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West London Islamic Centre & Jamia Masjid

Islamic Articles::Sisters & Family

Teaching your Child about Islam

O ye who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is Men and Stones? (Al-Quran 66:6)

 

The Prophet (pbuh) said, 'Each one of you is like a shepherd and would be questioned about those given under his care. The leader is responsible for the community. The husband is responsible for his family and the wife is responsible for the husband’s home and children.' (Muslim)

 

Children are born in a state of fitra (purity) and it is their parents that teach and nurture them to be from amongst those who believe or those who do not. It is our obligation and duty as parents to teach our children so that they grow up to be believing, practicing Muslims who are proud of their Islamic and British heritage and identity. Sending the child to an Islamic weekend school or to a full-time Islamic school is an important but minor part of their Islamic education. The major 'institution of learning' for each child is his family, and the major 'professors' of this institution are the parents.

Parents as Role Models

The most effective way to teach anything to anybody is to be a role model. This is why Allah sent human beings as prophets to all peoples. Whether we willingly accept this job or not, it is a fact that your child learns how to function in life by watching what you do. Even the absent parent is a role model to the degree that a boy, whose father abandoned his family, will probably treat his own children the same way. Every time we deal with our children, we are teaching them, whether we intend to or not. There is a famous poem by an anonymous author that depicts this vividly. It begins:

         
If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn.
          If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight.
          If a child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy.

          If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient.
          If a child lives with fairness, he learns justice.
          If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith.


Positive vs Negative Reinforcement  

 

Therefore we must examine carefully how we deal with our child in order to have a desirable end result. As the above poem indicates, negative comments and treatment result in negative attributes in our children, and positive comments and treatment result in positive results. The term 'positive and negative reinforcement' is popular in modern psychology, but it was advocated by the Qu'ran and the actions and sayings of Prophet Muhammad (May Allah's peace and blessings be upon him), 1400 years ago. How do we use positive reinforcement to teach our children?

Young children are by their nature gentle and receptive, they want to please their parents. When you praise them for their good behaviour by telling them that Papa and/or Mama is happy with their action, you are using positive reinforcement. Unfortunately many parents ignore their child's good actions and only comment on the bad actions. Let us take an example.

Iman is three years old and has a baby brother, Samir, who is one. She gets out her building blocks to play with and of course Samir immediately crawls over to get involved. She gives him a red block and then proceeds to build a tower. Samir grows tired of his one block and tries to get more. In the process he knocks down the tower. Iman reacts angrily and grabs all the blocks and tells her brother that he can't play with any of the blocks. Her mother hears her and shouts at her angrily, 'Iman you are a bad girl not to share with your brother. Give him some blocks! Iman did two actions concerning her brother: 

1. She gave him a block
2. She took the blocks away. She received attention from her mother for the bad actions. This teaches her that if she wants attention from her mother, she should NOT share.

How else could the mother have handled it? If she had praised Iman when she first shared ('Iman, what a nice sister you are, to share with your brother. I'm so happy to see you do that.'), then Iman would remember that her doing ‘good’ resulted in her mother's attention. When her brother knocks over her blocks, her first inclination will probably be to grab all the blocks but if her mother is there to console her and encourage her to try again ('Oh Iman, it's too bad that Samir knocked over your blocks. He was trying to play with you, but he is too little to be good at making towers. Why don't you build a little tower for him to play with, and then you can build a big one for yourself.'), then she will happily give him more blocks. She will want to share next time as well because that action got her mother's attention.

Integrating Islam into our Lives

One of the most important aspects of raising your children to be Muslims is to introduce the idea that Allah is also happy with their good actions. If you say that what they did or are doing is making you and Allah happy, then the child begins to associate good behaviour with acting for the pleasure of Allah, which in a nutshell, is exactly what being a good Muslim involves. Can you say anything better of a believer other than that he/she does everything Fe’sabillah (for the sake of Allah)?

