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Parenting Series | Part II: Change in Parents is Essential

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Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | | Part V(b) | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX

The following practical parenting steps are not in any particular order, but the implications of them can start from a very early age, even before the children turn two.

Positive Change in Parents:

From the beginning of a child’s life, a parent should constantly be involved and must develop a habit of spending quality time with the family. It is essential that a parent must think of him or herself as a role model for his/her child. Once a child arrives in a household, certain changes must be made by: a) the mother, b) the father, and c) the family as a whole.

Let’s not worry about influencing change in extended family to prevent undesirable influence on our children. What impacts our children most is the influence they receive from direct family, mainly their parents. The battle that many parents feel obliged to take on with their extended family in order to “protect” their children is quite useless and uncalled for.  Of course, da’wah should be given to everyone but from different perspectives and with the correct intentions.

Hide Your Sins from Your Children:

Islam encourages us to hide our sins from others and that includes hiding them from our children too. Therefore, every time we commit a sin and hide it, not only we are reminded that we are indulging in a sin (which should, insha’Allah, eventually lead us to shunning it), but also we will not be setting a bad example for our children either. However, because of their close proximity to us, if they see us do something wrong and confront us, we should not become defensive and feel that our parental status is being challenged. Rather, we should:

  1. Show remorse
  2. Admit our mistake
  3. Ask them to make du’a for us that we cease this sin

In this way we are setting a guideline for them to follow in the future.

Instill Daily Habits:

Don’t think of instilling Islamic values as a part-time task like karate or soccer, which is done for an hour a few times a week at best. Rather, it should be a way of life, which may start off as a “task” due to our newfound eagerness, but should become more of a routine, like our daily athkaar when waking up, going to the bathroom, wearing the right shoe first, eating with our right hand, saying salaam, etc. We actually reach a point that if we forget, our children remind us.

Kindness & Tenderness:

The instinctive kindness felt towards our children should show more in our actions and our words. What can be taught with simple kindness cannot be taught with unnecessary strictness in the name of “teaching them to respect us”!

As the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wasallam) said:

“Indeed gentleness is not used in any matter without it beautifying the task, just as removing gentleness makes the matter become  ugly”. (Muslim)

“He is not one of us who does not show tenderness to those who are young or respect to his elders.” (Tirmidhi)

In the same note, this applies to our methods of parenting, disciplining, and child rearing. Any Islamic value that we wish to instill in our child must be taught in a merciful way rather than a forceful way, especially when they are less than five or seven years.

Disciplining Children:

Nevertheless, it is not possible to raise a positive Muslim child without clear disciplinary measures. Setting consequences for their actions teaches children how to take responsibility for them. This may vary according to each action, sometimes being a firm reprimanding, time out, or temporary revoking of advantages (like play time or computer usage), all depending on the child’s age and the seriousness of the act of disobedience.

Positive Reinforcement:

It is highly advisable that we create a merit chart for children, on which their good and bad deeds are recorded. This idea can be adopted as early as two years of age. Parents can explore their arts and crafts skills and come up with different ideas to develop the behavioral chart. A friend of mine created a tree with ten branches out of construction paper and a bug with her child’s name. The bug would climb up the tree for every good point, and would come down for every bad one. Once the bug made it to the top, her child was rewarded. Sometimes she would switch the bug with a dollar so her child could earn the dollar at the end. For smaller children, set smaller goals with fewer steps to win the final reward.

Forgiveness:

Not every mistake has to be reprimanded, especially when they are young (up to around the age of seven). However, disapproval must be shown and a warning should be passed out so they don’t repeat the action, especially if it is a “first time” mistake.

At an older age, if the mistake is repeated, then as parents we should carefully consider how severe the mistake was, how disobedient they were and how much remorse they showed, judging of course by the situation and the child’s reaction. Once a fair appraisal is made, a parent can then consciously apply his/her punishment to teach them a valuable lesson and consequently end a habitual repetition of the ‘mistake’.

Lying, the Root of all Problems:

In my humble opinion, lying leads to greater problems and difficulty parenting. It is one of the most serious mistakes that my husband and I have personally been adamantly strict in forbidding, and hence have taken strict actions to prevent it from ever occurring in our household.

