Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Gentle Testing

It's been a busy day and Lul hurries across the family room toward the prayer area of her house to make magreb prayer before the time ends.  She gives a quick check on her 8 and 10 year old as she passes.  They are seated on the couch, facing the TV, unaware of her.  Suddenly she realizes they are watching a show that recently started, one she checked out a few weeks ago and found very rude.  Why did people feel it was funny to create a TV family that only makes nasty remarks to each other all the time?  It was not the sort of thing she wanted to watch or to have her children watching. 
But she still hadn't prayed.  She had been at the neighbors visiting and just gotten home in time.  Thinking quickly, she decided to deal with her children after prayers. 
When she returned to the family room a short time later, another program was on the TV, a very reasonable one that the family often watched together.  Her husband came in just then and joined the kids in front of the set.  She decided to discuss the matter later.
That night, while the children were getting ready for bed, her daughter brought up the topic.  "Mom, there was a new show on TV tonight that we started watching, but I made Muhammad change the channel.  It was too gross! " 
Her son piped in, "You fussed too much.  I just wanted to see the lawnmower race.  They had a picture in the TV guide of a lawnmower race.  That would be cool!"  
 In the example, the mother, Lul, is supervising her children's TV programming.  She watches shows herself to see if they are appropriate.  She keeps an eye on what her children have on.  She and her husband join the children in watching some shows, so they can discuss them and enjoy them together.  When Lul notices her children have on an inappropriate show, she doesn't pounce on them immediately, turn off the TV, and give them a lecture.  She gives herself some time to prepare, and the kids some time to act on their own.  (With a worse program or younger children one should step in immediately.  Think about where you would draw the line.)
Allowing her children time was a test for them.  Her follow up revealed that her daughter is worthy of her trust.  The child has internalized moral values for behavior and was indignant about the poor character of the program.  By listening to her children, Lul learned that about her daughter.  If she had been giving the children a lecture about her own evaluation of the program, she would not have learned that.  Her son is more drawn to other things than social interactions.  He may not notice the talk but he is absorbing it while he focuses on fast lawn mowers.  Mom and Dad will need to talk with him more about these issues.
Allah tells us to test our children.  "And test the orphans [in your charge] until they reach a marriage­able age; then, if you find them to be mature of mind, hand over to them their possessions."  (Quran 4:6)
We already have the Book of Guidance, the Holy Quran.  We have during our lives time to learn it and put it into practice.  In His Mercy, we are not expected to be perfect.      
"And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto, you." (Quran 5:48)
"Behold, We have willed that all beauty on earth be a means by which We put men to a test, [showing] which of them are best in conduct." (Quran 18:7)
Allah tests us until we die, giving us chances over and over to correct ourselves and make amends.  Can we not give our children the opportunity to show us they have learned to manage themselves?
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) gave people time and space.  He gave lectures some days, but not all the time, so he wouldn't tire them.  When he was instructing Muslim preachers he was sending out on a mission he said,
"Preach to the people once a week, and if not that, then preach to them twice, and if you want to preach more, then let it be (not more than) three times.  And do not make the people bored with this Quran.  If you approach people who are holding a conversation, do not interrupt their conversation by preaching, lest you should cause them to be bored.  Rather be silent, and then if they ask you, preach to them while they are eager for it." (Bukhari) 
We can read how he played with his grandchildren and the children of others.  He didn't go around spying on people.  He even asked that people not tattle on others. 
"O you who believe, avoid much suspicion, for some suspicion is a sin, and do not spy upon one another."( Quran 49:12)
When have you noticed that your child learned something you weren't expecting?  Think about that example.  How often do you look for small tests of your child's learning?  Some people are so busy 'parenting' that they miss the signs that their children have already learned what they are trying to teach.  Can you think of a way to test your child to handle more adult responsibilities in a polite natural way, so he doesn't realize it?  How will you reward him if he passes?  How will you handle it if he needs more work on the subject?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Fruits of Islamic Parenting

[I received this thoughtful piece from another Muslim grandma in response to my last post.  I thought she hit a lot of important points in her summary.
Muslim Grandma]

by Teresa Lesher

Children don't come with instruction manuals, unfortunately, and the advice of family, friends, doctors and gurus is often so contradictory that it is difficult to find a fool-proof method for raising kids in the world today.  Without a lot of forethought, I must admit, I have applied basic Islamic guidelines in raising my four children and I'm happy to say that my efforts so far have borne beautiful fruits.   You don't have to be a Muslim to gain benefits from the Islamic way of life.  The prescriptions of the Quran and traditions of the prophet Muhammad are excellent guidelines for parents from any part of the world and any religion.

