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Raising Children in the West– How Do You Define Respect (Part 3)

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This concludes the three-part series on parenting in the West.

Raising Children in the West- How Do You Define Respect by Umm Reem © MuslimMatters.org
Part 1
| Part 2 | Part 3

Islam and Respect of Parents:

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parent-child-respect-muslim.jpgI must take the readers back to my original question:

How does Islam define respect? Is there a scale of respect to judge by? Or does Islam expect us to give our parents what is considered the “MOST” of that time and in that culture?

As a number of students of knowledge explained: There is , technically, no set definition of respect in Islam, and it differs from culture to culture and time to time. However, respect constitutes avoidance of saying or doing anything that is displeasing to the parents and the following verse sums up for us:

“And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him. And that you be dutiful to your parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them “uff” (any word of disrespect), nor shout at them but address them in terms of (qawlan kareema) honor.”  (17:23)

The meaning of “Kareem”, in the dictionary, ranges from: Generous, kind, good-natured, high-minded, respectable, honorable, decent, precious and valuable! Hence, in general, what is known to be polite and decent is how a child should speak to his/her parents.

I must quote the beautiful advice Abu Hurairah (radiAllahu anh) gave to Abu Ghassan Adh-Dhabbi who was walking in front of his father, “You have missed correctness and contradicted the Sunnah. Do not walk in front of your father, only behind him or to his right side and do not let anyone separate between you and him (while walking). Do not take a bone that has meat on it, which your father looked at, for he might have wanted it. Do not look straight at your father, do not sit until he sits and do not sleep until he goes to sleep.” (at-Tabarani)

If a child is taught to adapt this advice of Abu Hurairah, it will only flower a humble and praiseworthy personality, inshaAllah and I believe this can be done while maintaining a friendly or informal relationship with them.

Although, there are many aspects of respect that will differ from culture to culture, time to time and even from family to family, it is obvious that everyone appreciates kind and polite words, loving tone, caring gestures and a humble personality.

This brings me to my second question: Is “respect” and “mercy” synonymous?

The next verse after the above quoted verse is:

“And lower unto them the wing of submission and humility through mercy…”

We all know the story of the man who stood by his parents all night holding the cup of milk. That was an act of “mercy” and “love.”  But this example is often quoted to show “respect” to parents.  As I write this article, and as I am raising my children in the West, I am thinking that “respect” does not seem to have a fixed standard.  So would it be okay to assume that the man who stood by his parents all night holding the cup of milk for them, may have been a Bedouin with “rough manners” or he may have had an “informal” or “friendly” relationship with his parents (which may not be conceived as “respectful” in many cultures), but he was humble towards them, was kind and merciful and above all his action was purely for the sake of Allah.

On the other hand, we know that Imam Abu Haneefah held a very high level of respect for his mother. She used to tell him to seek the answers to her questions from a local Imam, Amr ibn Dharr. Amr ibn Dharr was not as knowledgeable and he used to ask Abu Haneefah for the rulings, even for the answers to the questions of Abu Haneefah’s mother. So, although, Abu Haneefah himself was the one who would give answers to Amr ibn Dharr for his mother’s questions and bring the ruling back to his mother, he never said to his mother, “hey, I am the one answering your question, so let me just tell you!” Rather, he complied with his mother’s request and did as she asked him to do!

Perhaps, Abu Haneefah was very cautious of any element of pride/arrogance touching his heart and that’s why he avoided telling his mother that he already knew the answers to her questions. Or perhaps that’s the kind of relationship he had with his mother and that’s what his mother expected of him. Or perhaps that is a story we should often tell our children :) !

However, as I continue to tell my children the tales of the great men and women, I must also be an “easy” going parent by understanding their weaknesses and demanding less. Let us remember that Allah azzawajal has made us one of the ways for them to achieve Paradise. We can be complicated “back roads” parents, or we can be smooth “highways.”

When I read Shaikh-ul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah saying, “Abu Bakr said in his book, Zad-ul-Musafir, ‘whoever made his parents angry and brought tears to them, is required to go back and make them laugh,’” I realized that, although, perfection may be the goal, there must always be room for mistakes and shortcomings.