What we are not conscious of is that often times we indirectly teach our children to lie in the midst of ‘disciplining’ them! Mothers scare their children with imaginary monsters that will supposedly appear if they don’t finish their food, take their nap, or comply with their parent’s instructions. These are all forms of lies and we have been warned against it:

“Once a mother was calling her child and enticing him by showing her closed hand that she will give him something if he came. The Prophet, sallallahu alihi wasalam, upon seeing this asked her if she really had anything in her hand. The woman replied that she had a date. And the Prophet, sallallahu alihi wasalm, warned that had she haven’t had anything to offer to the child, it would have been a lie.”

Truth must be upheld by parents first and foremost, and eventually will be acquired by children, insha’Allah. It has been my personal experience that although continuously observing the truth with our children takes effort and time, its benefits are great. It helps build parent-child trust, not to mention reflect proper Islamic tarbiyah. For example, when and if I had to leave my child home alone, from the time they were very young, I always gave them an honest report of where I was going. Some mothers prefer to give deceptive answers to make it easy on the child to stay behind such as “I am going to kill a lion” or “there are bad guys outside” etc. Quite frankly, these are all forms of lies.

This is not a trivial matter either because what we model for them is what they learn. In order to avoid a future problem of children lying to their parents, the initial steps of ‘always being truthful to our children’ must be taken. As I said, when a child is born, parents need to make specific positive changes in themselves.

At the same time, parents can be 100% honest, yet children will experiment with the idea of “lying to get out of trouble”. Stay prepared and be wise. As for me,I myself do not go easy when it comes to lying. On this essential belief, I have always made it clear that there are advantages to telling the truth. Thus, if:

  1. The children themselves confess to having done something wrong, then most of the time I let them off the hook. Depending on the error, I might show disapproval or disappointment. Remember, disappointment can hurt them more than anger would and drives the message straight home!  Nevertheless, I show my appreciation of their confession. Simple words of appreciation from parents have a tremendous positive effect on a child. We, as parents, often tend to underestimate the power of words. At times, consider “rewarding” you child upon their confession to encourage them to be truthful.
  2. If I find out about their disobedience or trick and confront them with it, and they choose to admit the truth, then they are lightly punished. Again, appreciation should be shown for their choice to admit the truth, followed by a reminder of how their punishment would have been far more severe had they attempted to lie to avoid it altogether.

When these measures are taken consistently from the time the children are at an early age, it is easier to instill the habit of honesty. This is not to mention the fact that it is easier to catch them in their lie when they are younger!

However, when they are too young (up to around age 5 or 6), we shouldn’t be too harsh but rather only be firm and consistent in our reprimands. After age 7, consequences will be necessary.

Be Flexible:

Let me conclude this part of the series by advising parents to be flexible with the children. For instance, sometimes we may punish them by revoking a certain advantage for a fixed number of days, but we may see a genuine effort from the child’s side in “being good” and trying to make up for their mistake. In that case, I do not feel necessary that the punishment must be applied as it was determined. I do believe that the good deeds remove the bad deeds,

“Verily the good deeds remove the evil deeds. This is a reminder for the mindful.” (11:114)

This principle should be applied towards the tarbiyyah of our children also. This will encourage the children to follow up their mistakes with good deeds from a very young age, especially when they are informed of why their punishment was lifted/lightened.

This idea may be in contrast to the principle of consistency, but I personally do not conceive parenting to be a “military ground,” and neither do I want parents to be dictators. Flexibility should be applied. Even when the children get older, they should be given room to disagree with their punishment, though with respectful and reasonable objection. This helps the children not harbor any anger against their parents and also enhances their confidence and helps build an understanding with the parents.

Again, every child is different and a parent must make an effort, from a very young age, to get to know his/her child. Parenting guidelines cannot be written in stone and at times we may have to experiment different methods to learn what works best for our child.

Insha’Allah, next week we will continue with more practical steps.

