Anas (ra) relates that the Prophet (pbuh) said:
“None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” [Bukhari and Muslim].
This is a very famous and oft-quoted saying of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). It is a saying that forces us to question our relationship with others in the society and forces us into introspection.
We live in a world full of envy and individualism. How often do we hear the phrase “He’s only in it for himself.” People take pride in themselves and their achievements, often by exposing the failure of others. People want the best for themselves, often at the expense of others. We witness this in all strata’s of life, from adults in the workplace, children in the playground, shoppers at the end of season sales, even siblings when a loved one passes away and the estate is distributed.
In general capitalist societies produce individuals who are selfish, thinking about themselves before others, hence the Prophet (pbuh) is encouraging us to change our perspective on life and think collectively. This creates a more trusting, harmonious society, where people are not overly consumed by greed and individualism.
There is one reality though where many of us apply this concept to the other end of the spectrum, and that is our children. When it comes to our children, we want the best and we want them to be the best. In our heads we have dreams for our children of what we would like them to become, and what we aspire they achieve. So you hear stories of infants handed a tennis racket, because their mother wants them to become the next Serena Williams, or a golf club so they could be the next Tiger Woods.
There is nothing wrong in having dreams for your child, this is natural. The problem emerges when, as parents, we try to live out our dreams through our children.
As parents, my wife and I are also guilty of this. We have certain dreams, which we try to live out through our children. My wife never attended a madrassa when she was young and was, instead, taught how to read Qur’an by her mother. Alhamdulillah, my mother in law did her best, but she had her own limitations which, naturally, rubbed off on my wife and her pronunciation of the letters. Myself, as a revert, I was a late starter when it came to tajweed. There was a difficulty in recognising the Arabic letters, then joining them into words. Fluency in reading was a major battle that I am still trying to overcome. My brain cells have withered away or have become occupied by so much garbage, that hidfh was an unattainable dream.
Our children though wouldn’t face the same obstacles. They would be the ones who would read in the smooth measured tone that Allah (swt) describes in the Quran. They would be the hafidhahs in our family. Although my wife and I had aspirations and would have liked to improve, perhaps deep down we became content in the knowledge that our children would have the opportunity that had passed us by.
Amongst parents, this is fairly common. Many parents want their children to be proficient in reciting Qur’an and become hafidh. They want them to intercede on behalf of others on the Day of Judgement and want them to recite and elevate through the levels of Jannah. But how about us? Do we not want to become proficient readers of Qur’an and aim to memorise the book by heart? Do we not want to intercede on behalf of others and have our level in Jannah increased with our recitation? Do we not love for ourselves what we love for our children?
At the behest of my wife, I joined my children’s madrassa and, alhamdulillah they were accommodating of me. I remember expecting to start in Qur’an class, only to find out that I had to go back to Qaidah. So I found myself, an adult, sitting alongside 6 – 7 year olds trying to differentiate between the heavy and light letters. Alhamdulillah it was both an amazing and humbling experience, however the children found it strange that I was an adult learning to read Qur’an. They would ask me which school I went to, when I would be going back after the holidays and what my teachers name was. They also couldn’t believe that Rumaysah was my daughter, they would think that she was my sister. Once I asked a boy, why he thought I was the same age as him, and his reply was “Only kids learn Qur’an, not dads”.
I started thinking, as parents, how often do we want our children to do the things that we neglect. Parents want their children to read with the correct articulation, but themselves are happy reading zhal instead of dhal. Parents want their children to read Qur’an often, but themselves only rarely pick up the mus’haf. Parents happily wait outside the masjid gates to pick up their child, whilst their child is reading the congregational prayer inside the masjid.
As a parent, I should aspire that both myself and my children become good Muslims and seek to attain perfection in everything that we do. Children are astute and observant, they watch every moment of our lives and they take lessons from what they observe. By striving to be the best in everything, Inshaallah my children may also follow my lead and be inspired to improve themselves.
When we look at the example of Nuh (as) we discover that there is no guarantee that our children will turn out the way we want them. Nuh (as) was a Prophet, devoting his life to carrying the Message. However, his son did not respond to the message and died on disbelief.
I may want my child to be close to the Qur’an, to be strong Islamic personalities who remain firm on Islam. I may aspire that they emulate the example of the sahabah (ra) who struggled alongside the Prophet (saw) to establish, implement and convey Islam to the whole of mankind. However, there is no guarantee that they will. They could succumb to the temptations that the non-Islamic society throws in their path. So whilst striving to shape my children’s future, I must not neglect my own.
As a parent, I have a responsibility to educate my children, but I am also accountable for my own actions. Allah (swt) has placed upon our necks many obligations, from individual such as prayer, to societal such as ruling and politics. We have to work to fulfil them all. Allah (swt) informs us that on the Day of Judgement a man will flee from all his family, including his children. It is every person for themselves, in that regard I can’t live my life through my children. So I need to become close to the Quran, become a strong Islamic personality, fulfil my obligations and seek to emulate the sahabah (ra) in struggling for Islam.
Often I would think it is too late for me, I’ve turned 40, the beard is greying and hairline receding. Perhaps the temptation is to retire from dawah, leave it to the youngsters, or give up on tajweed and hifdh. However, after a year struggling in the madrassa, I finally feel confident in my ability to articulate the Arabic letters and am contemplating hifdh for the first time. All of us have dreams and all of us have the ability to make those dreams a reality. It is up to us to strive to achieve them.
In reality, it is never too late. Revelation came to the Prophet (pbuh) at the age of 40. This was not when he retired from the dawah, but the age at which His (pbuh) dawah actually began. Islamic history is full of people who grabbed every opportunity to excel and my children provide me with an opportunity to seek to improve myself and shape the world around me.
I should love for myself what I love for my family – to be the loyal servants of Allah (swt).