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What we should be teaching our Children?

What we should be teaching our Children?

 By Imam Zaid Shakir

WHEN we talk about Islamic education and our children, the discussion usually revolves around strictly academic issues related to technical aspects of curriculum development, testing standards and methodologies, balancing between secular and religious education, and similar concerns. Sometimes we miss the greater objective of an Islamic education. That objective, in terms of what is necessary for the immediate success of our children in this world, and their ultimate success in the next, is nurturing balanced, wholesome, honest human beings who live lives based on principle and who exemplify good character in their dealings with other people.

 The basis for the obtainment of this objective is captured in the following prophetic tradition, “Be mindful of God wherever you are, and follow up any misdeed you might do with a good deed that will wipe it out (being weightier in the scale).  And deal with people on the basis of good character.” (Imam Abu ‘Isa Muhammad bin ‘Isa at-Tirmidhi, Jami’ at-Tirmidhi p. 460, no. 1987)

 Let’s endeavor to expound on some of the relevant lessons from this tradition in the balance of this article. This tradition mentions three very important things that should be fundamental to our educational endeavor.


- The first is endeavoring to instill a healthy fear of God in the child.


- The second point emphasized by the tradition is encouraging a spirit of repentance in our children


- The third point raised by this prophetic tradition is to treat people with good character


  Instilling Healthy Fear of God


 One of the bases of “that old-time religion” is a healthy fear of God.  That fear, which has to be balanced by hope for God’s mercy, revolves around the awareness that God’s punishment is real. Hell and its torments are real. The retribution of those who have behaved wrongfully in the world is real. Sometimes we can become so engrossed with intellectualized discussions of our religion, so steeped in philosophical discourse, that we forget, at the end of the day, the hard realities mentioned above. If as adults we are heedless concerning these things, it is difficult for us to emphasize their importance for our children, especially during their formative years.


 Cultivating a healthy fear of God is rooted in mindfulness of Him. Mindfulness is a prerequisite for fear. For this reason, one of the initial goals of the spiritual path is cultivating fear of God.  This is the initial thrust that propels the aspirant through subsequent stages of true human development. As one wise man once mentioned, 

“The fountainhead of all wisdom is the fear of God.”


It is mentioned in the Qur’an, So only those of His servants who have knowledge (of these realities with a vision and outlook) fear Him.  â–º{Al-Qur’an Chapter 35:Verse 28]


 This fear is one of the keys to Paradise.


God says,  As for one who fears the station of his Lord, and guards his soul against the things it inclines towards, Paradise will be his refuge. â–º[Al-Qur’an Chapter 79: Verse 40-41]


 Hence, the fear of God is something we should endeavor to instill in our children.  One way to do that is to remind them that transgression incurs punishment.  That punishment can occur in ways great and small.  For example, we might tell our children “Don’t touch that stove!  You’re going to burn your hand.”  Despite this warning they touch it.  We follow up, “See?  You disobeyed me, and you burned your hand.”  We can then suggest, “One day, if we disobey God in this world, we’re going to burn our entire body.” They might not understand this latter warning, but as they grow, the message will increasingly resonate.


 Someone might consider such a warning harsh or inappropriate. However, this is one of the essential messages of the Qur’an.  Namely, disobedience can have painful consequences.  If we do not try to instill that message into our children at a young age, we may inadvertently be depriving them of the conceptual basis to subsequently understand one of the most critical messages of the Qur’an. Of course such messages have to be presented with gentleness and wisdom. Our intention should never be to overwhelm our children. However, we should take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves in everyday life.


  Encouraging a spirit of repentance in our children


 While every responsible parent endeavors to keep their children’s hopes and dreams alive, we have to also let them know that there is something to aspire towards beyond this world. Just as our life in a real sense, did not begin with our physical emergence from our mother’s womb, it does not stop with our entrance into the grave. When we journey to the next life, we will suffer or enjoy the negative or positive consequences of the actions we did in this world. By using situations we find everyday, we can emphasize, according to our experience and our children’s cognitive abilities, this message.


 The second point emphasized by the tradition we are discussing is encouraging a spirit of repentance in our children. As we mentioned, sins and transgression involve consequences. With sincere repentance those consequences can be eradicated. Emphasizing this point and further emphasizing other manifestations of God’s mercy provide a balance that mitigates the harshness that might accrue by focusing on the reality of divine retribution and punishment. God is most willing to accept repentance. He is most merciful.