Umm Reem (Saba Syed) has a bachelors degree in Islamic Studies from American Open University. 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 was one of the founders of Daughters of Adam magazine and remained the publishing director until 2007. She had been actively involved with MSA, TDC, and other community activities. She has also been actively involved with the Muslim women of her community spiritually counseling with marital and mother-daughter issues. She has hosted several Islamic lectures and weekly halaqas in different communities, including special workshops regarding parenting and issues related to women.

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Avatar

    AbuMarjaan

    December 22, 2010 at 1:17 AM

    أسلام عليكم

    “Change in Parents is Essential” ..because Our Actions speak louder than our words.

    جزاك الله خير umm reem for the tips

  2. Avatar

    Nayma

    December 22, 2010 at 6:23 AM

    JAK Umm Reem for the advice. I truly believe that when a child does something wrong, it is sooooooo much better to sit with them and explain why it was wrong to do it instead of just yelling at them.

    IT is much harder to do as we have so many responsibilities and don’t feel like we have those minutes to explain..

    But the result is much sweeter and the effect stays longer on the child’s mind.

    May Allah give us sabr and wisdom in dealing with our precious ones in the best of manners.

    • Avatar

      Umm Reem

      January 5, 2011 at 11:59 PM

      JAK Umm Reem for the advice. I truly believe that when a child does something wrong, it is sooooooo much better to sit with them and explain why it was wrong to do it instead of just yelling at them.

      True. It is VERY important to talk to them. A lot of times, children don’t understand why what they did was wrong. It must be explained to them.

      Plus the parents should also tell them what they could have done instead and would not have had their parents gotten angry at them.

      Just yelling at the children and then leaving them is very dangerous, because that is the prime time for shaytaan to play with their thoughts and arouse their anger and negativity in their minds against their parents. Instead if a parent takes out only 5-10 minutes to speak to them, inshaAllah, a lot of harm can be avoided.

  3. Avatar

    OM

    December 22, 2010 at 7:02 AM

    I am constantly looking for ideas to help educate children. The idea of rewarding the child with the bug-tree is very smart, Mash’Allah.

  4. Avatar

    Aly B - DiscoMaulvi

    December 22, 2010 at 7:11 AM

    Assalamu’Alaikum:

    Jazak’Allah Khairin Umm Reem for this series. Parenthood is a struggle and ensuring that your child is raised up in Islam is very important especially in today’s society where the moral fabric of society is degenerating.

    I look forward to reading more of this series, learn more and implement it as a parent.

    -Aly

    http://discomaulvi.wordpress.com/
    http://www.twitter.com/DiscoMaulvi

  5. Avatar

    Syed J.

    December 22, 2010 at 9:09 AM

    Parenting is an ongoing and daily struggle. I ask Allah SWT to help us raise children as he wants us to.

    Jazak Allah Khair.

  6. Avatar

    Abdul-Qadir

    December 22, 2010 at 11:01 AM

    Assalamualaikum,

    @Umm Reem

    JazakAllah for the Article. The most important part for me was the section on flexibility. I have a question about something you mentioned.

    ‘Let’s not worry about influencing change in extended family to prevent undesirable influence on our children. What impacts our children most is the influence they receive from direct family, mainly their parents. The battle that many parents feel obliged to take on with their extended family in order to “protect” their children is quite useless and uncalled for.’

    I agree that one should not battle extended family. This does nothing but destroy family relations, and this is no good Islamically. I think some people are concerned that their extended family will expose their child to something inappropriate, like pornography. They want to be sure their child is not exposed to things they do not allow in the home. I agree that we do have the most influence, at the same time it only takes one incident for a child to pick up a bad habit from someone else.

    So how do you ensure your children have good relations with their cousins and other extended family without them being exposed to inappropriate things?

    • Avatar

      Umm Reem

      December 27, 2010 at 12:55 AM

      wa alaikum assalam

      Br. Abdul Qadir:
      We cannot fully shield our children from all the evil that is out there. The best we can do is shield them inside our homes and keep a VERY close relationship with them…so much so that they build a confidence with us that if they do something wrong they can always talk to us about it.

      Focus on building a very understanding and close relationship with them…talk to them and talk to them about everything…make them open up to you by you opening up to them first…this helps tremendously with the tarbiyyah because whenever they are exposed to some evil they come running to the parents.

