Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Teaching Children Du'a

"Raising our children in this American society needs different methods from the methods our parents used with us. We have to establish a solid ground of Islamic concepts and belief in their lives, so the idea of what makes a behavior acceptable or not is clear to them. We can only do that by relating every action in their lives with Sunnah. When they wake up they can say the du'a, "All praise is for Allah Who has brought us to life after He made us dead and to Him belongs the Resurrection." Then when they go to wash they say, "Oh, Allah I seek refuge in You from every evil and from evil things." And so on, throughout the day, so they have the life of the prophet (PBUH) as an example for them in every action.

We should start at first by one prayer that we keep practicing with them till they learn it. Then we can add another. Then, when it comes to a point where they ask to do something that is not accepted from the Islamic view, it will be easier for them to understand why we say no, (with an explanation of course)." [Quote from IQRA!, ISGC newsletter, Family Matters, June 1994]

The quote from a newsletter advice column is a suggestion to Muslim parents for raising their children in the United States, where Islamic community support is very weak. It is assumed that parents are already teaching their children their prayers, wudu, and fasting and sending them for Quran memorization and Islamic instruction classes at the local mosque.

Notice that the author is using the English translations of these traditional du'as and has not argued that children learn the du'a in Arabic. At what age would a child be able to understand these du'as? Probably not very young. Young children are very concrete thinkers and the ability to think of evil in general terms is a mature concept. Young children need specific examples, like, “Oh Allah help me be strong and stop myself before I hit my brother next time he takes my bunny.” Life and death are ideas for older children. It is more effective to warn a young child that she might fall down and hurt herself very badly so we would have to take her to the hospital in an ambulance than to warn her that the fall could kill her. The concept of resurrection has been difficult for adults to absorb. Remember that Prophet Abraham questioned this concept and Allah gave him a demonstration of this miracle, as described in Quran.

I was interested in how the author, a Muslim born in an Arab country and immigrant to the United States, recognized that she could not raise her children as she had been raised. Converts to Islam have the same issue. We cannot raise our children as we were raised either.

Traditional Islamic education has piously encouraged people to memorize the du'a of the Prophet and du'a from Quran, which is surely a very good practice. We also find examples in hadith of people making their own du'a and being complimented by the prophet for it. Scholars agree that du'a can be made in any language and at any time. We do not need wudu. It is the simplest of aqidah to do, to talk directly to Allah (SWT). Having children learn the traditional du'a and recite them regularly can make children perceive du'a as something like salah, formal with memorized words to the point of overlooking the individual personal du'a. If the words are 'big' and not meaningful to the child, it can make Allah seem very distant.

I would suggest teaching children to make up their personal du'a, in their own words, and give this first priority in teaching du'a, before teaching the traditional du'a. This can be started as young as 3 or 4, when the child is starting to have an awareness of Allah. It can give the child reflection on the day, what went right or wrong, and reflection on the concept that food doesn't just magically appear on the table, new clothes don't just come home from the store, etc. We need to be thankful to Allah and to parents for providing for us. We need to be aware of our behavior and how Allah knows about it, so we should talk to Him about it. Parents should model this behavior, by saying du'a out loud, when leaving the house, when entering, before eating, after eating, etc. Wouldn't this really teach children to be closer to Allah?

But what do we have them say? Let them decide. Remember it is their learning and their understanding. Ask the child to think of something to thank Allah for. Maybe your daughter is thankful she didn’t have to eat green beans for supper. OK. That is important to a 5 year old. Let her thank Allah. Your son is afraid of monsters and asks for protection from bad dreams and monsters. Why not?

At what age do you teach your children du'a? How do you teach them? What benefit do you expect from your own du'a? What can your children learn from it?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Searching for Solutions

Hani is a "nice" boy in middle school, 12 years old.  He's reasonably polite and doesn't create too much disturbance.  Of course he never answers questions posed by the teacher, rarely turns in homework, and does poorly on tests.  When the teacher can get his mother on the phone, she promises he'll do better and a few assignments will come back, that look like Mom did most of the work. 

