by AbdelRahman Mussa
This article is a culmination of some of my thoughts about parenting, prompted by recent conversations. It is intended for both parents and grown adults. If you’re not a parent, you might find that some of what you will read gives you insight—insight that will allow you to change your perceptions of your parents for the better, insha’ Allah (God willing).
Community Leader Syndrome
I think that it would be wiser to bring your children up to have the capacity to be leaders, but not necessarily for them to be leaders. So don’t tell them, “I want you to be a community leader,” nor “You’ll make a good community leader.” This can lead to power-loving individuals. It can lead to control freaks. It leads to arrogance.
“And do not walk upon the earth exultantly. Indeed, you will never tear the earth [apart], and you will never reach the mountains in height,” (Qur’an 17:37).
This was the advice of Luqman (radi allahu `anhu, may God be pleased with him) to his son.
We need to remember that as Muslims, we are not to seek leadership. We are to seek betterment: “I only intend reform as much as I am able,” (Qur’an 11:88).
And so, you bring your child up to be strong and therefore courageous. To know what is right and what is wrong and therefore trustworthy. To be charismatic—there is nothing wrong with that. To be inspirational even!
Then as they grow, opportunities will present themselves. Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) will protect them. Allah (swt) will place them were they are best suited.
In a hadeeth of the Prophet ﷺ, (narrated in the sahih of Al-Hakim) he states that it is a betrayal to Allah (swt), His Messenger ﷺ and the Ummah at large to place someone in a seat of power that they are not best suited for. It is narrated that Umar ibn Alkhatab (ra) rejected any suggestions that his son, Abdullah, be the next khalifah (caliph), saying that it was enough for one of them to stand in front of Allah (ra), and be tried for that position on the day of Judgment!
You must also be aware that the child seeks your approval. Therefore, do not make him/her stretch for something that he/she might not be best suited for. Let him strive for taqwa (God consciousness) instead. Otherwise, your child might grow up feeling that they have let you down by not becoming the community leader you had wished for whilst they also avoid arrogance—it’s not a nice place to be, stuck between a rock and a hard place.
We know the story of both prophets Musa (`alayhi assalaam, peace be upon him) and Yusuf (as). Musa (as) was given a prophet’s daughter because he was strong and trustworthy. Yusuf (as) asked for the position of power (chancellor) because he was best qualified for it—he was trustworthy and knowledgeable (a form of strength).
So, neither of these prophets acquired these characters with the intention to attain; rather, these characters brought for them opportunities that they couldn’t have conceived of before.
What to Concentrate on
There is also the question of how to bring up kids: do you bring them up in a bubble (usually associated with Islamic schooling) or do you risk letting them experience life as it is, in the hope that they do not grow to be naive?
I believe that if you bring your children up with the following two characteristics, things will work themselves out regardless of what you choose, insha’ Allah:
- Knowing what is right and what is wrong.
It takes courage to implement what is right and to avoid what is wrong. But without knowledge, courage is only a shell, and it can be quite detrimental. Both are critical.
The Prophet ﷺ once described to a companion that if the whole world was to unite to harm him, they would not be able to—unless Allah (swt) had willed it so. And that if the whole world were to unite to help him, they would not be able to—unless Allah (swt) had willed it so.
You would think this advice was given to Khalid ibn Alwaleed (ra) or to Umar ibn AlKhatab (ra)—no! It was given to ibn Abas. He was between the ages of 9 and 13!
Details and More Details
I also think that parents love to over simplify things for their kids…they don’t want to mention too much because of all the “but why” questions, forgetting that the reply could always be: “I don’t know,” or “Why don’t you find out when you grow up?” or “Why don’t we ask someone?” These are opportunities to give your child self-reliance and curiosity. Instill within them the love of learning—it’s a form of worship. And it’s an amazing opportunity for you to see things with a new light, to re-acquire that beautiful wonder that children bring to the world.
I believe that parents need to engineer the child’s failure. They need to have their children experience falling, betrayal by friends and failure in general. This will happen anyway, but hardly any parent teaches the child how to deal with the situation, how to stand again.
Give your child the first taste of business at the age of 11. Give him/her some money and tell him/her to invest it. Let him/her fail. It’s ok. It’s more than ok… it’s good. Tell them to try again until they succeed.
Let him/her learn the true meaning of trust—before you ever speak about it. Let him/her know what a bad friend can do and how harmful they can be—well before you teach them the hadeeth about the friend of a perfume seller as compared to the friend of a blacksmith.
Engineer it so that they fail, but in a safe manner. (That’s why it’s called engineering and not neglect!)
Failure and betrayal are viewed as a bug in the software and not as an integral part of the system (life). Failure is integral to success—to life itself. Teach your children how to deal with it. It will make them more courageous and less susceptible to bribes and emotional blackmail.
