Stepping around the toys and pillows strewn on the floor, Hassan winced as his foot pressed on something hard with a solid edge. Quickly he removed his foot from the object and discovered he'd almost put his full weight on an expensive game cartridge. "Yazen!" he called. "What's your video game doing on the floor? I nearly broke it!" Yazen continued to intently play another video game in front of computer. His father starred at his back. "Yazen!" he called again. He waited. "Yazen Hassan!" he called, his voice getting sterner with each call.
Finally Yazen turned to face his father. "I saved it. I had to save the game or I'd have to start the level over again," he told his father.
"For a game - for a toy - you make me wait? I'm your father. Which is more important, your game or your father?" he asked.
"So what is this expensive game doing lying on the floor in this mess for people to break?" asked his father harshly.
Hassan held the game out to his son who rose to his feet to get it. Yazen tossed the game on a shelf messy with other games and videos. Then he resumed his game as his father starred thoughtfully around the room.
Their three children either seemed to ignore each other or fight. They ignored any chores and left things in a mess all over. How many toys had been broken or lost or left outside to be ruined in the rain. Why couldn't they do anything together as a family? Each one had a different set of friends and activities. He and his wife spent a lot of time driving them to one thing or the other. When they were home Yazen would be playing video games, often on line with friends no one knew, Layla was either over at a friend's or had a friend upstairs in her room, door closed, and Mahar would be all over the place. They ate what they heated in the microwave or grabbed out of the fridge in passing. He hated to admit, but Sahar was right. Their kids were spoiled.
Instead of teaching them to be obedient to parents, they had trained them to each put himself or herself first and ignore others. Instead of teaching them to be thankful to Allah for His provisions, they had taught them to feel they deserved everything they wanted and got. Instead of teaching them to get along with each other, they had given them space to avoid each other and lots of things to do instead of getting along with each other. Sahar had made plans to change things, drastically, but he needed to start it. He just didn't know how. There were so many habits that were going to have to change.
Hassan straightened his back and focused himself, and started the call to prayer. His son looked up at him with concern for a second, and then returned to his game. No one came. He called to his children and his wife. Sahar called to Layla and Mahar and went upstairs to herd Layla down. A glance out the window made Hassan go to the back door and call out into the yard to Mahar. Yazen, frowning, finally stopped his game and went to do wudu.
Finally, after 15 minutes of work, including pushing some of the toys out of the way to make a prayer area, Hassan asked Yasser to recite the iqama and the family prayed together, a family first. As Hassan ended the salah, the children jumped up to escape and their mother ordered them to sit down again.
After sunnah prayers Hassan led them in dua, speaking in English and giving thanks in detail. Then he addressed them. From now on they were going to make three prayers as a family, fajr, magreb, and isha. He wanted them to come quickly when they heard the adhan and he wanted them each to contribute a dua at the end of salah, aloud, for the family to join, at least one per day. The kids looked at him warily, with their mouths slightly opened, not sure this was really happening.
As he dismissed them, he ordered them to all help pick up the family room and get it in order. The kids started immediately squabbling about who should pick up what. Hassan quickly ordered silence, and threatened them with no TV for a whole week if they didn't just do the work quietly. The children stared at their father with big eyes of astonishment. Glancing nervously at each other they got the toys picked up and the room straightened. Sahar and Hassan sat quietly watching. They felt exausted from the tension of this effort.
It was difficult to get the group prayers going. It was three more things to schedule. Getting everyone up for fajr was the hardest. Sahar stood firm on the importance of it though, and even being late to school was not allowed to stop the group prayer. Her steadfastness helped Hassan stay strong when he wanted to give in and make an excuse not to pray jummah. When Hassan had to be away on business, the kids thought they were off the hook, but Sahar asked Yazen to give the adhan and lead the prayer. Slowly the children's dua contributions became more specific. "May Allah bless this family" got old really quickly and, with maternal prompting, they came up with things like "I thank Allah that Layla likes green beans so I didn't have to eat any" and "I thank Allah for helping me print out my homework before the teacher collected it today".
In the time of prayers, conversations about Islam started creeping in. The children started asking questions, about the fiqh of salah, about lying, and about what they were learning in the Islamic school classes at the mosque. Some of their questions were easy to answer. Sometimes Hassan or Sahar had to do some research or some thinking to respond well. As the months advanced, they taught Yazen and Layla how to look up questions on the internet. They bought some reference books on Islam for themselves and for the children. Conversations started creeping into other times of the day as well.
Sahar hadn't intended for Hassan to start her list of reforms with family prayers. She had had other priorities. But to get his support she had told him to pick the first reform to enact, figuring that such a long list couldn't be accomplished overnight and it was best to start with only one or two changes he would help her with the most. It seemed to take so much effort to get the prayers established right that she left the list aside for a while. Then, when she did find the list 6 months later, she noticed how many other things on her list had happened without any particular effort.
From their respectful meetings and discussions at salah times, the children began taking more interest in each other, and talking more respectfully in general. So they began doing a few things together, like sharing snacks together. They were having more family meals without anyone making a big deal about it. People weren't avoiding each other like before.
She thought back to the morning when Maher couldn't find his pencil case and was ready to cry. Layla had stopped focusing on her hair and run around to help him find it - without being asked! And she had actually said something comforting to him rather than belittling him! Sahar had put her hand against the wall to steady herself as she watched this amazing event. More and more incidents of thoughtful behavior kept occurring since, among all three and with their parents. Yazen had even left his computer game and come to help her unload the groceries from the car, when she'd only asked him once!
Their family schedule of activities got simpler. The children realized salah took precedence and stopped asking for activities that interfered. So the chauffeuring got easier for the parents and the children were much more selective and thoughtful about the activities they did do. They started using their new Islamic understanding of morals in making choices about what to do and who to play with. "I'm not going to her birthday party. She doesn't act very nice and all she wants is to get presents. And she's mean too. Why should we celebrate just because she was born?" "This TV show has too much violence. Let's turn it off."
And the house seemed cleaner and happier. Yazen still got too focused on his video games, but he got a timer to help him limit himself. And everyone was more thoughtful about picking up toys and games. After hearing about the reward for giving charity at Islamic School, Layla had come home and proposed giving away some of her toys to the poor. Discussing it together, the children worked with their mother to clear things out of their rooms. Four big boxes were filled and given away, a family project with everyone contributing.
No family is perfect and growing children always have new lessons to learn. Do your children cooperated with you and with each other? Are they thoughtful?
This family followed the advice of the Prophet to establish salah, "Prayer in a group is twenty-seven times better than the prayer of a man by himself." (Bukhari) They lived too far from the mosque to make going there for salah practical. Another option they might have taken would have been selling their home and moving closer to the mosque. Such a move is rarely done in American suburban areas. How would that have changed their lives?
What other things could this family have done to correct the problems in their home? What benefits have you discovered from your efforts to practice your religion with your children?