Allah azzawajal honored the scholars of the past by hiding their flaws, thus we only hear about their good character. As we concentrate on the good of our role models, we must acknowledge that they, too, had shortcomings, and while we don’t look for/ask/dig into their shortcomings, we are constantly exposed to our children’s shortcomings because of the closeness we share with them. We should not underestimate the goodness they can be capable of, and knowing their shortcoming and weaknesses should not discourage us from concentrating on the good qualities and setting “high” standards for them.

And most importantly, as we try to polish our children’s positive aspects, we must establish a positive example for them with our actions, specifically in our dealings with our parents!

Juhd, Du’a and Patience:

We parents in the West will have to work hard to discover methods to instill “respect” in our children as we make our own values and draw our own lines, preferably, taking the best of both East and West. In fact, we should consider ourselves lucky that we are exposed to both of the cultures and are able to offer the best of both to our children. We will make mistakes, but we must learn to quickly recover, avoid repetition and improve.  Although it is difficult, it is worth the constant struggle (juhd).

As much as I remind everyone else I firstly remind my own self to make abundant du’a. It is only Allah azzawajal who can guide and it is only Allah azzawajal who can give our children the best khuluq and manners. Remember to use the tool of du’a because parents’ du’a is accepted for their children.

And lastly: “And seek help with patience and prayer (salah)…” (2:45)

As we make du’a, we should stay firm with patience.  We should wait for the “results” with patience. We don’t want to narrow down our scope to 5-10 years.  It is easier to instill an “immediate” respect (through the fear factor) that will perhaps last until the children hit the “teenage” years. Our goal is to raise children who learn to respect their parents and elders for the rest of their lives through thick and thin, inshaAllah.

To conclude, perhaps similar to this is the example of growing a plant in a flower pot vs. a tree in the yard. The one in the pot with pretty flowers can be seen so easily around the house, but the one growing in the yard takes time to become “apparent.”  It is far easier to handle the plant in the flower pot, but it doesn’t grow beyond its pot and the “pretty flowers” come to an end. Planting a tree in the yard takes far more effort, it is hard to protect from the heat and the birds, takes time to flourish, but once it blooms, it grows far beyond, stays firm and becomes a shade for the entire house!

May Allah make our children a way for us to enter Jannat-ul-Firdous!

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Saba Syed (aka Umm Reem) is the author of International award winning novel, "An Acquaintance." Saba has a BA degree in Islamic Studies. She studied Arabic Language & Literature at Qatar University and at Cairo Institute in Egypt. She also received her Ijaazah in Quranic Hafs recitation in Egypt from Shaikh Muhammad al-Hamazawi. She had been actively involved with Islamic community since 1995 through her MSA, and then as a founding member of TDC, and other community organizations. in 2002, she organized and hosted the very first "Musim Women's Conference" in Houston, TX. Since then, she's been passionately working towards empowering Muslim women through the correct and untainted teachings of Islam. She is a pastoral counselor for marriage & family, women and youth issues. She has hosted several Islamic lectures and weekly halaqas in different communities all over U.S and overseas, also hosted special workshops regarding parenting, Islamic sex-ed, female sexuality, and marital intimacy.

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Pingback: Raising Children in the West- How Do You Define Respect (Part 2) | MuslimMatters.org

  2. OsmanK

    November 14, 2008 at 3:46 AM

    another great read sister! I especially liked the part about Abu Hanifah and his mother. Today, it seems like kids “advise” their parents on topics they hardly have any knowledge about!

  3. mulsimah

    November 14, 2008 at 12:17 PM

    salaam

    These are the stories they should tell kids in Islamic school.

  4. ummA

    November 14, 2008 at 12:34 PM

    The meaning of “Kareem”, in the dictionary, ranges from: Generous, kind, good-natured, high-minded, respectable, honorable, decent, precious and valuable!

    wow!!

    it is obvious that everyone appreciates kind and polite words, loving tone, caring gestures and a humble personality.

    true, thankyou for pointing this out

    This brings me to my second question: Is “respect” and “mercy” synonymous?

    so you are concluding that respect and mercy are not same?

    We can be complicated “back roads” parents, or we can be smooth “highways.”

    now that i am thiking about it, having so much power can really be so hard to balance. we should really be easy going

    thankyou for an insightful article and hope to read more from you

  5. iMuslim

    November 14, 2008 at 2:55 PM

    Ameen to your prayers, dear sister. I think the biggest lesson I still need to learn is: I need to be what I want my children to be – as either you, and/or one of the commentators mentioned in the last article. So I take from your article what I need to change now, as a daughter, praying that by the time I am a mother, it will be the norm for my children to witness what real respect and mercy is, insha’Allah. That will also hopefully mean less lecturing, hehe.

