fast, as if the thousands of yesterdays were just a single night’s dream.
And from their perspective things have changed dramatically and quickly as well. The other day one of my daughters, the less fashion-conscious one, was having some difficulty with her math. In exasperation she said, “I just want naps, snacks, and sippy cups!”—clearly reminiscing over simpler times, when learning wasn’t so challenging, when her day consisted mainly of meeting basic needs and desires, and when her responsibilities were virtually nonexistent. But we are not static creatures, and we do not grow and experience in a vacuum. The relationship between a parent and a child evolves, even to the point where the child may eventually parent the parent.
O humankind! If you are in doubt about the Resurrection, then verily! We have created you from dust, then from a Nutfah (mixed drops of male and female sexual discharge i.e. offspring of Adam), then from a clot then from a little lump of flesh, some formed and some unformed, that We may make clear to you. And We cause whom We will to remain in the wombs for an appointed term, then We bring you out as infants, then (give you growth) that you may reach your age of full strength. And among you there is he who dies (young), and among you there is he who is brought back to the miserable old age, so that he knows nothing after having known… (22:5; see also 30:54)
This evolving relationship between a parent and a child is most evident in childhood with the rapid rate of physical, emotional, and spiritual growth. Thus, for example, there is a vast difference between a two-year-old and a twelve-year-old, while the differences between a thirty and forty year old are not so pronounced. Another way of looking at it is to consider that the conversation one would have or the advice one would give to your thirty- and forty-year-old child might be very similar, but necessarily one would take a very different approach when communicating with a two-year-old versus a child of twelve. As parents, we have to adjust to these rapid changes that occur through childhood.
Complicating matters is that under Islamic law children who have reached puberty are required to pray, fast, etc. and are accountable for their sins. Yet in today’s modern society, there is an extended period of adolescence, and it is fairly inconceivable to image a seventeen-year-old leading an army as Usama ibn Zayd (ra) did at the time of our beloved Messenger (saas) or our daughters marrying young as was common in those days. For a parent, achieving the right balance between expecting our post-puberty children to meet their Islamic duties and understanding that the in-between-stage of adolescence is very real in our societies is not always easy, even before accounting for a child’s individual strengths and weaknesses.
Fortunately, much has been written on raising Muslim children in general and in non-Muslim societies, including how to address issues that are particular to this time, such as the Internet, social media, and computer games. Likewise, there are mainstream secular books that offer advice on raising children, which are helpful as well. But I believe the place to start, even before a couple has children, is to read the Seerah (biography of the Prophet (saas)) and the Shamaa’il (virtues and noble character of the Prophet (saas)) to see how our beloved Messenger (saas) treated and taught children, as well as adults. In that way, when one begins to read books on child rearing, that person has a broad understanding of the Sunnah and a context in which to understand more specific advice.
One of my favorite hadith that exhibits the Prophet’s (saas) gentleness in teaching and his understanding of human nature concerns the incident of the young man looking upon a beautiful woman:
‘Abd Allah bin Abbas said Al Fadl bin Abbas was riding the camel behind the Messenger of Allaah (saas). A woman of the tribe of Khath’am came seeking his (the Prophet’s) decision (about a problem relating to Hajj). Al Fadl began to look at her and she too began to look at him. The Messenger of Allaah(saas) would turn the face of Fadl to the other side. She said: Messenger of Allaah (saas), Allaah’s commandment that His servants should perform Hajj has come when my father is an old man and is unable to sit firmly on a camel. May I perform Hajj on his behalf? He said yes. That was at the Farewell Pilgrimage. (Sunan Abi Dawud; sound)
The Prophet (saas) did not scold the young man or belittle him, but without a word and with gentleness communicated very clearly the proper behavior in such circumstances.
In stark contrast is something that happened to us at a local masjid. I was performing the sunnah prayers before Dhuhr, and my daughters and another girl were talking too loudly. There was no one else in the women’s area, and I did not hear anyone in the men’s. Suddenly the acting imam called over from behind the barrier between the two areas. He was so insistent that I stopped my prayers. He “scolded” me like a child and said, among other things, that the girls would go to Hellfire for their behavior. He then said something in Arabic to another brother. Unfortunately for him the other girl spoke Arabic and overheard his backbiting.
When I think about how our beloved Messenger (saas) handled the case of a man who was urinating in the masjid (Bukhari and others) or of the young brother who had to be taught to lower his gaze, the vast difference between the approaches cannot be avoided. But it was a good learning lesson. I agree; the girls were talking too loudly. I agree that they should have been spoken to about it. But the lack of gentleness, benefit of the doubt, desire to understand why I did not say anything, and so on, was a good reminder to me about the best way to correct children and indeed, anyone else.
The Prophet (sa) said: He who is deprived of gentleness is deprived of good. (Sunan Abi Dawud; sound)
It reminded me—because I too am not always gentle in my approach—that exhibiting empathy to clearly understand a child’s position on a matter, clearly defining the problem so that all parties are on the same page, and then coming to a solution that is most conducive to success, taking into account everyone’s position in a gentle, loving way works much better than a uninformed condemnation with a unilateral approach.
Just about everyone at times, at least I think, longs for the simple days of naps, snacks and sippy cups. And I wish I could tell my daughters those days will return in this life. But that’s not my job. Our job as parents is to teach our children the deen (religion) and the life skills that will help them be successful in this world and the next. And our job is to teach them in the most beautiful way.
Samia Mair is the author of five children’s books, the most recent Zak and His Good Intentions (2014) and The Great Race to Sycamore Street (2013). She is a Staff Writer for SISTERS Magazine and Discover, The magazine for curious Muslim kids and has published in magazines, books, anthologies, online magazines, scientific journals and elsewhere. She currently is working on a sequel to both recent books and on a historical novel.
© IIPH 2015