At the age of seven, children are expected to establish the daily prayer, which is performed five times a day.  This early training fosters a sense of discipline, time management and commitment in the child.  Likewise, the annual fast of Ramadan fosters self-restraint, patience and will-power, all important qualities as children face increasing responsibilities that come with maturity.

Modesty from both men and women is required in Islam.  There are minimum dress requirements after puberty:  from the navel to knees for boys and all but the hands and face for girls.  The dress codes are a way of protecting young girls from being valued for their bodies rather than their minds, and of inhibiting the sexual drive that is easily stimulated at that age.  Moreover, seclusion of unmarried couples is not allowed, which serves again as a protection especially for the girl who may be subject to sexual assault.  These basic rules give my daughters a sense of dignity and protection, and teach my son to look beyond physical qualities.

The Quran explicitly prohibits intoxicants of all kinds.  The prophet instructed people, "Don't harm others, don't harm yourselves," which also makes smoking clearly disliked.   Avoiding these harmful products you can spare your kids from alcoholism, lung cancer, and other potential diseases.

There are also several personal hygiene habits that every devout Muslim follows, and they help prevent many problems.  For example, the general principle of using the left hand for any "dirty work" inhibits the spread of germs since the right hand is usually used for eating, shaking hands, and passing something to another person.  The ablutions before the five daily prayers ensure that the hands, face, mouth and feet stay reasonably clean, which further eliminates bacteria and helps in the prevention of  acne, athletes foot and tooth decay.   Children who are raised with these general rules of hygiene usually enjoy good health, great skin and beautiful teeth.

The Quran instructs, "And never say to [elderly parents] "Uff" nor scold either of them, but speak to them a noble word…" (17:23) and general obedience to them is expected unless they ask you to do something immoral.  Children raised with these expectations generally have greater respect for their elders in general and their parents in particular.  All parents face the challenges of raising kids, and I do remember that growing up is no picnic, but the rule of respect and obedience keeps many kids out of trouble and fosters peace and cooperation in the home.  I see my daughter biting her tongue every now and then, and I'm grateful.  And when another less mature one slips into disrespect, I know an apology is forthcoming.  What a blessing!

The Quran not only promotes a strong relationship with one's parents (especially the mother) but also recognizes the rights of immediate and distant relatives regarding kindness, charity, and even inheritance.  Those who cut relations with their family members are warned of God's punishment, and those who reconcile, practice forbearance, and forgive are promised God's pleasure.  The emphasis on positive family relations and the sharing that results from that give the child a sense of belonging, security and love in his life.

The general guidelines above help the Muslim parent in the very challenging parenting role.  If he follows them, even falteringly, then he has confidence that his children will become healthy, responsible, respectful and well-adjusted adults.  This is every parent's dream.  But the benefits don't stop there!  I'm sure that in my old age I can look forward to my children caring for me, helping me and supporting me, since this is beautifully ordered in the Quran:  "And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, good treatment.  Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you… lower to them the wing of humility and say, "My Lord, have mercy upon them as they brought me up [when I was] small'"  (17: 23-24).

Needless to say, the benefits of Islamic parenting reach well beyond those mentioned here – mentally, socially and spiritually – and affect not only the child fortunate enough to be raised that way, but also the parents and the society as a whole.  If there are major  problems in today's youth, it is because they are not being raised according to these guidelines.    The parents who adhere to these principles as their children grow are witness to the success of this approach.   If your kids are still young, have confidence, since God promises in the Quran,  "And be patient, for indeed, God does not allow to be lost the reward of those who do good."  (11:115).    