      So, with the relatives, If the issue is small, then you may have to overlook and just keep talking to your children about it. but if it is something serious as pornography than i will be a bit more careful and try to minimize my child’s exposure to that family. But whatever decision i take as a parent, i will make sure that i explain to my child first why i decided what i decided and let them be a part of it.

      For instance, if a cousin has those evil magazines and shows them to the other younger cousin, then:
      * I will tell my child how and why pornography is evil. What it can lead to. Depending on the age, you can simply the terms.
      * Then I will explain to the child that it is better to keep away as much as we can.
      * If it is a matter of a VERY close relative, then it maybe better that we invite them to our house, than we going there (as much as we can reduce that)
      * Or try to do more outside activities with that family.
      * Encourage your child to make du’a for that relative
      * Lastly, encourage them to be thankful to Allah, that Allah safeguarded them from this evil, and that He gave them an understanding parent who they can approach to with their problems.

      Also, I like to be a step ahead…like when my son (10) started going to an all boys school, i warned him that sometimes boys bring magazines with girls not wearing proper clothes etc. he was shocked but i was content that i told him in my own words with a friendly motherly advise.

      I would rather be a step ahead and introduce a subject at an earlier age than wait, our of fear of my child “losing” his innocence, and let someone else corrupt my child.

      • Avatar

        Umm Reem

        December 27, 2010 at 1:00 AM

        And also just one more thing,

        I have actually discussed this in the series later, but this point can never be emphasized enough…

        we have to be a bit careful around the older or even same age cousins because a lot of time they are the ones, on many occasions, who end up introducing the “sex-ed” to the younger children. And not only it is wrong, it can even be psychologically damaging for our children.

        A lot of times those who develop sexual addictions, have an improper exposure to sex during their childhood. So this can lead to some serious consequences later in their lives…something we, as parents, tend to serious underestimate. InshaAllah I will have more discussion over this later in the series.

  7. Avatar

    UmmAdam

    December 22, 2010 at 1:01 PM

    JazakAllahKhair for this Umm Reem. Truly, parents are models for their children…the good and the bad. And if we see bad behavior in our children, we must first look to ourselves to see if it is something that they have gotten from us. May Allah guide us so we can raise good, pious Muslims, insha Allah.

  8. Avatar

    Holly Garza

    December 23, 2010 at 4:05 PM

    Great points and food for thought. JazakaAllah u Khayer for posting this, the reminders benefit the believers…thats for sure.

    I will be sharing InshaAllah

  9. Sarah S.

    Sarah S.

    December 25, 2010 at 9:39 AM

    Excellent points masha’Allah. I completely agree with the reward system you presented. I recently began working at as a Crisis Interventionist at a preschool and I have found that the classrooms that utilize a consistent reward system are creating a much more stimulating environment for the children.

    Great article! I am looking forward to the next one in your series :)

  10. Avatar

    amatullah

    December 25, 2010 at 10:48 AM

    A bit disappointed, didn’t find anything meaningful

  11. Avatar

    Abid

    December 25, 2010 at 3:42 PM

    Salaam all,

    Jazakillah khair for the article sister, I’m grealty looking forward to the rest of the series.

    On the topic of parenting, you might want to visit:

    http://www.home-group.co.uk

    A new community project in the UK aimed at raising awareness of and improving muslim parenting…

    Check it out ia!

  12. Pingback: Nivac – Parenting Series | Part II: Change in Parents is Essential

  13. Avatar

    tanya zafar

    December 30, 2010 at 5:25 PM

    Dear Umm Reem,

    Assalaam alaikum,

    Jazakillah khair sister for your articles and feedback on some comments. I wanted to ask your views on TV watching, whether to have it at home or not. Although I can control so far what my daughter watches (she’s 2 & half now), I’m scared that there are still so many things that I can’t eliminate. I don’t want the TV at all in my home but this is a constant debate with my husband who wants it. He says we should control times & programs but not eliminate it. But I’m scared for most of the uncontrollable things that pop up from time to time (even in tv ads nowadays) that we can’t control.