If we go back in time, when Hani was small, we would see a child eager to learn, as Allah created him.  He explored everything within reach and climbed and maneuvered to get to things out of reach.  He kept at a problem, like putting his shoes on or opening the door, working over and over until he mastered each task.  Then there were things he did because he got a reward.  "Pick up your toys and then we can go outside to play." And things he did because it was HIS routine, like stay in bed to sleep at night after his schedule of story and glass of water and kiss goodnight is done. 

What happened?  Somewhere along the way, or perhaps at many different places, things occurred to corrupt his fitra.  Most were probably pretty small, but maybe there was a big event or two as well.  Life is a series of tests.  Even in the best of homes, with very well meaning parents, children can get off track.  Remember that even prophets, like Adam and Yakob, had problems with their offspring.

Some possible reasons for a boy this age to start failing might be:
  • He's upset about some classroom bullies.
  • He has a learning disability and as schoolwork has become more complex, he has given up trying.
  • He's worried about his parents who are having marital difficulties, so he isn't focusing on his studies.
  • He got off to a bad start with the teacher, doesn't like her, and thinks trying in her class is a waste of time.
  • Someone convinced him that the subject is too hard or boring and he doesn't understand why he has to waste his time on it.
  • He is so busy dreaming about his gaming time on the x-box and how to beat the next level that he can't focus on school work.
  • He needs glasses to read better and get rid of the headaches that have been bothering him.
  • He's too tired in class because he doesn't eat breakfast and goes to bed late at night.

We could make a longer list easily.  A point to note, why isn't he turning in prayer to Allah for help?  Most children don't know how to do that.  If they know that Allah cares for them and will help them when they call on Him, it gives them some confidence.  Then they should know that Allah will never give them a test harder than they can manage.  That should increase their confidence.  Someone with confidence doesn't give up when there are problems.  He goes out to find solutions and keeps working until he finds one that works.  He asks for help because he is expecting help to be available from Allah. 

Safeguard the commandments of Allah, you will find Him before you.  Remember Him in prosperity.  He will remember you in straitened circumstances.  Be sure that that which makes you fall into error will not guide you to the right path and that which leads you to good will not deprive you.  Remember that the help of Allah is for those who remain patient and prosperity follows adversity and there is convenience after inconvenience. (Trimidthi)

On no soul does Allah place a burden greater than it can bear.  It gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it earns. (2:286)

Hani's parents would be wise to follow the advice of Allah for governing: It is part of the mercy of Allah that you deal gently with them.  Were you severe or harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from you.  So pass over (their faults) and ask for (Allah's) forgiveness for them.  And consult them in their affairs.  Then, when you have taken a decision, put your trust in Allah.  For Allah loves those who put their trust (in Him).  (3:159) 

They should talk with him, and listen to him.  Observe carefully what is going on and when.  Ask others for assistance.  When the problem is identified, changes can be made to help Hani.  It may be a family affair, as others need to make changes too.  The family schedule may need to be adjusted so he gets better sleep, or his older brother may need to be told not to tempt him away from his homework with new games borrowed from friends.  As we seek help even to China, we need to respect modern scientific research about learning disabilities.  Many very intelligent children have problems with school specific tasks.  Professional help may be needed to learn different learning strategies.  Then, when a plan of action is drawn up, the parents and Hani need to follow through with determination.  It may need a little tweaking here and there as they go along, but Allah has promised us ease after hardship so we make the effort.

I've seen some common parenting strategies that don't work, or don't work well. If we have the chance to help a family, we need to speak up when we see some of these errors, politely and tactfully of course.  When the parent does the child's schoolwork and passes it in as the child's, this is a form of lying.  Then I've seen those who speak harshly to a child in front of others.  You wonder what they do when no one is around.  We remember the advice in Quran of Luqman to his son.  Verily the harshest of all voices is the voice (braying] of an ass!!" [31:19]

and the hadith of the Prophet, Teach but do not reproach, because the teacher is better than the one who reproaches all the time.  (Al Bayhaki)  Some complain about their child to others, in his presence, but if you think about it, they are actually boasting about how impossible he is.  They are proud of his "high spirits" that others call bratty behavior.  Some talk very sternly to their child in front of the teacher, but the teacher finds out from the child that nothing else happens.  Once they are out of teacher's sight, the parent forgets about the whole problem.  They are refusing the test Allah has sent them.