  6. Abu Rumaysah

    November 14, 2008 at 3:07 PM

    As-salaamu`alaikum wa rahmatullah
    Bismillah.
    Thank you very much for this introducing this very important topic, may Allah ta`ala reward you abundantly for your efforts (ameen). In hopes of adding a few thoughts to this discussion, I have the following observations.
    1. As people of conscience and faith, it is quite natural for us to aspire for an atmosphere of respect and healthy relations with our children. The challenge as you have astutely alluded to is to identify the fine lines about the “standards of respect” that each one of us parents are obliged to from our children. Apart from the general guidelines of defining parents’ respect from the Shari`a, I tend to believe that the finer details of how that respect is translated into actions and behaviors would probably differ from generation to generation, from East to West, from culture to culture, from individual disposition to individual disposition. For instance, I’m sure of we asked our parents about their standards of respect demanded from their parents we would probably be overwhelmed to find that even a simple movement of the eye or slight body language would be regarded as disrespect (at least from my personal ancestral background – Afghan-Pashtun, it may be different in other cultures).
    2. I think we have to clearly define to ourselves some different levels of respect. First, the respect to which we are obliged to as parents by God through His divine injunction. This respect has to be taught to our children and shown to them through our actions (with our parents or other elders), I would say this is the level of Islam. Second, when we refer to the Qur`anic ayat and prophetic traditions, we find finer details of how respect to parents can be refined and ameliorated, I would consider this Eeman. Third, I believe that the apex of respect to parents is practiced through Ehsan and perhaps this is why the word “wal bil waladani Ehsana” is used, wallahu A’lam. After having learned, taught and practiced the first level, we should aspire to reach eeman and Ehsan as that takes time, effort, focus, patience, and sacrifice, du`aa, etc. Therefore, I believe developing this deep sense of true respect which we desire is a progressive process. As an example, we recall when we read about the person who carried his mother on his back during to perform pilgrimage or when the one of the righteous used to stay up to prepare milk for his parents at the expense of his own children’s hunger. I believe these are examples of love and respect we can strive to have our parents although it would never come close to what they truly deserve.
    3. We should have realistic and practical expectations from our children keeping in mind their innate innocence (fitra), their environment and their individual dispositions and capacities, their health, their age, etc.
    4. Our primary goal as parents should to be develop a strong sense of “moral conscience” so that “moral conscience” will hold them back insha`Allah from saying the words we don’t want to hear and from the actions we don’t want to see. This is probably the same “moral sense” which helps us to use “App” instead of “Tu” when talking to our parents.
    5. A few months back I illustrated to some of my children (ages 4 – 9) the summary of a very amazing hadeeth about how the level of a person’s faith fluctuates and the believer should atleast maintain his faith to the level of Islam (in a nutshell). I illustrated this by drawing a (RED) line which represented Islam and anything below that is forbidden. Above the red line, I drew some other lines in different colors (representing different types of actions) going up and down which indicate the amount of reward people can get according to the type of deed, sincerity, etc. Some of the older kids asked some questions, the youngest (4 years old) was just listening and I thought that perhaps that he may not have comprehended the concept. The next I raised my voice over one issue and surprisingly it was my 4 year old son who reminded me, “baba, don’t go below the red line”. This point illustrates that children need to be taught about issues in the clearest way possible so that it is easy for them to apply it practically.
    6. When we refer to the Qur`an and read about the relations between parent and child, we find a lot of wisdom and perhaps you can shed more light on that. Perhaps the most relevant stories would be that of Noah-and his son, Ibrahim with his father and with his two sons (Isma`el and Isaac), Yusuf and Yaqoob, Zackariyah and Yahya, Isa and His mother Mariam, Luqman and his son (may Allah’s peace be upon them all), Muhammad (saws) and his uncle.
    7. Due to the importance of this topic and lack of availability of relevant literature, I encourage you to please think about compiling these articles with some further study and research into a E-booklet, I am sure that insha`Allah it will spread like wild fire and you will reap its immense reward. Perhaps you can discuss with some shuyookh to give some further advice on the focus and content, masha`Allah what you have presented is excellent.