Monday, January 18, 2010

Our Basic Nature

I remember years ago having an absurd 'argument' with a 6 year old who insisted his mother was older than I. She was actually several years younger, but the child was very stern and insistent that she was older. Suddenly I realized that to this child, older, bigger, and wiser were all rather the same. He meant she was better than me. Of course she was. She was HIS mother.

I've seen two girls playing house. They disagreed on some house ritual. Each preferred her mother's way and each thought the other girl was  completely wrong. Then there was the little boy who announced fiercely that his daddy was so strong he could beat up anybody. His small slender father who spoke softly and gently hardly seemed the man to live up to his son's expectations. But in his son's eyes, he was THE MAN!

No child is born except on the fitrah (of connectedness to Allah)
(Bukhari) Fitrah is generally explained as the 'basic nature' of something, how it was initially. The hadith is usually used to explain that children have a natural need to seek out their creator, Allah, and to know the truth of His message when they hear it. But Allah has given them parents. Science has recently demonstrated that there is a natural drive in both the child and mother to bond with each other. This is also from the child's fitrah, and it is perhaps why the rest of the hadith continues: ..."as the animal gives birth to a perfect offspring. Do you find it mutilated? Then his parents make him a Jew, Christian, or Magian." The child is born to accept Islam, and his parents are the ones he looks to, to lead him there.

When the child bonds to her parents, she looks to them as the center of her world. Everything they do is the standard against which everything else is judged. So hasn't Allah really made this thing easy for us, to raise our children to be good Muslims?

But things can go wrong with this normal bonding. A child may be orphaned, or separated from a parent by divorce or illness. Usually these children find other adults in their environment to attach themselves to. Adults step up either from their parents or communities to give them the care and love they need to grow. Unfortunately in recent years, psychologists have recorded tragic results from children placed for years in some Eastern European orphanages, warehoused without any adult to cling to, no love and affection from anyone. These children are severely disturbed and, in the worst cases, they die from lack of human attention.

Another threat to the normal parent child relationship can come as the child grows up and starts out into the world, via school, the neighborhood, and, today more and more, via the media in the form of TV and internet. This is a very important large topic that needs to be addressed by itself. I'd like to make each of my weekly topics short, so people can think about them and respond, either to me or to those around them. So let's look at what should normally happen. Hadith tells us to have the adhan and iqamah recited in the child's
ears shortly after birth. It is the first effort we make to start teaching the child our religion. Then what? Well, be a Muslim in front of the child, to be a good role model. And let the child join in wherever possible.

So many people think learning Islam is something to be done in school.  But that should be butter on the bread. The bread is the manners, moral concerns, and actions of us, parents, in our everyday lives. On the one hand, this is an enormous responsibility for us. But Allah never gives us something harder than we can bear. (2:286) So if we work moderately, regularly, and with determination to raise our children, praying regularly for help and guidance, we should be able to do all right.

So if you read this piece, please leave in the comments one thing you do that shows your child how to be a Muslim. How are you being a good role model? How are you arranging the house or your family life to
show your child what being a Muslim is? Be specific, like you always remove your shoes at the door and have your children do so also so your house stays cleaner for prayer. Or you use routine car trips to the store or school to talk to your children about any topic they bring up, helping them to see the better, more Islamic manner of handling the disputes they get into with others.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

More than Shoes

So Adnan finally got to the store to get new sport shoes for his son Mahmoud, who is 12 and just entered middle school.  Dad agreed that he needs them and expected this to go as in years past, when they bought good basic sports shoes at a nearby department store with a minimum of hassle. 

But Mahmoud said EVERYONE at school buys from this sports store and he has been talking for a week or so about a particular shoe and gotten his dad to agree to see it, which Mahmoud seems to have interpreted as a promise to buy.  Some famous basketball player wears it apparently… or was it baseball?  And now Adnan is in front of the display, with a salesman hovering nearby to help, and Mahmoud has just grabbed the 'perfect shoe' that he says his best friends are wearing.  IT COSTS $120 and it doesn't even LOOK LIKE A SHOE!  It looks like some boot for a robot on a Sci-Fi film.  It is pieces of red and silver and black plastic sewn together with straps in a boxy sort of form.  Who can run with that on?