Naughty Children

 

The child who errs is forgiven by Allah, and if he dies in childhood, he automatically goes to heaven according to the narrations of the Prophet (pbuh) and the consensus of scholars. This mercy of Allah should guide us as we guide our children. It is not necessary to make the child fearful of Allah or fearful of going to hell. In fact, this approach is counter productive - it often achieves the very result we are trying to avoid.

 

Stressing the negative and the punishment makes the child want to avoid anything to do with the religion. He or she grows up thinking that it is religion that keeps him from enjoying life. Though on issues of centrality, the Prophet (pbuh) has instructed us to encourage our children from an early age:

 

The Prophet (pbuh) said: When your children reach the age of seven years, teach them the Salah and chastise them in respect of any fault in this behalf, when they are ten years old, let them sleep in separate beds. (Abu Daud)

 

Introducing the Unique Characteristics of Allah (swt)

 

When you are talking to children under the age of twelve, stress the characteristics of Allah that will give him security and assurances as he grows and encounters fearful situations and unknowns. Children should know the 99 Asma Wa Siffat (Beautiful Names and Attributes of Allah) which He mentions in the Qur’an, such as Ar-Rahman: the Compassionate, Al-Malik: the Sovereign, Al-Muhaimin: The Protector, Al-Khaal: the Creator, Al-Musawwir: the Fashioner, Al-Ghaffaar: the Great Forgiver, Al-Razzaaq: the Sustainer, Al-Baseer: the All-Seeing, Al-Hakam: the Judge, Al-Adl: the Just, Al-Kareem: the Generous, Al-Mujeeb: the Responsive, Al-Wadood: the Loving; Al-Baith: the Reserrector, Al-Hameed; the Praiseworthy, Al-Qayyoom: the Self-Subsisting, Al-Muqtadir: the Powerful, As-Samad: the Eternal, Al-Muntaqim: the Avenger, Al-Muqsit: the Equitable.

 

They need to be aware that the supreme owner of these Names Allah has given them assistance to help them enjoy and cope with his life. And they need to understand which actions Allah will be pleased with, rather than worry over punishment for mistakes they will undoubtedly make. Further to this we should remember the invaluable advice that Prophet Luqman (pbuh) relayed to his son as described in the Qur’an:

 

“O my son, do not associate (anything with Allah). Indeed association (with Him) is great injustice”. O my son, establish prayer, enjoin what is right, forbid what is wrong, and be patient over what befalls you. And do not turn your cheek (in contempt) towards people and do not walk through the earth exultantly. Indeed, Allah does not like everyone self deluded and boastful. And be moderate in your pace and lower your voice; indeed, the most disagreeable of sounds is the noise of donkeys. (Al-Qur’an 31:13-19)

Islam in Daily Life

 

Too often when parents think about talking to their children about Islam, they concentrate on the ritual of the five pillars. They teach them how to make salah (obligatory daily prayer), and they teach them some short Qur'anic surah (chapters). These are important, but don't forget that Islam is a comprehensive way of life, and every aspect has an Islamic element that you need to talk about and demonstrate for your child. When the father goes off to work, the mother can say 'Good bye' along with 'Assalamu Alaikum' and add its meaning in English, 'may Allah's peace be with you'. As she and the young child start to do something together, she can mention that the father is doing what Allah says a good father should do - working to take care of the family. The mother and father should also mention ifrequently, that she is trying to please Allah by doing many things to help her child and the family.

 

When the child helps her mother clean off the table, the mother should mention that Allah is pleased with children who help their parents. Mentioning the Islamic aspect does not imply nor suggest that you need to deliver lectures about Islam to your child. No child wants to sit still long enough to hear a lecture about anything. The effective teaching comes as short comments or stories that point out the Islamic nature of the action.

 

When the parents pay Zakat (annual compulsory alms), they should mention the fact to their children. When they visit the sick, they should quote a Qur'anic ayah (verse) or hadith (narration of the Prophet Muhammad) which indicates that this action pleases Allah. When there are two ways that a child can respond to a situation, the parent can mentions nicely which way will be pleasing to Allah.

