My eldest daughter turned 10 recently. I remember the day she was born. It was a Sunday evening after a massive labour. My wife and I were exhausted. We had the excitement of the first contractions and I remember thinking ‘This is it’. Then a good 36 hours later Rumaysah was born. Nobody told me that it could take that long and that I should try and get some sleep during early labour. So I was shattered, but even then holding Rumaysah in my arms completely made up for the fact that she had kept us waiting for so long.
Now 10 years later, I have this skinny, gangly girl who gives my wife and I moments of joy and moments of sheer frustration. She is a smart little girl, at times a bit ditzy but in general surprisingly intelligent (given her parents). She loves reading and always has her nose in a book. She has her good points, along with her bad points, but I wouldn’t change her for the world.
However, my little Rumaysah is not so little anymore, she is now 10 years old.
The Messenger of Allah (صلي الله عليه وسلم) said: “The Pen is lifted from three a child until he reaches puberty; an insane man until he comes to his senses; one who is asleep until he wakes up.” [Abu Dawud and Ibn Majah]
In a few years she will be a teenager getting ready for adulthood. Soon she will, insha-allah reach maturity, the angels will start writing and she will become accountable to Allah (swt). She won’t be my little girl, but will be a young woman facing the complexity of having to navigate her way through life. I worry for her – Is she ready for the challenges of life? And I worry for myself – Have I adequately prepared her?
Raising Rumaysah was a little bit of trial and error. We tried an Islamic nursery, only to pull her out. We tried an Islamic school and also pulled her out. Home schooling was a viable option for us, so we gave it a go. At times we focused on academic studies such as maths and English. Other times we focused on history and geography. We had moments when we focused only on Quran and other times where we did a miss-match of everything. However, we were acutely aware that, whatever approach we took, we needed to couple it with a strong conceptual understanding of Islam. Ultimately, she could become a doctor, dentist, mathematician, teacher, even brain surgeon, but we would have failed her, if her education and upbringing wasn’t focussed around building an Islamic personality that understood that the purpose of her life was to submit to Allah (swt) completely and yearn for only His (swt) pleasure.
Many times my wife and I have sort to raise discussion with our children to make them gain an appreciation of their purpose in life. Often we would think that we have conveyed the idea soundly, only to find that one of them would then do something contradictory. Other times we would think ‘boy we got that wrong’, but then one of them would do something that would indicate that they understood what we were saying. Trying to prepare Rumaysah for adulthood has been like a game of snakes and ladders. Just when we felt some progress has been made and we have climbed up some ladders, a long snake will come in the form of a program on TV or a misbehaving friend or relative, which then sends us back to square one.
My 10 years with Rumaysah, has shown me that raising children is not an easy task and this task is made all the more difficult given the environment that surrounds us. We live in a secular society that pushes a whole host of concepts that impact the way we act and behave.
We are constantly told that we are free to do what we want, without any restriction and seek benefit and immediate gratification in all situations. These ideas are reinforced at all levels of society, with characters from television programs and children’s story books. This is then played out in life in a struggle between parents and children. Even shopping these days for most parents is a battle between what children want to wear and what is appropriate for them to wear. Children are encouraged to explore their sexuality and schools now play an active part in promoting sexual freedom from a young age. A relative’s daughter once visited our house and spoke to my children about attending the school prom and kissing her boyfriend. The girl was only 6 years old at the time.
Islam encourages us to explore and follow our dreams, but we act within the confines of the commands and prohibitions of Allah (swt). A child that has brought into the notion of freedom will find Islam restrictive and become resentful unless they understand their purpose in life.
Whilst we may be trying to get our children to reflect upon the reality and arrive at the existence of Allah (swt), we find that the society propagates a contradictory view and generally disregards and ridicules religion. Rumaysah was once confused and upset after a disagreement with her friend over the existence of Allah. Her friend was saying Islam is rubbish and that we all came from the ‘big bang’.
Although it enabled us to have a discussion with her and build the Islamic viewpoint, she could have easily kept the issue to herself and remained in a confused state.
Islam has clear thoughts about life. Reflecting upon reality builds the concept of a creator. In Islam life is more than just play and amusement, but is about submitting to the one that gives us life. The Quran and the Sunnah gave us our criteria for acting and pleasing the creator. Accountability makes us careful about following the commands and prohibitions of Allah (swt), in open and secret.
The challenge for parents is building this in our children so that it convinces their minds and shapes their disposition. The early years is very much about repeating these discussions using various realities, styles and not resting and thinking that the idea has been conveyed and ticked off the list. We also need to constantly challenge the opposite understanding in a way that highlights its fallacy whilst reinforcing the correct viewpoint.
Often I have felt inadequate in raising my children and feel that I have let them down. Many parents often share similar sentiments. As parents we need to recognise the importance that thoughts have on our personality and behaviour. We need to be proactive in discussing some key concepts with our children in order to help them in preparation for challenges of adulthood. This necessitates us taking an interest in our children’s upbringing and having an open relationship with them. As our children grow up they will naturally have questions about what they see around them and contradictions that they witness in people around them. The open relationship enables them to approach us and seek answers.
In subsequent articles I hope to elaborate on some of the key ideas I feel would aid in developing our children for maturity.
May Allah (swt) strengthen us, and strengthen our children for the challenges that await them in adulthood