I am facing one of the biggest challenges I have ever met: how to raise good Muslims. I have always found progress very easy in my academic and working life and have enjoyed the feeling of sailing through these spheres most of the time. This leads a person to the feeling, especially when you are young, that you are oh-so-clever.
Having children puts that whole mindset into perspective. They run rings around you. They ask questions you cannot possibly answer. They knock a hole through your pre-children daydream of little angels who start learning Al-Quran at age five, complete Hifz (memorization of Al-Quran) at age ten, and complete an Alim’s (Islamic scholars) course by age fifteen and then go straight to university to become a Doctor or whatever happens to catch their fancy.
In reality, I am finding that raising a good human being as well as a good Muslim is an enormous and scary challenge. Teaching Al-Quran, giving a child good Tarbiyyah (manners and upbringing), teaching them to love Allah and His Prophet (Peace be upon Him) and encouraging good and honest behavior is just part of raising a Muslim. As a parent, I have the usual ambitions for my children to achieve academically and in their careers and lives.
So where to start?
I find that the best place to begin is with yourself. You want your children to be good? Behave well yourself, be conscious of what you say and do, and be conscious of how you earn your living. I’ve come across religious people who have never worked and raised their children on state handouts whose children are nearly delinquent and people who are not so religious but raise their children with money earned through hard work, whose children have turned out to be good Muslims.
I believe in praying Salah (our five daily prayers) as if it is a part of life, like eating, drinking and sleeping. We make sure that no one in our house neglects it and I hope when the time comes, our children will engage in it naturally. My husband and I are both practicing Muslims of Punjabi origin. He is from Pakistan and I am from England and we are naturally raising our three children as Muslims.
My daughter, Little Lady has started on Al-Quran and my son, Little Man, has caught on with Kalimah Tayyibah (our declaration of faith) which is a start, although I am finding it very difficult to get him to repeat anything. He just grins at me as if I am a fool. I guess I will have to learn as I teach them, just enough to stay one step ahead. My children have become my teachers in a way.
Learning to recite and memorizing Al-Quran is a part of every Muslim child’s training but what about Tarbiyyah? I find that this is the time when gaps in my own knowledge become apparent and lapses in my own behavior can have serious consequences. (No one can figure out where Little Man learned that naughty word which he will not stop repeating). I can only teach what I know and so have had to return to the books: Translation of Al-Quran, Stories of the Prophets, Lives of the Companions of the Prophet and books like Bukhari, Riyadh-us-Saliheen and Fazail-e-Amaal. This may sound like I am engaged in some great studies but to be honest, I barely get a few moments to pick these up between work, prayers, children and home.
One of my greatest worries is that I use the time I have in the best way for my children and do not leave religious education until it is too late. I don’t want to keep putting it off because I am tired or have to cook or because we have homework to do. At the same time I have to try and avoid panicking when I hear so-and-so’s child is five and has already finished Quran and memorized 20 chapters, and go at a pace that benefits my children.
Any good ideas about correct upbringing and teaching children from other sisters, teachers, mothers and anyone else who knows what works are very welcome.
One thing that seemed to work for a friend was a daily reminder to her children at bedtime that “Allah is with you, he can see you and hear you, he takes care of you.” She soon found that her children would own up to things they had done. When asked why, her seven-year old daughter declared, “Even if you can’t see me, Allah will know what I did.
As for academia, careers and life in general, I have come to the conclusion that I will leave that to my children to guide me. We are born with a purpose and their hearts, faith and trust in Allah will guide them. It is my role to help them heed those instincts.