The dilemma of dealing with the youth is not unique to any one community, or even to the West. It is something that affects the global Muslim ummah. While we have many programs geared towards the youth (or attempted to anyway), it seems many of them are unsuccessful. What is the correct approach to dealing with them? How did the Prophet (saw) do youth outreach? It is something obvious, yet ignored, that there is in fact a prophetic methodology to dealing with them.
In this article I hope to highlight some examples of two points,
- How the Prophet (saw) interacted with children, and
- The role models that children pick to follow.
To learn the Prophetic method of interacting with children, we must pay special attention to those ahadeeth in which his interaction with them is highlighted. These are narrations many of us are familiar with, and benefit from in terms of fiqh and ahkaam, but we never step back and put these narrations in the context of the experience of the actual narrator – who was oftentimes a youth.
When the Prophet (saw) was around children, he was loving, respectful, and paid them full attention.
Abu Qatadah reports that the Prophet sallallahu alayhi wasallam was offering ṣalāh and Umamah bint Zainab was on his neck [shoulder]. When he performed ruku', he put her down, and when he got up from his sajdah, he would place her back on his neck. 'Amr inquired during which ṣalāh this happened. Ibn Juraij said that it is related from Zaid ibn Abu 'Atab from 'Amr ibn Salim that this happened in the morning prayer. This is related by Ahmad, anNasa'i, and others.
Al-Fakihani comments: “The purpose behind the action of the Prophet of carrying Umamah in the ṣalāh was to set an example before the Arabs who considered having daughters and carrying them around as something bad or shameful. The Prophet sallallahu alayhi wasallam acted differently from them, and carried a girl on his neck in the prayer, and making something clear by example is much more effective than a mere precept.”
Normally we gather from this the fiqh of holding children in ṣalāh, or use it to debate the merits of bringing children to the masjid. These issues have their time and place, however, in this instance let us step back and look at it from a different perspective: That of Umaamah bint Zaynab, and the other youth observing this event.
We learn the importance and respect that the Prophet (saw) gave to children. We see the way they he honored them. We see the way that the children were welcomed in the masājid with dignity. Compare this to our situation nowadays where children are yelled at, thrown out of the first row, and more or less treated as third-class members of the congregation.
Anas was a small child when he was given as a servant to the Prophet (s). About his time there, he narrated that, I served the Prophet for ten years, and he never said to me, “Uf” (a minor harsh word denoting impatience or displeasure) and never blamed me by saying, “Why did you do so or why didn't you do so?” (Bukhāri)
SubḥānAllāh. This is truly amazing from a number of angles. We normally see this hadith as a testament to the truly noble character of the Prophet (saw), however, there is another perspective here. That is the lasting effects of this on a 10 year old boy for his entire life. What kind of person will he become when he was raised upon this methodology? [Radi'Allahu 'anhu, we know what kind of great man he became] This is the lasting memory of a lifetime that this child will have. He will remember never being criticized, never scorned, and always being treated with kindness, compassion, and patience.
Anyone who has a child knows how difficult it would be to go even 10 hours (in some cases 10 minutes) much less 10 years without scolding their own child about something. What then, about someone else's child, one whom you have even less patience to deal with? We should compare our own parenting methods, our own ways of interacting with kids in light of this example.
In another hadith narrated by Abdullah in Abbas – and ibn Abbas is a famous scholar among the companions. He was with the Prophet (saw) only about 2 and half years. He was born 3 years before the hijrah. He was only 13 when the Prophet (saw) died. He is the scholar who learned the whole Qur'an. This also shows you who was in the constant company of the Prophet (saw).
He narrates: One day I was behind the Prophet (sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam) [riding on the same mount] and he said: O young man, I shall teach you some words [of advice]: Be Mindful of Allāh and Allāh will protect you. Be Mindful of Allāh and you will find Him in front of you. If you ask, then ask Allāh [alone]; and if you seek help, then seek help from Allāh [alone]. And know that if the Nation were to gather together to benefit you with anything, they would not benefit you except with what Allāh had already prescribed for you. And if they were to gather together to harm you with anything, they would not harm you except with what Allāh had already prescribed against you. The Pens have been lifted and the Pages have dried. It was related by at-Tirmidhee, who said it was a Good and Sound Hadeeth.