The constant reference to Allah, the regular encouragement to do what is right, and the persistent praise and positive reinforcement for doing the right actions, will focus your child on the right path.

Challenges of Adolescence

 

As our children reach adolescence, they begin to question what they have been taught, especially if most of the youth they associate with are irreligious. If you have already established a positive relationship with your youth, then your teenage child will come to you with his/her questions and concerns. Do not mistake these questions and worries as a rebellion against you or against their religion. They see the kids at school dating, and it looks like fun. 'Why shouldn't we date?' they wonder. Be happy that your youth feels comfortable coming to you with these issues.

If you have not established a positive relationship with your child by this time, you will probably have a big problem on your hands, because your youth will have the same questions, but he won't come to you for a discussion about them. He will be seeking his answers from his friends, whose advice may be less than appropriate.

Why do some parents and youth have a positive relationship and others do not? There are at least two important factors here: time and what kind of time? Did the parents spend time with their children as they were growing up? Did they make a practice of asking their children about their school, their friends, their opinions on various things, and then LISTEN to their answers? Remember positive reinforcement? What kind of time do the parents spend with their children? Is it based on quality and positive reinforcement, or does the child expects to hear angry and negative comments every time he/she tries to talk to a parent? For example:

Thirteen year Omar is fasting for his second year, during Ramadan. One Saturday he and another Muslim, Adnan, go to a friend's house to play. At
one o'clock, Omar phones home to tell his mother, ' Our friend keeps asking us to eat lunch. We told him we're fasting and he should go ahead, but he says if we don't eat, he won't either. Adnan says if I break my fast, he will too. What should I do?' 'I can't believe you're asking me that,' complains his mother. 'Allah is going to punish you if you don't fast! You know better than that? Why can't you act like a good Muslim. Your father and I have taught you better than that!' How often will Omar asks his mother any questions after a response like that?

 

By assuming that his behaviour is negative and giving negative reinforcement, you can be sure that Omar is not likely to ask his mother for help again. Instead, imagine if his mother answered this way: 'You did the right thing by phoning when you weren't sure. But I think you already know what you should do. What do you think is the right thing to do?' Omar answers, 'I think I should say no, I'm going to keep fasting.' 'You are exactly right,' answers his mother. 'I'm so proud of you for the way you are thinking.'

Evaluating the Negative

When you have discussions with your children, you may be alarmed at their rudeness, or his apparent rejection of everything you say. He may even tell you that you are stupid or you don't understand, or you don't care about him. This does not mean what it sounds like. It means that he does not feel comfortable with the answers he is getting. Maybe what you say is opposite to what he is feeling at that moment, or maybe he has given that answer to his friends and they have rejected that opinion. Although it is very hard, remain kind and positive with your youth. It really hurts the parent to hear these comments, but they are not really aimed at the parent, but at the thinking process he/she is now undertaking.

 

During your discussions with your youth, you will now want to include both positive and negative reinforcement. 'Yes', you may agree with your youth, 'it is very difficult not to drink when everyone else is, but remember that Allah will reward you for your good behaviour, and remember His punishment if you follow someone other than Allah.' When there are so many un-Islamic forces putting pressure on your youth, he now needs to understand that Allah will hold him accountable for his actions. Allah will help if the youth asks Him for help, and he will be rewarded for following the righteous path, but accountability also means he will receive punishment for his bad deeds.

 

Life is too difficult to do by oneself. The young child has his parents who protect him, and encourage him and who 'know everything'. Then he/she grows up and discovers that mother and father don't really know everything. Furthermore at school he/she is hearing and seeing other philosophies on life, and the selfish, improper, materialistic one most readily seen at school seems like fun, and besides, 'everyone else is doing it'. How is the youth supposed to figure out who is right? It is a difficult time for him/her, and it is up to the parents to be supportive, to encourage discussions, to make allowances for mistakes, but at the same time, to remain firm in their teaching of Islamic values.

