A few days ago I wrote about some issues I had observed among children and young people with regard to their behavior, beliefs and the general direction their life was headed in. My aim is to flag some pertinent points and articulate this issue as a complex one that has many facets and many factors that contribute to it. The first and most significant factor is: Parents!
The first thing that needs to be considered in the behavior of children, is the behavior of parents. This may seem odd or surprising at first, but this is not a simplistic statement. If we take a good, hard look at ourselves and do not shy away from self-critique, we will realize that our children are our mirrors. In almost all respects, children from a very young age, learn to emulate parents and learn from them. If a mother smiles at her baby, she smiles back. If a toddler sees his father talking in a certain tone, he copies it without even understanding the meaning. As children grow up, they recognize some behavior as normal, which is what we, as parents, feed them. This normalcy may or may not be the standard in the wider society, and may or may not be constructive for their future life. It is therefore very important that as adults we identify what behavior we want our children to learn as normal, how we want their surroundings to be and how we can shape their future in accordance with our own beliefs and values.
For example, if we want our children to be productive in life and not waste precious time aimlessly surfing the internet, we need to become their models first. If we spend countless hours in the same activity we want our children to avoid, it is never going to happen. It is common to hear parents complain that their children do not speak to them but are instead only using their mobiles, talking or texting. However, digging just below the surface will reveal that such parents have cultivated that kind of atmosphere in their home. Communication between parents and children and even between parents, is minimal. All family members have their own phones, usually the latest and most expensive versions. The phone has become a central feature of the home, and even a necessary link to the world; even a few minutes without it makes people jittery and restless. Take away the phone or disconnect the internet and people start looking mournful, as if someone close to them has died. No wonder then that children are losing the art of communication- because parents have lost the art of communication.
The examples are endless. If you want children to respect you, then show respect to your elders. If you want them to converse with you, turn off the television, phones, and the internet and stop making these your props in life and reconnect with your children and spouse. If you want to inculcate knowledge about Islam, solid beliefs about right and wrong, and bring up a family the way that prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) taught us to do, then spend time to gain the knowledge which you can pass on to your children. Do not expect them to become ideal citizens, good Muslims, obedient children, productive and successful individuals, if you cannot exemplify these qualities yourself.
Personally, in our family we have taken conscious steps to minimize anything that disturbs the way we want to mould our children. We chose not to have cable television, we do not have music in the house, phones are only used to make calls, we speak to each other and listen to each other, our habit is to communicate, we are attuned to each other’s emotions, joys and stresses; we discuss all types of matter- worldly, academic, religious and anything else that crops up. We relate all important discussions to Islam and use examples from the sunnah to show our children what kindness and good behavior are; we set expectations in line with values grounded in Islam, we tell stories from the history of prophets, and the children regularly quiz us about facts from Islam, science, history and various subjects that they research.
Over the years our parenting style has been called many uncomplimentary things by those who know us. We have been called old-fashioned, odd and austere. However, our children have thrived on the soil of our upbringing. They are happy, vocal, expressive, caring, respectful, obedient, intelligent, interactive, enthusiastic, inquisitive, creative, well-adjusted, level-headed, reasonable, practical, and have an insatiable appetite for learning. And the best part is that the foundation of their life is Islam, and they are gearing up for a life of success in the material sense and the Islamic sense. So we are content with being old-fashioned, odd and austere!
For creating a close, loving, warm and caring family, we have never needed anything that required a phone or hours of surfing the internet. The crux of the matter is this: practise what you preach. It takes a lot of determination, hard work and commitment but the reward of securing success for your family in this life and the afterlife, cannot come easily.
Everyone craves success. The common denominator in all our pursuits and endeavors is to attain the goal of success. Everyone’s idea of success is different, and so is everyone’s definition of it. Just as no two individuals are alike, no two perceptions of success will ever be identical. For some, success is shaped in the form of wealth, for some gaining a qualification, for others it is recognition or popularity and for yet others it is bringing up a family to reflect specific values or customs. Even pre-modern societies define success differently. In a tribe of Africa, a successful man is regarded as one who can bravely go up to a pride of feeding lions armed only with a long spear, and steal part of their hunt away from under their noses! In another tribe of the Amazon, a successful man is one who can climb up a tree hundred of meters high, defying gravity, and bring down a beehive full of honey to feed his family and tribe. These examples are just an illustration of the different ways in which success is measured.
Having said that, as Muslims, there is only one ultimate goal, one pinnacle of success we strive for all through our lives. And that pinnacle, is Jannah. There are no other alternative meanings of success, because everything we have done in our worldly lives, has been with the goal of jannah in mind. All other actions and worldly pursuits, do not sit independently of this goal, but feed into this goal directly or indirectly. For example, when we fulfill the five pillars of Islam, we know that the resultant rewards directly influence our afterlife. The indirect influencers are the things we do in our seemingly non-religious aspects of life, such as interacting positively with strangers, being kind to our neighbors, dealing fairly in business and speaking up against injustice. The fact is, there is no action or word that can either help us climb that ultimate pinnacle of success, or detract us from it. Getting to the pinnacle is of course not meant to be easy. It is not a stroll on flat land or a cruise on a scenic river. Climbing to the very peak asks for stamina, resilience, courage, persistence, determination, obstinacy, planning, integrity, strength.
The pinnacle of Jannah is worth it. The choice is yours.
Marriage has been designated in Islam as a necessary practice beneficial to both the individual and society. There are several verses of the Quran which promote the sanctity of the relationship between husband and wife:
And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for s people who give thought. (The Quran, Chapter 30 Verse 21).
The analogy of husband and wife being garments for one another (Chapter 2 Verse 187) directs us to cultivate a relationship that is protective and functions to hide each other’s flaws and weaknesses.
As marriage is regarded as a means of strengthening the social unit in an enduring and Islamic manner, it is important to also begin this relationship in a halal or permissible manner.
Searching for a Spouse
A hadith of prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) advises us that a woman is married for her beauty, wealth, status or faith. He recommends marrying someone with the right taqwa or faith, over all other characteristics, in order to lead a successful Islamic life. The same holds true for women- they too need to seek a spouse whose faith and deen take precedence over wealth, status or good looks.
Dowry or Mehr?
Mehr is a gift from the husband to his wife which is paid at the time of marriage, or is specified as payable within a certain timeframe. It is popularly believed that mehr needs to be a sum of money, gold, property or any such tangible wealth. However, we know from prophetic tradition, that it can also be anything non-materialistic the wife has requested which was agreed upon by the husband. At the time of prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him), a man married a woman with the mehr of teaching her the Quran. Anecdotally, there are contemporary instances of mehr being the commitment to take the wife to Hajj. Dowry is associated with the payment of money, property or material payment, from the bride’s family to the groom and has no validity in Islamic law.
The best marriage is that in which there are least expenses (Hadith of prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him).
Allah has facilitated marriage to guard men and women from ‘zina’ or adultery and fornication. Marriage is a protection for the society and the individual, and hence it is to be made as easy
and accessible as possible. It has become normal practice to wait several years after finding a suitable spouse, in order to save money for a lavish wedding. This is not permissible as it provides opportunity for zina or illicit sexual relationships. Cultural traditions involving several ceremonies, gift-giving and expense, are not a religious requirement, merely cultural traditions.
In fact, the Quran expressly forbids extravagance and waste, saying:
Indeed, the wasteful are brothers of the devils, and ever has Satan been to his Lord ungrateful (The Quran, Chapter 17 Verse 27).