We are living in a strange time of rat races, struggling to keep up with others around us. This race is not only limited to our wealth, status, or any other type of materialism, but also includes the way we carry out many of our daily roles in life, especially as parents. The way we raise our children and the values/goals we set for them has become a matter of competition. The definition of a good parent, in our world, revolves around how comfortably our children are raised, how much money we are able to collect and spend on them, the amount of good, fresh food that is provided daily, and what “type” of secular education we are able to provide for them. The more we are able to provide of these worldly things, the better we are perceived as fulfilling parents.
As bound by our nature, we follow the herd, meaning the norm of our society. Similarly, we pass on the same goals and priorities to our children. Even if someone desires to live a different lifestyle, it is very easy to succumb to the daily grind because of our surrounding environment.
However, as Muslim parents we are entrusted with responsibilities beyond the success of this world. Hence, we cannot afford to go with the flow if we do not know where this flow will ultimately take us. Therefore, it is binding upon a Muslim parent to know:
- What our goal is as parents
- Who our role models should be
If our ultimate goal is strictly bound to the benefits of this world, then we can follow the trends of this world and our worries are limited; wishing only for our children a good education, a college degree, and a STDs/drug free life. On the other hand, if we have the next world in mind, then we must set ourselves additional values and goals which probably require swimming against the current, which is an extremely challenging and almost impossible task, unless stimulated by a solid motivation.
Why Set Superior Goals?
Why do we have to be the odd parent struggling to move against the current and creating more trouble for ourselves and complications for our child/ren? In a nutshell, remember we are alive not to focus on this world but rather to aim for the next world.
In my humble opinion, a loving parent is not one whose only focus is to fill his/her children's stomachs, find them the best clothing, provide them with a comfortable place to live, and concentrate on their higher education. I believe that TRUE love is reflected in how much attention is paid to the real purpose of their existence and to their final destination.
I was told about a young Pakistani man who had recently graduated with a Master's degree from abroad and then returned to his motherland. He was an only child and his parents had “done it all” for their only son from the time he was born; they provided him with a luxurious upbringing and the best education of their time. However, and unfortunately, it didn't include any religious guidance as that did not seem to be of value or importance. Disappointing to say, the young man fell sick and was diagnosed with cancer in its last stages. When he was hospitalized, he met an old man who talked to him about life after death, heaven and hell, and his last journey. That day, the young man cried like a little baby for he was not prepared for his journey, and he had nothing to take to his real destination. He questioned his parents about their negligence, looking at his degrees and achievements in dismay. How can his Master's help salvage him? His parents realized their error but could only rue their heedlessness. Nevertheless, he was blessed during his final hours with a teacher who helped him learn ṣalāh, the Qur'an, and more of the basics of Islamic knowledge. I do not know if this young man lived or if he rests in his grave now, but I do hope and pray that Allāh'azza wa jall accepted his efforts, grants him Jannah, and forgives him and his parents.āmīn.
Let's keep in mind that not everyone gets a last minute opportunity to make up for life-long negligence. Death comes unannounced and at the least expected moments; it is a reality that we can all be assured of. The question is, how many of us are preparing our children for that inevitable moment?
My daughter is fatally allergic to peanuts. A few years back, she had an accidental exposure to peanuts, causing an extremely dangerous reaction. On our way to the ER, she was throwing up, breathing abnormally, and her lips were turning blue. As I held her head in my arms, she whispered to me, “It's okay mama, everyone has to die some day!” Her eyes rolled backwards (I will never forget that sight), and I thought we were going to lose her before we made it to the hospital. She was in indescribable pain, and as a mother I felt helpless because I couldn't do anything for her. All I wanted was for her to stop hurting, but I couldn't take her pain away. To make a long story short, alḥamdulillāh no ill became of her; a short stay in the ER of the hospital and we were able to return home the same night. Still, that day I realized my limitations as a parent. When I thought I would lose her, I was willing to exchange my soul for hers, but it was a useless and absurd bargain to even think of. I realized that if those were her last moments, nothing would have benefitted her except her preparations for her final destination. My children might travel on their last journey before I do, and it is a journey they have to take alone. I will not be able to help them at this time and can only help them get ready for their meeting with the angel of death.
