Saturday, June 26, 2010


a folk tale adapted

Radwan the old farmer scowled at the sky of the early morning. It looked like a beautiful day was ahead, with sunshine and a few puffy clouds in the forecast. Radwan scowled because he was thinking and he needed to be serious and in charge of his thoughts and the day. With this weather, he could do lots of different work projects around the farm, or he could go into town and see about buying that new plow horse he had been saving to purchase. Probably he ought to go today to town, and maybe he could get some work done in the late afternoon using the new plow horse to help him.

"Subhanallah, what a beautiful day," said his son, as he stepped out from the house behind him with his water pail. He walked to their well with a smile on his face as he felt the blessing of having a bright sunny day ahead. "Inshallah I will be able to wash the blankets and get them well dry before sunset with such a day."

"Well I'm going to town to buy the new horse. You know your chores. Keep yourself busy," said Radwan shortly.

"Of course, Father. But please say 'Inshallah' about buying the horse, to ask Allah for help to get a good one," said his son.

"Don't bother me with nonsense. I've got my money. I know how to judge a horse and I know how to bargain. I'll be home before asr prayer and use the horse to pull the wagon and get that pile of wood up from where we stacked it last year. It should be cured enough to burn well by now."

So Radwan the old farmer set off down the road that led to town. The road was long and winding though the hills, and an hour later, about halfway to town, an armed robber jumped out from behind the rocks and bushes beside the road. At gunpoint he demanded all of Radwan's money and he made a quick escape on horseback.

In a daze of confusion and anger, Radwan continued down to town to file a complaint with the sheriff. It did no good to him to hear he was the 4th person to be robbed that week and that the sheriff was working hard to search for the robber. Radwan took the attack as a personal attack, on his ability to control his world. He was mad!

It was long after asr prayer when Radwan finally arrived home. He met his son in the yard, taking down the clean sweet smelling blankets that had been hanging in the sun to dry all day. At least Allah had helped his son with HIS project today! Was that why people bothered with that 'inshallah' stuff?

"Father, I worried about you coming so late. What happened? Where is the new horse?"

Radwan the old farmer sighed in angry resignation. "I was robbed of all my money on my way down to town, inshallah!"

"Do not say about anything: "I am doing that tomorrow" unless [you add] 'inshallah!'" (Surah 18, verse 23)

"Prayers of all of you are granted provided you do not get impatient and start grumbling that, "I prayed to my Lord but He did not grant me." (Bukhari and Muslim)


This story helps teach the importance of saying 'inshallah' whenever we begin anything. The dua (prayer) actually means 'God willing' or 'if God wills it'. Notice how when Radwan finally gives in and uses it he uses it incorrectly. We can discuss that with children when we read them the story. People who are new to the use can make errors.

I remember fondly a message on my answering machine, "This is Sandy inshallah .... I hope you are doing well..." As she paused at the wrong place to think out her message, she ended up saying "God willing this is Sandy."

It is sad that some Muslims use 'inshallah' very improperly. When I lived in Kuwait years ago, the expatriate English speaking community, which consisted of British and Americans, used to joke that the word meant something wouldn't happen. Too often they would be promised, "Inshallah I will deliver that to you on Tuesday" or some similar statement. Muslims would say things like that with no intention of following through. It was like, "If Allah wants it to happen, it will, but I will make no effort for it." (I don't mean to imply that those misusing the dua were all Kuwaiti.  There were many different nationalities of Muslims working in Kuwait then and the bad habit could not be attributed to one ethnic group.)

I can say, "Inshallah it will rain" and that means I'm asking Allah for rain and I want rain. But if I tell my child, "Inshallah I will take you to the park this afternoon", I must do my best to make it happen and I'm asking Allah to help me in my efforts. Perhaps it was too many parents who promised and didn't fulfill their promises that made so many people in Kuwait use the dua so carelessly.

"Anyone who calls a child saying that he would give him a certain thing and did not give it, then it's a lie." (Ahmed)

Sometimes when people who aren't Muslim are around I'll use the English translation. A number of people have responded very positively when I do that. Depending on your circumstances you might want to teach your children that as well.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Prophet and Children

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was known for his kind and affectionate nature, thoughtful and respectful of all. Many of the companions were children when they met and lived with the Prophet, and they passed on their experiences in the collections of hadith.

What will our children say about us when we are gone? We are the models teaching them how to behave like our prophet. If we can't follow his example, how can we ask our children to do so?