Focus first on the beginning of this narration. They were riding together on the same mount. They were spending time together. The Prophet (saw) was quite literally hanging out with this young child. Think about that. The one who is in charge of the entire Muslim nation, responsible for his own family, his ummah, entrusted with the Revelation of Allāh, is hanging out with this lad!
How sad is our situation when Muslim fathers cannot even make time for their own children? What situation are we in when we feel too full of ourselves to spend time with the younger children, and engage them? Look at the manner in which the Prophet (saw) addressed him! If we did not know the biographical data of Ibn Abbaas (ra) we would have thought he was speaking to an adult.
The Prophet (saw) is treating this youth with a great deal of respect. He addresses him by saying 'young man,' a way of honoring him, and making him receptive, perking up to hear what is going to follow. Also pay attention to the actual advice he gave him. Think about young ibn Abbaas, the lucky youth spending time with the Prophet (saw). Put yourself in the situation. You are a youth, you are riding with the most important man on the face of the earth, the one chosen and sent by Allāh, the most beloved of His creation, and he tells you, 'Young man, let me give you some advice…' How would you react? How would you internalize this advice? Look at the actual advice in and of itself, it is comprehensive enough for an entire book to be written about. Is there any doubt that this young man will grow up implementing the lessons of this advice 110%?
How do we advise our own children? In what manner do we speak to them? Do we demean them, or speak to them like they are incapable of understanding anything of importance? The example of the Prophet (saw) is quite the opposite of this. In fact, his example is a personification of the Quranic injunction on how to advise your own child.
And (remember) when Luqmân said to his son when he was advising him: “O my son! Join not in worship others with Allâh. Verily! Joining others in worship with Allâh is a great Zûlm (wrong) indeed. …. “O my son! If it be (anything) equal to the weight of a grain of mustard seed, and though it be in a rock, or in the heavens or in the earth, Allâh will bring it forth. Verily, Allâh is Subtle (in bringing out that grain), Well Aware (of its place). O my son! AqimisSalât (perform AsSalât), enjoin (people) for AlMa'rûf (Islâmic Monotheism and all that is good), and forbid (people) from AlMunkar (i.e. disbelief in the Oneness of Allâh, polytheism of all kinds and all that is evil and bad), and bear with patience whatever befall you. Verily! These are some of the important commandments ordered by Allâh with no exemption. And turn not your face away from men with pride, nor walk in insolence through the earth. Verily, Allâh likes not each arrogant boaster. And be moderate (or show no insolence) in your walking, and lower your voice. Verily, the harshest of all voices is the voice (braying) of the donkey.” [Surah Luqman]
With advising the youth also comes teaching. We find the Prophet (saw) in many narrations using positive reinforcements, rewards, and simply giving importance to the youth to teach them lessons.
A positive reinforcement is creating an association for the child with some action and a positive outcome from it.
Jaabir bin Samurah – a young child – narrated that he prayed Dhuhr with the Prophet (saw) in the masjid. He said that the Rasool (saw) went to his house and he went with him. As the Prophet (saw) was walking, he would wipe his hands on the cheeks of the kids passing by. Jaabir said that he never smelled a fragrance that was more beautiful than the fragrance of the hand of the Prophet (saw).
Look at this event from the point of view of Jaabir. His memory of Dhuhr at the masjid is one of walking with the Messenger of Allāh (saw). It is a memory of being close to him, of touching him, of smelling the fragrance of his blessed hand, and seeing the happiness he (saw) brought also to the other children around him.
Compare this to Dhuhr at our local masājid on a Sunday afternoon. The kids are run amuck, administration often forced to resort to yelling at them, while their own parents wait impatiently outside in their cars to pick them up from
babysitting Sunday School.
Think about Jaabir for the rest of his life – whenever he goes to the masjid now, he will always have this fond memory, he can always remember this frangrance in his mind, and he has a positive reinforcement associated with going to the ṣalāh.
What positive reinforcements are we working on for our youth?
To be continued [the teaching methods, and role models are coming in future installments inshā'Allāh]..