Reward them when they realize that they’ve made a mistake. Don’t ever tell them, “I told you so.”
By the way, the story of Yusuf—if you teach your children that, how can they be naive? The same holds for all the prophets and the seerah of the Beloved ﷺ.
So if you’re honest about things as you instill courageousness and you teach them right from wrong—this is good.
I was recently shocked during taraweeh prayer (late night prayer performed in Ramadan) when a parent rewarded his son by saying: “Because you’re praying in the mosque, I’m going to take you shopping.” This shocked me because the parent was associating akhira (the next life) with dunya (this life) and not the other way around. We work in dunya in order to attain the hereafter. We don’t pray such that we attain this life, although Allah (swt) rewards us with that as a positive byproduct.
It’s much better to tell your child: “If you don’t eat your vegetables, you’re going to pray by yourself, not in jama’ah” (congregational prayer, which is more beneficial) or “Eat your vegetables so you can pray jama’ah with the adults.” You thereby associate dunya with the akhirah. The sequence is vital.
Don’t ever tell your child off by remarking, “You’re just like you mother/father,” and here’s why:
- No one likes those that mock their parents. They will hate you (though you are a parent) for mocking their (other) parent.
- They will also hate the other parent because you (a parent) told them to.
- They will hate themselves because they now hate you. Why? Because no one likes someone that hates their parents…even if it’s themselves.
- They will feel worthless because they have come from a worthless source (culmination of the above).
The Prophet ﷺ says that Allah (swt) will have Mercy on those that teach their children to be good to them. This is the opposite, so expect the opposite of Mercy from Allah (swt) if you partake in this.
Tips on Being a Good Parent
NOTHING ever beats action and being a good role model.
So be courageous, teach yourself courage, and learn your deen, your religion. Knowledge brings with it flexibility and you’ll need lots of that!
Those of you that are aware of my work will know that I break all desires into three wants: wanting control, wanting approval, and wanting security. You’ll also know what a want is by defining your lack. (You don’t want what you have, you only want what you lack. Wanting is not acquiring.)
To engineer failure, to teach your kids courage, you must let go of lacking security for your children. You must at your very fabric and core know that Allah (swt) is The Sustainer. I know of some parents that get up in the middle of the night to make sure their baby is still breathing. If you’re getting up anyway, that’s fine. But if you’re getting up every half an hour to check, that’s not so fine (except if advised by a medical practitioner).
You need to trust Allah (swt).
The Three Stages
The fourth Khalifah, Ali (ra) advised us to play with our children till the age of 7, to discipline and teach them from the age of 7 to 14 and to BEFRIEND them at the age of 14+.
I want to really focus on this.
You see, before the age of 14, you are ultimately their decision maker. You tell them: “All strangers are bad,” and they believe that, and that’s a good belief to instill in someone younger than 14. But after the age of 14, you need to teach them to dismantle some of what you’ve taught them.
“All strangers are bad” from the age of 14 onwards leads to a timid coward. Someone that fails interviews. Someone that can’t do da`wah (outreach). And this is just an example.
You need to teach them that you are not perfect. Don’t let them figure it out for themselves!
Teach them that you have a point of view, an opinion and that others have a different opinion. Teach them that your advice is important and that they should follow it, but that following your advice is THEIR decision. It’s a subtle but critical difference.
This creates the CAPACITY to lead. But you will still have the following desire: the want/lack of approval.
At a deep level, after 14 years of your child mostly obeying you, it seems that they are disrespecting you when they make their own decisions—EVEN if that decision is the same decision as your advice. And this could potentially be problematic; it leads to your child distancing themselves from you.
Teach them to value your opinion through experience, not just because you said so. THEY’LL COME TO YOU as a result.
It’s hard enough with the way society is engineered. Children are encouraged to disrespect authority (as opposed to respect it out of freedom), and then there are the ‘teenage years.’ What are those years about?
It is a time when your child defines him/herself. So give them the space to do so. Let them define themselves. If you’ve brought them up to know what’s right and what’s wrong, and if you’ve taught them courage, then you needn’t be afraid of social pressures. (Remember that you will have begun engineering little experiences by now to accelerate their realizations.)
But if you cave in on them, they’ll want freedom from you, not with you.
So befriend your children at the age of 14. Really befriend them. How do you talk to your friends? Not with a parental tone, that’s for sure!
Around the age of 14, they start a period of lacking approval for themselves. They are trying to figure out if they are a good person or not. If people like them, they figure that they must be good. If you befriend them, they don’t need the attention from others as much.
Remember also that you must bring them up for their time, not yours. Ali (ra) is narrated to have also advised this.
May Allah (swt) bless and guide both the children and the adults of this ummah (community). Ameen!
AbdelRahman Mussa is the founder of iPersonalEnrichment.com