One man reported that as a boy, he was caught throwing stones at palm trees, and was brought before the Prophet for judgment. "O boy, why do you throw stones at the palm trees?" the Prophet asked him. He said, "To eat (dates)." The Prophet said, "Do not throw stones at the palm trees but eat what falls beneath them." He then wiped (his hands over the boy's) head and said, "O Allah, fill his stomach." (Abu Dawd)

Notice how in this story, the prophet did not give a long lecture, or yell. The boy was brought for punishment, but what did the prophet do instead? He asked the boy to explain himself. The boy was hungry. Many people around then did not have enough to eat. He recognized the child's need by giving him permission to eat what falls to the ground. And he said a dua for the boy, that he have enough to eat in the future.

Anas bin Malik reported: "When the messenger of Allah (PBUH) came to Madina, he did not have a servant. Abu Talha took me to the Messenger of Allah and said, 'O Messenger of Allah, Anas is a clever boy, so let him serve you.' Then I served him on journeys and at home." (Bukhari and Abu Dawd)

"One day he sent me on an errand and I said, 'By Allah, I will not go,' but it was in my mind that I would do as the Messenger of Allah had ordered me. I went until I came upon children playing in the street. Then the Messenger of Allah arrived and he caught me by the back of my neck from behind. as I looked at him I found him smiling, and he said, 'Unays (Anas's nickname), did you go where I ordered you to go?' I said, 'O Messenger of Allah, yes, I am going.' I served him for nine years, but do not know that he ever said to me about anything I did, why I did that, or about anything I had neglected, why I had not done that." (Muslim)

Notice again the absence of yelling and scolding. Anas doesn't get punished. He gets a friendly reminder to get back to his task. In each of these examples, the Prophet seems to see the situation from the child’s perspective as well as from the adult perspective. Anas needed a break.

How often parents react to a child from their own perspective without consideration for the child’s viewpoint. We make eating schedules based on our own needs and then children sneak food or misbehave because they are hungry. We make activities timed for our attention spans, and don’t plan brakes for a child’s need for exercise and change in focus. Children, and even adults, have varying abilities to focus on tasks. Some tire early and some can go on for hours. And the ability changes depending on how interesting the task is. Much of the misbehavior in schools that run according to clock schedules is due to the inability of children to fit into the school time slots, and when parents run their homes on to-do list schedules, much of the problem they have with their kids also comes from this issue. So why punish? Look for ways to adjust and make the expectations for the child more in line with what the child can do.

When I spoke to a group of people some time back about trying to act like the Prophet with our children, a man spoke up and said the Prophet hadn't had his son to deal with. Of course Anas was probably chosen to serve the Prophet because he was a well behaved boy. But when we read Quran and hadith we see that the Prophet had good manners and thoughtful respectful dealings with people no matter how bad they were.

We need to be aware of the common error of blaming others for our behavior. Our children don't make us do anything. We give in to our own fatigue or anger and frustration, but that is a choice we make. We are adults, answerable for our actions. Children are not answerable. They act according to their nature and to how we, and the environment around them, train them to behave.

Yes, there are children who are difficult. Some have a strong desire to "be the boss" - with a very dominant personality. Some are very fearful, and their fears stop them from doing normal things, so they fill their time with safe things. Some are very energetic - even hyperactive. Others go off into day dreams and have trouble focusing. We have terms for children, like ADHD and autistic and dyslexic and reams of literature on how to diagnose and handle each issue. But modern child psychology and education theory actually ask adults to act very much like Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) when dealing with these children, gently, patiently, inquiring of them about what they are doing without scolding, and working with them to teach them. And trying to see the world through the child’s eyes.

In his relations with his own children, it is described how the Prophet would greet his daughter Fatima with a kiss. When he went to her house she would rise and come to welcome him and kiss him. (Abu Dawd) When the Messenger came back from a journey, the children of his family would welcome him. Once, when he came riding into Madinah from a journey, the young Abdullah ran up to him first and the Prophet mounted the boy in front of him. Then came his grandson and he mounted him up behind him, and they entered Madina this way, riding together. (Muslim) He was known to carry his grandchildren on his shoulders, and to kiss them in public. One man, watching him kiss and hold his grandson Hasan, said to him, "I have ten children and I have never kissed any of them." The Messenger of Allah glanced at him and said, "The one who is not merciful will not be shown mercy." (Bukhari)

We have many more examples of the Prophet interacting with children and encouraging his companions in the same direction. The great importance he attached to the kind treatment of children can be understood from his statement, "He does not belong to us who does not show mercy to our young ones and respect to our old ones, and who does not enjoin the good and forbid the wrong." (Tirmidhi)