 Again, we can take advantage of situations occurring in our everyday lives to cultivate a repentant spirit in our children. If they tell a lie, we can mention how inappropriate and harmful lies are. We can then add, “You are going to have to ask God to forgive you.” Not only do situations such as this introduce the child to the idea of repentance, they also encourage them to get in the habit of communicating with God. One of the things missing from many of our Muslim homes is active communion with God.Another advantage to be found in using everyday situations to convey meaningful lessons to our children is that they allow us opportunities for informal lessons. We can teach without stopping everything to sit down for a formal “lesson.” If we tell our children when they tell a lie, for example, “We are going to sit down and have a little lesson on repentance. First of all, you have to immediately stop your sins. Secondly, you have to vow to never repeat the sinful act. Thirdly, you have to express remorse for having committed the sin. And fourthly, if the sin is associated with the right of another human being, you have to restore that right.” Children generally dislike being lectured to, and the lesson probably will not be too effective. 


 It would probably be more effective to emphasize, informally, how bad lying is, the need to ask God’s forgiveness, and conveying a firm threat to wash out the child’s mouth with soap if they tell another lie. Of course, such threats have to be credible. They might not involve soap, but they should involve something that will be remembered by the child, without being harmful. What is important is conveying the gravity and seriousness of lying or other negative speech or behavior. Repentance is a desirable at both the individual and at the communal level. God says in the Qur’an, So turn in repentance altogether, you believers, in order that you be successful. [Al-Qur’an 24:31] 


 Hence, this particular point is relevant for all of us, not just the children. Repentance is very important and has to be constantly encouraged in order to become a natural action for a developing child. In addition to reminding our children to repent and asking God’s forgiveness when they slip, we should also encourage them to ask His forgiveness when they say their nightly prayers. 


Treating People With Good Character


 The third point raised by this prophetic tradition is to treat people with good character. We should constantly emphasize this. Our Prophet, peace upon him, has said, “I have only been sent to perfect good character.”Muslims have historically been people known for their upstanding character. One of the greatest threats to Islamic character and manners is our contemporary youth culture, and one of the most destructive means conveying that culture is TELEVISION. One of the greatest things we can do for our children in terms of trying to instill good character in them is to get them away from the television. To be effective, we have to also endeavor to keep them away from children who watch television. This may seem like a daunting task. Fortunately, when they are younger and their universe is smaller and more controllable, this may not be as challenging as it appears. However, it is a communal task that requires a tremendous commitment on the part of many families.


 Parents should encourage one another to form television-free communities. Islamic schools should consider an enrollment policy that requires homes to be television free for children to be admitted. This is very important, for if your child is going to an Islamic school and does not watch television, while his or her classmates are constantly reminding him or her what Brittney Spears is up to, or how great the Rolling Stones were during halftime at the Super Bowl, much of what you are trying to accomplish will be readily and easily undermined. They can gather their children to watch documentaries, nature shows, and other commercial-free fare that is controlled by the adults. Having some televised entertainment and education help to prevent the deep longing for the medium that can develop in children that are totally cut off from it.


 The main thing to avoid is commercialized network television. The overt and subliminal messages involving everything from the glorification of criminality, to the belittling disrespect of elders, crass sexual exploitation, blatant inducements to become involved in a destructive consumer culture, and the irreverent denigration of religious themes, make viewing commercial television arguably questionable from a religious perspective. Many programs clearly have hidden agendas involving normalizing practices that Muslims hold forbidden, such as witchcraft or homosexuality. I would argue that any parent who allows their children to watch network television is derelict in their parental duties. One of the most destructive effects of television is that it reinforces the false idea that between childhood and adulthood there is an increasingly longer adolescent phase, during which what are functionally adults are permitted to continue to act like children. When we travel to visit the Muslim world, we are amazed to see that in the villages and other areas not deeply affected by modernity, there is no adolescent phase. Older children are working the fields, selling in the marketplace, and taking care of younger siblings just like little adults. The silliness, giddiness, and irresponsibility we see even amongst many college students here in the West is totally absent. 


 We have to constantly encourage good character and manners in our children. “Did you say please?” “You didn’t say thank you.” “You should have held the door for the lady coming into the store after you.” Such urgings have to be constantly repeated until the desired traits become ingrained in our children. Repetition in many situations is a great pedagogical tool. It goes without saying that constantly repeated instructions also have to be diligently reinforced by adult example. Again, is important to emphasize that this type of training should be carried out in a pleasant manner. We should try to avoid raising our voices and nagging. We should convey messages such as those mentioned above in a subtle, gentle way that almost sneaks up on our children. However, we should not avoid being firm in situations that demand firmness. God-willing we will be able to raise a generation that acts on the basis of good character. 


  Based on Article : What we should be teaching our Children? – By Imam Zaid Shakir



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