So, dear parents, while we prepare our children for their interview at an Ivy League school or for a big job, we cannot and must not forget about their ultimate interview and meeting with the angel of death. And with this in mind, we must aim to raise our children in a way appropriate and safe for their akhirah as well as their dunya, inshā'Allāh.
Having said this, I am not undermining secular education by any means. I am a firm believer that a secular education is very important for our children, particularly during this era. They must know and understand the world they live in, which is for their benefit; they must also be educated to secure a good job and be self-sufficient as a Muslim should be.
Yet, we must find a balance when we raise Muslim children while aiming for the akhirah, all the while doing well in this dunya. Our children study at school for 8 hours a day and come home with tons of homework, so where do we “fit in” Islam into their lives? This is the question posed in every Muslim parent's mind whose kids are not homeschooled or are not attending an Islamic school.
I wish I had a step-by-step guide for every parent according to their child's type and age. Unfortunately, I don't. And although I am not an expert in this field, I have a few suggestions to offer parents, some based on my own experience as a parent, some from counseling teenagers and other parents, and some based on simple observations.
Let us keep in mind that Islam is not a “subject” that we teach as a second-language or like sports training for soccer or football where we train/educate for a few hours during the day and then forget all about it until the next class. Rather, it is our religion, a way of life, and should be dealt with and taught like any daily ritual of our lives. In other words, instill our religion in their everyday lives, so it is indigenous to them. It obviously requires a lot of effort from us as parents but be assured our good effort is never wasted:
“…then Allāh surely does not waste the reward of the doers of good.” (12:90)
Better yet, we will thus achieve our goal, inshā'Allāh, and our children will become asadaqah jaariyyah (ongoing charity) for us, not to mention that they will secure theirakhirah, by the mercy of Allāh.
“When a person dies, all his deeds come to an end except three: ongoing charity, beneficial knowledge (which he has left behind), or a righteous child who will pray for him.”
Let us be assured that it is, perhaps, the bare minimum requirement of being a “Muslim” parent, for the Prophet of Allāh (sallAllahu alayhi wasalam) said:
“Each of you is a shepherd and each of you is responsible for his flock. The imāmis a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. A man is the shepherd of his family and is responsible for his flock. A woman is the shepherd of her husband's house and is responsible for her flock. A servant is the shepherd of his master's wealth and is responsible for his flock…” (Bukhāri; Muslim)
Our children are entrusted to us by Allāh 'azza wa jall, so we must set proper values for them and direct their lives in the correct direction. If we neglect our responsibilities, then not only do we become partially responsible for spoiling our children's akhirah (if they go astray), but we also subject ourselves to punishment. Remember the Day when we will flee from our children; it will not be for any other reason but out of fear that they might question us about their neglected rights:
“That Day shall a man flee from his brother, And from his mother and his father, And from his wife and his children. Every man, that Day, will have enough to make him careless of others.” (80:34-37)
After all this, how can we not have the akhirah as the ultimate goal for our children, and how can we not aim for Jannah for our children? How can we neglect their akhira and not prioritize their deen in their lives?
Dear parents, it is strange that when it comes to this world, we always have high goals for our children and our expectations know no bounds, but when it comes to their real destiny, we aim for the bare minimum. We never settle for just high school, but rather from the time of their birth we remain ever consistent with the hope of at least a Bachelor's degree. On the other hand, when it comes to their akhirah, we are pleased with 'as long as they pray', 'fast Ramadan', or 'fulfill the fundamental 5 pillars' for the entirety of their existence!
The upcoming articles in this Parenting series are a brief summary of “The Parenting Workshop” I have given in the US and in Doha to a Western audience. Henceforth, let us proceed to practical steps of achieving our goal, inshā'Allāh.