A wave of anger and frustration comes over Adnan.  He feels pressured, trapped.  Make a scene in the store?  In front of these strangers and especially in front of his son?  Some would.  Some might storm, "Over my dead body!" and march out of the store.  Or they might say, "That's a shoe?  It looks like a piece of junk!" What other embarrassing things could someone say or do to make his child squirm and vow internally never to be caught dead shopping with Dad again?  Some parents just give up. They hand the child their credit card and say, "Get anything you like under this price," and walk away.

We may think ahead and plan but our children frequently ambush us with these unexpected problems.  But how is this related to Islam? 

If we are serious about submitting to Allah, it should make a difference in our lives, not just with how we pray or fast, but with our outlook and conduct.  The Quran is guidance and the Prophet is a role model.  So what can we draw on from Quran and sunnah to deal with a situation like this?  There are probably many ways available.

Personally I regularly ask Allah for guidance and strength in my dua during prayer.  I've worked hard to control my anger over the years, because there are many hadith against it and encouraging self control.  One of the advantages of controlling anger is that I've found I can think of solutions to problems better.  Like most people, I respond better when I have time to think.  Then I hope that, because of my prayers, Allah will inspire me to a good response. 

I've made it a habit to reflect often on Surah 3 verse 159: "And by the Mercy of Allah you dealt with them gently.  And had you been severe and harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from you.  So pass over (their faults) and ask (Allah's) forgiveness for them; and consult them in affairs.  Then when you have taken a decision, put your trust in Allah, certainly Allah loves those who put their trust (in Him)."  This verse was addressing Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) concerning his leadership of his people.  Scholars have said it applies to anyone in leadership.  Many people ignore this verse and act like being the leader is a dictatorship.  But Prophet Muhammad listened to counsel and acted on advice from others, and he was always gentle and thoughtful.

Some people might say you don't consult with children.  Children don't know anything.  But think of what you get when you do.  By listening to them and discussing with them:
  • You teach them about cooperating politely and thinking constructively, important skills in today's world. 
  • You hear their concerns so you can make a better decision. 
  • They can point out facts or points of view that we haven't considered. "The word of wisdom is the lost property of the believer, so wherever he finds it he has a better right to it" (Tirmidhi).  And Allah can send us a parable 'even of a mosquito' (2:26).  If we can learn from a mosquito, can we not learn from a child?  
  • Explaining ourselves to them forces us to clarify our own motives for action.
  • They are more likely to accept the outcome because they feel more a part of the solution. 
  • They will see how we care about them and their needs. 
  • They are more likely to come to us in the future with problems or issues, because they know we are taking their interests to heart. 
  • Parents who listen and discuss issues with their children are less likely to have problems with teenage rebellion.  It is extremely important for people raising their children in the Western educational system which encourages thinking as opposed to memorizing. 
  • We are still the adults in charge and we have the final say.
Some options for this shoe scenario might include:

  • If Adnan easily has the money, he can buy the shoe this time (if they have his son's size and it fits) and work to prepare the ground with his son so surprises like this don't happen in the future.  He should plan to discuss the purchase and create ground rules for future shopping.
  • He can work to negotiate calmly with his child in the store.  Ask if he has really explored the options available.  Get him to try on other models.  Talk about fit.  Actually, if this is a serious sports store, they probably have a fit expert on the floor.  Dad can ask for this expert and get him to talk with the two of them about the sports his son plays, the use he makes of a sport shoe, and check his feet for arch and other problems.  If he must pay top dollar for a shoe, he can try to make it a quality shoe that will fit correctly for his son's sports.  This kind of conversation can often distract a child from the glow of a celebrity endorsement.   His desired boast of having the cool shoe of some sports player is replaced by the grown-up conversation of which shoe is best for which sport.  Any technical language the fit expert uses can be very helpful for this.
  • I've personally found that if I politely manage through the situation, praying to Allah to help, sometimes things just work themselves out.  Maybe the shoe won't fit, the size won't be available, or the boy notices the price tag and, knowing family habits, backs down on his own.  If we jump to conclusions and act quickly on first impressions, we often miss letting the child redefine the situation by his actions.  Allah doesn't punish us the instant we mess up.  Give the child time and space to correct things.
How does Islam guide your life with your children?  How would you have addressed this problem of shoes?  What would be your inspiration?