Other Issues of Importance

While teaching and talking to our children about Islam, we need to be aware of certain hidden issues. These are secular vs. religious actions, facts vs. behaviour and acquiescence vs. critical thinking. These issues affect our thinking and acting although few of us are aware of them.

The Secular vs. Religious

 

Hina was an attractive fifteen-year-old with an attractive figure. She attended the Islamic weekend classes on a regular basis, wearing tight trousers and clothes. The teacher mentioned to her mother that she might want to encourage her daughter to dress more Islamically because women are an honoured creation whose modesty and treasures are protected and that her way of dress could attract undesired attention. 'Hina, you have to change the way you are dressing. It's unIslamic. No more tight clothes and you must wear the hijab!' scolded her mother. 'Who are you to say anything?' responded Hina angrily. 'Look at yourself, your dress is up to your knees and I can see everything about your shape!'

 

Hina's mother has a split personality when it comes to religion. On one hand she prays her prayers and fasts during Ramadan. On the other hand she likes to be 'fashionably' dressed when she interacts with others. She reads the Qur'an some evenings, but spends her afternoon gossiping with her friends or listening to music. What has her daughter grown up seeing, and how unjust is it to suddenly ask Hina to wear attire she is completely alien to.

Hassan is no better off with his father, who takes him to the weekend Islamic classes but tells him he can skip Juma (Friday prayer) because his academic studies are more important. Hassan's father is a leader in the Muslim and civic community, but Hassan overhears him bragging to his friends about how he cheated on his income tax and got away with it.

If we as parents pick and choose which aspect of Islam to apply and which to omit from our own lives, we can hardly expect our children to live Islamic orientated lives. If Hina's mother chooses her clothing based on what the latest fashion, trend or culture dictates, then of course Hina will demand the same right, even though her mother feels like her clothes are too short or too tight. The question is, who is the authority and who has the right to decide? If it is Allah who has the right to decide, govern and prescribe the code of life, then parents have no right to pick and choose which essential practices they will follow. If it is the individual who decides, then children have as much right as their parents, once they reach puberty.

 

Parents who think differently will have their youth point this out to them. For sure the youth will be thinking this. If you know you are not following what Allah orders, you can attempt to change your own behaviour, admit to your youth that you are also still growing in your faith, and tell them frankly that you are trying to help them on the right path now because it will make their life easier and better. Then you will need to point out the times when your deviation from Islamic values has caused problems for you. If you choose to ignore this aspect, then it is more likely your children will choose to ignore your advice.

Facts vs. Behaviour

 

This aspect has already been alluded to in this paper, but it needs a bit of explanation. We expect the masjid (mosques) classes to teach our children how to read the Qur'an in Arabic, but not to understand what it means. We expect the masjid to teach our children how to pray, how to fast, etc. but NOT HOW TO LIVE, how to behave. These are facts, not behaviour. Many children know how to pray; very few feel the need to pray because they understand its importance. Quite a large number of children know how to read the Qur'an. Only a few read the Qur'an in order to understand what it is saying, or in order to answer their questions. Islam is a complete way of life.

 

The facts (the 5 pillars, the biography of Prophet Muhammad) are useful when they help the person learn how and why they should do something. The fact that Prophet Muhammad lived 1400 years ago is a fact. By itself, that fact is worthless. The fact, that he lived as a Muslim in a city where Muslims were few and persecuted, is worthless until it helps us realize that if he and the early Muslims could flourish in that setting, then so can we. When we teach our children about Islam, we need to teach them how to behave, not just to memorise facts. Instead of giving them lists of facts to learn, set them an example and mention the Islamic connection while you are doing it.

 

You visit someone who is sick; mention that this is an Islamic requirement, discuss with your child why it is good to do this act. Make sure you visit with sick people who are not part of your cultural group and non-Muslims as well. One important lesson for your child to learn is that Islamicly obliged behaviour such as respecting our elders, affection to neighbours, love of parents and those younger than us, are good for everyone, even those friends who are not Muslim.