And know that your possessions and your children are a test, and that with Allah is your highest reward. (8:28) 

Are your children learning to seek help from Allah for their problems in a constructive way?  Or do they just pray for what they want without making any effort?  Remember that Mariam, mother of Prophet Jesus (PBUH) had to shake the palm tree for dates to eat, making effort, even though Allah provided for her when she gave birth to her son. 
Have you tried problem solving in this way?  What other problems could you solve using this method? 

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Teachers' Visit

Sandy and Aisha went to visit the home of one of their students, Tamer.  He greeted them at the door and ushered them into the living room.  His younger sister came in, welcomed them, and asked to take their coats.  Tamer helped her carry the coats to the entry closet and hang them up.  While they were engaged in that chore, their mother entered smiling and greeted them.  Shortly after, Tamer's grandfather came in to join the group.  Then a little brother poked his head into the room from the hallway and his mother called to him.  He came in too, said hi and sat down politely.  Tamer and his sister came in and sat down .   After a little talk, Tamer's mother gave a sign to his sister, who rose quietly and left the room.  A few minutes later she returned with a tray of juice and cookies.  She set them on a table and Tamer joined her to serve their guests. 
Aisha talked with all of the children and especially engaged the grandfather in talking about school and his aspirations for Tamer.  She spoke about how happy she was with her class this year and mentioned one requirement she expected from all of her students.   Sandy directed her attention at the mother almost exclusively, except for one question to Tamer about homework.  Her talk was all about the school expectations and her classroom, how she teaches and her expectations from her students.  When the visit was over, everyone accompanied the guests to the door, helping them with their coats as goodbyes were said.
Sandy came away with a very concerned view of the family.  She was upset that the children had been acting like servants (from her perspective) in the house with the mother and grandfather watching.  How could that woman make her children do that?  She should have been greeting the teachers, handling the coats, and serving the refreshments.  The children should have been off playing.  The girl had been sent to get the refreshments.  She did more of the serving than her brothers.   This was sexist.  There were no toys in view.  How could someone raise children without toys?  It was weird seeing the children act so politely, unnatural.  The mother must really apply heavy discipline to make the children behave like that.  And what's the deal with that grandfather getting involved?  He kept talking so much.  What a waste of time!  The visit was for Tamer and his mother alone.
Aisha had a very different view.  She thought the visit showed what a good family Tamer had.  It was great to see how interested Tamer's grandfather was in his schoolwork. The children had very good manners managing hosting chores.  They were polite and respectful.  They had all joined the conversation nicely.  Of course there were no toys out.  Company was present.  Tamer's sister had gotten the refreshments because it was more important for Tamer and his mother to speak with the guests.  They were his teachers.  Aisha assumed that if the sister's teacher had come, Tamer might have gotten the refreshments.  The younger boy was too small.  Aisha felt it was natural for Tamer's family to be interested in the guests and want to be involved in the conversation.  It also gave her a better understanding of Tamer.  
One of the most fundamental cultural differences between Muslim and typical American cultures is the view of the individual's relationship with family and community. 
Generally, Americans admire the individual who 'becomes all that he/she can be.'  Each child should be encouraged to grow and explore interests and talents, develop thinking and social skills.  This is good, but as a top priority and overemphasized, this has led to neglect of family and community ties and moral education.  Parents provide everything for their child and form a cheering team encouraging him on, milestone after milestone, expecting the child to gradually go off and leave them. Children as young as middle school can now be seen shopping alone or with age-mates at the mall.  Children are on line and on cell phones without supervision at younger and younger ages.  They are out exploring the world and finding themselves. 
American society has become stratified into age groups because the individual prefers people like himself, with common interests.  Little effort is made to have children of mixed ages socialize.  Adults socialize at adults only activities.  Young adults have their groups.  Married with young children form a group.  Single parents are a separate group.  Older people have their own groups.  Each has different music tastes and different styles of entertaining.  Parents have careers and work their children's lives around their careers.  When the children are gone, the parents have many other concerns to occupy their time.
The Quran is not a book encouraging a self-centered lifestyle.  It's about working toward personal self control and submitting to something greater than yourself, Allah, who placed you in this family and this community.  If we become obsessed with becoming a great athlete or financial adviser, or whatever, seeing our own friends and focusing on our own amusement, but neglect our family and our community, then we may lose Paradise. 
And worship Allah and do not make anything a partner to Him.  And do good to parents and relatives and orphans and the needy, and the neighbor who is of kid and the neighbor who is not of kin, and the companion at your side and the wayfarer and those whom your right hands possess.  Truly, Allah does not love the one who is proud, boastful.  (4:36)
Then, would you, if you were put in authority, make corruption in the land and cut your ties of relationship? (47:22)
The one who would like to have an expansion of his provision and a prolonging of his footsteps (on earth), let him keep good relations with his relatives. (Bukhari)  
If you greet all whom you meet, feed the hungry, care for the well-being of your relatives, and pray at night when people are asleep, you will enter Paradise in peace. (Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Darimi) 
A man asked, "Messenger of Allah, to whom should I show kindness?" He replied, "Your mother, then your mother, then your mother, and then your father, and then your relatives in order of relationship." (Abu Dawud)
Do you keep strong ties with your relatives?  With your community?  Define community.  How will your children learn to have these ties?  Do you expect children to play with others not their age?  How do you prioritize homework, after-school activities, Quranic studies, learning moral lessons, learning manners, general play time, and household chores for your children?  How young could you start teaching manners and morals and developing family ties?  If you converted with older children, how can you start making changes for your family?
Tamer's family has one cultural system for balancing.  Yours may be different.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Visiting Angels?