  7. Umm Reem

    November 14, 2008 at 11:44 PM

    so you are concluding that respect and mercy are not same?

    yes i am

    As an example, we recall when we read about the person who carried his mother on his back during to perform pilgrimage or when the one of the righteous used to stay up to prepare milk for his parents at the expense of his own children’s hunger. I believe these are examples of love and respect

    I would rather like to say these are examples of love and mercy, respect can differ…

  8. Musafira

    November 14, 2008 at 11:46 PM

    Jazak Allah khair, Umm Reem, for sharing. You have said it all. To summarize, the relationship between parents and their children is a precarious one, like on a see-saw. We need to keep a fine balance between respect for parents and being a friend to the children. Like you said, we have to make dua, lots of dua. Add to this, apologies and forgiveness on both sides. After all, we are mere human beings prone to mistakes. However, let me remind mothers that Allah has put mercy in our hearts and we are inclined to forgive our children no matter what heartache they cause us. Keep that in mind and strive to be steadfast when the children unquestionably require correcting. So, love your children for the sake of Allah, not because you can’t bear to see them suffering ‘needlessly’. And no matter where we send our children for schooling, the basic training begins at home and continues at home. We also have an added advantage: that of being Muslims, and having a belief so profound that despite stumbling multiple times we can find our way back, insha Allah. We are all born on the fitrah; nurturing this from the very beginning goes a long way towards lessening any difficulties we might encounter raising our children, insha Allah. We also have our guidelines laid out for us in Islam and we should seek this knowledge to empower our lives and our children’s lives. The beautiful stories that you mentioned signifying the Islamic outlook between parents and children emphasizes (to me, anyway) that in the West in the long run, Islam, not culture will be the answer to our problems. I jhave ust read Abu Rumaysah’s reply; and he reminds us ot other stories in the Quran
    One last word, don’t forget to hug and kiss your children often – this applies to both parents.

  9. Nihal Khan

    November 15, 2008 at 8:17 AM

    Beautiful series of articles….well done, mashaAllah!

  10. Abu Rumaysah

    November 16, 2008 at 3:55 AM

    As an example, we recall when we read about the person who carried his mother on his back during to perform pilgrimage or when the one of the righteous used to stay up to prepare milk for his parents at the expense of his own children’s hunger. I believe these are examples of love and respect

    I would rather like to say these are examples of love and mercy, respect can differ…

    I dont know much arabic, but if I am not mistaken the arabic word “ihtiram” is derived from the root haruma which means “to prevent”…so when we show our “respect”, we are actually preventing ourselves from displeasing them, I believe this is also a part of the meanings of love and mercy. Since the above examples are solely done for parents, i believe they display a very high level of respect. Could we imagine doing such things for a sibling or your wife or husband or any other relative even though we love them and have mercy for them? This is why I think that respect is distinguished above from the general meanings of love and mercy… moreover, respect is a broad term that has to be acutely defined according to the realm of discussion… Wallahu A`lam..

  11. B

    November 16, 2008 at 9:01 AM

    is this abu rumaysa as in abu rumaysa who has transalated ibn taymiyyahs work in to english?

  12. Amad

    November 16, 2008 at 12:43 PM

    Not the same Abu Rumaysah this time, though he has posted comments before.

  13. Umm Reem

    November 16, 2008 at 3:52 PM

    I don’t mean to nitpick on the term but since my whole point of writing this article was to distinguish respect from “obedience” and “mercy/love”, I just want to make sure that it is not being confused.

    You are right “ihtaram” has the meaning of respect (and I don’t know much arabic either!) but the terms we have in Qur’an are ‘birr’, ‘ihsaan’ ‘qwlan kareem’ etc. and birr covers not only obedience but respect and kindness and mercy, being the broadest of all. On the other hand respect is defined from family to family. Obedience is self defined and there is no difference in it, an order of a parent is an order and it must be carried out regardless of culture and time. An action of mercy and love is always considered an act of mercy and love regardless of culture and time BUT what is considered respect in one family may not be considered respect in another, so it differs.

    Like, the way my daughter talks to me is not necessarily considered respectful from a desi cultural aspect, and she has been criticized by elder family members although *I* don’t mind it, on the other hand she is very thoughtful and has a lot of love & mercy in her heart (alhamdullailh)…if i get a headache she would ask me to rest, close my room door so the younger two siblings dont’ bother me, she would play with them and keep them busy, bring tea for me in bed etc. etc.