Watch TV with your children, especially the pre-teens. Don't preach, but discuss the behaviour of the characters in the sitcom (comedy). Make comments like, 'Aren't you glad you're a Muslim so you don't have that problem' (concerning problems with dating, drinking, etc.) Initiate discussions with your children. Bring up situations like, 'What should you do if a friend in school is out sick for a week?'

 

It is extremely important to really listen to what your children are saying. They know in a second if your mind is preoccupied with something else. When you ask for their opinion, really listen to their answer, and make your next comment reflect theirs.

 

Acquiescence vs. Critical Thinking

 

Many parents grew up in areas where colonising rulers maintained schools for acquiescence. That is, pupils were taught to repeat exactly what the teacher told them. If the test question asked for 3 reasons why it is good to brush your teeth, the answer had to be the exact three reasons that the teacher had told them in class. The pupil is not supposed to think; he is supposed to accept everything without questioning.

 

This is too often the way we teach our children about Islam. Do this action because Islam says you have to. Do this exactly the way I say because every other way is haram. Our children need to learn that there are two kinds of knowledge, that which is revealed and that which is humanly acquired. Knowledge revealed in the Qur'an and hadith is unchanging, unarguable and forever preserved. Knowledge that is derived from our five senses and our own thinking is subject to error and can and should be questioned.

 

North American schools, including good Islamic schools, stress critical thinking. For children who grow up there, it is not sufficient to say you have to do this because I say so. You can expect your children to honour and obey you because Islam requires obedience to parents, but you must also explain and discuss why you are asking for their obedience. Your youth should be required to pray, because Allah says for them to pray, but you must also be open and willing to discuss why Allah would ask us to do that. What are the possible benefits of praying, what should you do if you feel like the prayer is empty of meaning to you, and so on. These questions don't mean your youth are turning away from Islam; they mean that your youth are thinking seriously about their religion.

 

One of the most wonderful things about Islam is that because it is the truth based upon the final revelation to Mankind, it can stand up to the most critical of questions. Parents must also learn to acknowledge that they make mistakes, and they are ignorant of certain answers. Your child does not have the right to expect you to be able to explain every Islamic injunction. He/she does have the right to expect you to give an honest and open response to their questions. When you tell your youth, 'That's an important question. I don't know the answer. Let's see if we can find out what the Qur'an says about it.' then you have created an open, honest exchange of thoughts with your youth.

Discuss Islam with your children from the time they are young, stressing the positive, and encouraging them to speak frankly and freely to you. Be an Islamic role model for them. By the time they have emerged from their troubling, questioning adolescence, you will have children who have actively embraced Islam, and who want to be Muslim because they know that it will make their life better in this world, and in the hereafter, Insha’ Allah (God willing).

All the while brothers and sister we should desire for righteous children. Parents should always be grateful for the blessing of off-spring whether they be boys or girls and they're enduring prayer to Allah should be that He grants them children who are virtuous, moral and upright. This was the prayer of the Prophet Zachariah (pbuh) in return for which God granted him a son like Prophet Yahya (John):

He said: “My Lord, indeed my bones have weakened, and my head has filled with white, and never have I been in my supplication to You, my Lord, unhappy. And indeed, I fear the successors after me, and my wife has been barren, so give me from Yourself an heir who will inherit me and inherit from the family of Jacob. And make him, my Lord, pleasing to You.” (He was told) “O Zachariah, indeed We give you good tidings of a boy whose name will be John. We have not assigned to any before (this) name” (Al-Qur’an19:4-7)


It is narrated on the authority of Jabir that Numan b. Qaufal came to the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and said: 'Would I enter Paradise if I say the obligatory prayers and deny myself that which is forbidden and treat that as lawful what has been made permissible (by the Shariah)'? The Holy Prophet(pbuh) replied in the affirmative.[Sahih Muslim]
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