"Aunt Bedriya, can you drive me over to Muhammad's house?" asked 6 year old Zayed.

"You know I have my study group this afternoon, Zayed," Aunt Bedriya answered.

"You do that every week! You haven't been to visit Muhammad's mom in a long time.  It's good to visit friends, remember? It's more fun to go visit than to sit around studying stuff," whined Zayed.

"Visiting has its place in life, but I like to go to my group meeting because the angels will visit there and bring blessing from Allah for our efforts."

"Angels?" asked Zayed.  "I thought you just met with some of the sisters to study Quran."

"Well yes, but don't angels attend meetings where people are gathered for Allah? They greet those who go and bring peace and mercy from Allah for our efforts."

"Angels don't go to your study group! I've been there and I never saw any!  It's just a bunch of ladies sitting around listening to somebody talking.  And I haven't seen Muhammad in a whole week," pouted Zayed.

"You find angels all over Zayed.  Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, told us that Allah sends angels all over the world looking for the people who gather together to pray, or to read Quran, or to learn more about Allah's message for us, and we do all of that in my study group.  I always feel better and think more clearly about trying to be good after my meetings."  Aunt Bedriya smiled.

This idea puzzled Zayed.  Aunt Bedriya trying to be good?  When was Aunt Bedriya bad?  "You're always good.  You don't need more classes," protested Zayed.

Aunt Bedriya laughed at Zayed's puzzled face.  "Only Allah is perfect Zayed.  Of course I make mistakes.  Everyone does.  Special angels will be there and will report back to Allah what we have done and, inshallah, He will send us forgiveness and blessings.  I hate to miss that.  Do you want to come with me?  You used to come when you were little."

"No," said Zayed.  "I'm big now."

"Of course, you have your own study group, at Quran school.  Now I'm going, so I'll see you later."

She gave him a little kiss on the forehead just before she adjusted her scarf one more time and went out the door.  Zayed watched her out of the window as she drove out of the driveway and down the street.  Aunt Bedriya was going to her study group and after that the angels would go and report to Allah all about it.  WOW!

Have you talked to your children about angels?  Do they know how angels are around us?   Aisha bint Abu Bakr is reported by Imam Malik to have sent a member of her family to be after evening prayer, saying, "Won't you let the recording angel rest?"

Be careful what you tell them because we actually know little about them and there are many false stories circulating.  But there is one very important concept. 

Do your children know that angels only record their good deeds, not their bad deeds?  So every time they do a good deed they are that much ahead.