    Also a friend of mine, her daughter is very thoughtful of her mashaAllah. My friend herself said that her daughter never “talked back” to her but generally if you see her and her daughter communicate and deal with each other on a daily basis, it seems VERY casual (i’m sure many people will think that her daughter is disrespectful), but when it comes to being “merciful” to her mother she sets a fine example for many girls of her age, mashaAllah ‘alaiha.

    Respect, as the parents define for their children, is the bear minimum requirement of “birr” and it is obligatory to respect the parent, however, to hold a cup of milk for them all night, unless parents ordered to do so, is not obligatory. But it is an example of “love” towards parents and to be merciful to them. And as you yourself said in your first comment, it is a higher level of “ehsaan” and “lowering the wings of mercy” on them…the more we lower the wings the more examples of these kinds will exist and we have to continue to struggle and continue to improve.

  14. Amatullah

    November 16, 2008 at 4:26 PM

    Jazakum Allahu khayran Umm Reem!

    I know your series has more to do with children, but the status of parents in Islam is a topic that really humbles me, subhanAllah Allah ta’ala has raised them so much. I personally love the ayaat in surah Ahqaaf about parents.

    Ihsaan is a beautiful word. The root ha seen noon or husn literally means beauty or to make beautiful. Ihsaan means to do the UTMOST good, it’s usually translated as excellence, and perfection is NOT the right translation. When one does ihsaan, they beautify their deeds. They go “all out” and make sure every little detail is done properly. They do not do the least amount of good to get the job done, rather do utmost good–the greatest possible good they are capable of doing. They do NOT fall short in this. Ihsaan with parents has three basic components: 1) to do utmost good in general 2) if one of them returns evil/anger to you, still do good to them showing no signs of irritation 3) to do more than just good, to strive to do the most good you are able of. It’s a very comprehensive word that we should study before throwing around.

    To me, the amazing thing about “birr al waalidayn” is that Allah ta’ala did not define what IHSAAN to them is. Usually Allah azza wa jal gives us the definition or instruction on what we should do, but Allah ta’ala did not say X, Y and Z = ihsaan to parents. The word birr actually means a vast piece of land with all types of herbage, so birr is not just one good deed like you mentioned, it’s all types of good deeds that lead to righteousness.

    Out of Allah’s Knowledge, Wisdom and Mercy, He told us the goal (ihsaan/birr al waalidayn) but leaves it up to us to figure out the means, because there are so many ways to reach it and each parent has different expectations. Allah is Most Knowing.

  15. Abu Rumaysah

    November 17, 2008 at 1:09 AM

    B: the last thing i was trying to translate was how could say I need some hot dogs (at the supermarket here in Riyadh) “ibgha kalb harr? (smile)…. i guess you could distinguish me as the “layman” A.R. from Florida…I believe you are referring to Ustaadh A.R. from UK.

    UR:
    No problem with nit picking, you have made a good point and I understand what you are saying. Many Thanks…My wife and I look forward to your future posts, barak Allahu feeki to you and the MM crew..

    tamim

  16. Pingback: Raising Children in the West- How Do You Define Respect (Part 1) | MuslimMatters.org

  17. 2 cents

    January 2, 2011 at 12:43 PM

    As salamualykum jazakAllahukhairn for theinteresting articles.

    I found that from a very young age the children will talk to you how you talk to them, to their father and to anyone else around. So if you speak gently and softly they do to, usually!

    If you speak in a harsh or loud tone they tend to pick it up. Even if you did it only once or were joking around with a friend they pick these things up and do the same, maybe not straight away but at some point.

    I found that having children helped to correct my own behaviours as i didnt even realise i was speaking or doing things in a certain way till they (the children) came along and mirrored that behaviour.

    also found these sites helpful:

    http://www.raisingsmallsouls.com

    different parenting and educational information.

    http://www.naturalchildproject.com

    I have often heard that we should treat others how we ourselves would like to be treated and
    the prophet sws told us to love for our brothers what we love for oursleves, i think we could also apply this to our children.

    we love to be spoken to with respect and gentlness but then we speak harshly to our children and expect them to do what we said right away. If they ask us to do something we usually tell them, not now i am busy. i think if we do that often enough it sends out the wrong message.

    Firstly dua and then effective communication and trying to always learn and improve ourselves so that our families will always benefit too.

    wasalam

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