There are three (kinds of people) whose actions are not recorded: a sleeper until he awakens, a boy until he reaches puberty, and a mentally defective one) until he comes to reason.  (Abu Dawud) 

It is understood that the deeds referred to in the hadith are bad deeds because Allah promises us in Quran that our good deeds are never lost. (3:171, 3:195, 9:120, 18:30)

There are people in the world who believe that children are born in sin and are continually controlled by the Shaitan to do bad things.  These people may scream insults and hit.  It's like they are trying to hit the devil out of their children.  But this is not Islam. 

We know our children are born according to fitra, the nature Allah gave them.  They are not evil and their bad deeds don't count.  We are the ones responsible for guiding them to what is good.  It is their nature to seek this guidance from us and to feel comfort when they follow it.  We all feel good when we are generous for Allah, when we help others for Allah, when we treat ourselves and others with respect for Allah. 

How are you teaching this important message to your children?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Desires of Men

compiled by Terry Lesher
The following are a collection of hadith from Imam Ahmed Hanibal, all chosen because of their similar form, the questions various people asked the Prophet (PBUH)
Man:  I wish to be the richest man in the world.
Prophet (PBUH):  Be contented and you will be the richest man in the world.
Man:  I would like to be the most learned of men.
Prophet (PBUH):  Fear Allah and you will be the most learned of men.
Man:  I would like to be the most just man.
Prophet (PBUH): Desire for others what you desire for yourself and you will be the most just of men.
Man:  I would like to be the best of men.
Prophet (PBUH):  Do good to others and you will be the best of men.
Man:  I would like to be the most honorable man.
Prophet (PBUH):   If you do not complain to any fellow creature you will be the most honorable of men.
Man:  I would like Allah to bestow His mercy on me.
Prophet (PBUH):  If you have mercy on yourself and others, Allah will grant you mercy on the Day of Judgment.
Man:  I would like my prayers to be answered.
Prophet (PBUH): If you avoid forbidden actions, your prayers will be answered.
Man:  I would like to be the strongest of men.
Prophet (PBUH):  If you put your trust in Allah, you will be the strongest of men.
Man:  I wish to be safe from Allah's wrath on the Day of Judgment.
Prophet (PBUH):  If you do not lose your temper with any of your fellow creatures, you will be safe from the wrath of Allah on the Day of judgment.
Man: I would like to be loved by Allah and His messenger.
Prophet (PBUH):  If you love what Allah and His messenger love, you will be among their beloved ones.
Man:  I would like my sins to be very few.
Prophet (PBUH): If you seek the forgiveness of Allah as much as you can, your sins will be very few.
Man:  I would like to be free from all sins.
Prophet (PBUH):  Bathe your body from impurities and yu will be free from all sins.
Man:  What are the worst evils in the eyes of Allah?
Prophet (PBUH):  Hot temper and miserliness.
Man:  I would like to be raised on the Day of Judgment in the light.
Prophet (PBUH):  Don't wrong yourself or any other creature and you will be raised on the Day of Judgment in the light.
Man:  I would like Allah to enlarge my provision.
Prophet (PBUH):  If you keep yourself pure, Allah will enlarge your provision.
Man:  I wish to be the most favored by Allah.
Prophet (PBUH):  Engage much in Allah's praise and you will be most favored by him.
Man:  I wish to be obedient to Allah.
Prophet (PBUH):  If you observe Allah's commands you will be obedient.
Man:  I would like Allah not to disgrace me on the Day of Judgment.
Prophet (PBUH):  If you guard your chastity, Allah will not disgrace you on the Day of Judgment.
Man:  What will save me from sins?
Prophet (PBUH):  Tears, humility, and illness.
Man:  I wish to be among those who do good.
Prophet (PBUH):  Adore Allah as if you see Him.  If you don't see Him, He sees you.  In this way you will be among those who do good.
Man:  I would like to complete my faith.
Prophet (PBUH):  If you have good manners, you will complete your faith.
Man:  I would like Allah to provide me with a covering protection on the Day of Judgment.
Prophet (PBUH):  Do not uncover your fellow creatures' faults, and Allah will provide you with a covering protection of the Day of Judgment.
Man:  What does calm the wrath of Allah in this life and in the Hereafter?
Prophet (PBUH):  Concealed Charity and kindness to relatives.
Man:  What does extinguish hellfire on the Day of Judgment?
Prophet (PBUH):  Patience in adversity and misfortune.