    Also, my husband doesn’t want to believe in hadiths as he says they might be changed and not the real thing by the Prophet pbuh. I’m really struggling in my mind to make him understand. Also on the issue of music. Please help.

    Jazakillah khair, Salaam alaikum,

    Tanya

    • Avatar

      Hebah Ahmed

      December 31, 2010 at 12:56 PM

      Asalam ALikum Dear Sr. Tanya,

      We struggled a lot with the issue of the tv in our home. My husband and I finally concluded that we should not have a tv at all. These are the reasons we decided this:

      1. My husband and I have the tendency to become addicted to the tv and it makes us lazy. Instead of reading Quran or a book or taking care of things we need to, we take the easy mindless route of just sitting comatose in front of the tv

      2. We had a hard time figuring out how we were suppose to lower our gaze with the opposite sex and avoid seeing their awrahs when watching tv, especially non-Islamic channels

      3. American studies have shown that excessive tv watching can lower the IQ of children, reduce creativity, increases laziness, and increase aggression and risky behavior (http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2009/09/27/the-debilitating-effects-of-tv-on-children/)

      4. Even if you find a decent program, the commercials are horrid. One lecture I heard said that there is deliberate placement of ads for breast augmentation in cartoons so that little girls will start thinking about it from an early age. I also think the extreme commercialization leads to increased materialism and will make any shopping experience MUCH more difficult.

      5. We have a computer with a DVD player so that the kids can watch things of benefit without worrying about commercials or them sneaking to watch things behind our back.

      6. I think that just like with alcohol, you can try to use it in moderation but the nature of the beast really does not allow for moderation, rather it seems for me at least to be a slow path to addiction and increased use.

      These are just a few of the many reasons we do not have tv although I believe there are many more.

      Allah knows best.

      • Avatar

        tanya zafar

        January 3, 2011 at 12:52 PM

        Dear Sr. Hebah Ahmed,

        Jazakallahu khair for you response on my queries. I will convey this message, InshaAllah. However, my husband & I are not on the same page & I’m still struggling with the TV issue – his issue is he wants to watch his games live!
        I have a new one to deal with, he has questions on hadith authenticity & so he says we should only follow the Quran. I’m trying to convince him to go to a sheikh but he doesn’t want to. He says that how do you know that the hadiths in Sahih Muslim/Bukhari or the other books are true to the prophet & there’ve been no alterations. is the Quran not complete enough just to follow it? why do we need to follow the hadiths when they might not have recorded correctly.

        Plz help.

        Tanya

        • Avatar

          Umm Reem

          January 6, 2011 at 12:02 AM

          sister tanya,

          You can get Jamal Zarabozo’s book, “Authority of Sunnah”. A lot of your husband’s confusions will be solved inshaAllah.

          • Avatar

            tanya zafar

            January 8, 2011 at 11:33 AM

            Jazakallahu khair – i will look into it InshaAllah.

  14. Avatar

    Anonymous

    January 5, 2011 at 11:10 AM

    jazakAllah khayr UmmReem, for this very practical and beneficial series!

    I am SO glad that you mentioned not lying to children. I really hate it when mothers say “if you don’t do such and such a man is going to come and get you”, etc. My problem is that I live with my in laws and they often tell the children these “small lies”. As soon as I have an oppurtunity alone with the children, I tell them that what they heard is wrong…but then, as you can imagine, it’s confusing for the child. Any practical tips for how to deal with that?

  15. Avatar

    Haya Shehzadi

    December 7, 2017 at 8:02 AM

    “Whoever builds a Masjid for the sake of Allah, Allah will build for him a house in Paradise” Hadith
    So Start Your Donation with trust and confidence.

    http://www.masjidii.com

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#Life

Mindful or Mind-full? Going From AutoPilot to Aware

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Mindful

Modeling Mindfulness

Mindfull

“Remember that God knows what is in your souls, so be mindful of Him.”

[Sūrat al-Baqarah 2:235]

Mindful or Mind-full?

Ever felt frustrated when you were trying to talk to your spouse, your children, your students, or your youth group and they would just not pay attention? This is a prime example of being on autopilot and getting carried away without actually being aware of what is most important in the present moment.

A recent Harvard study shows that our minds are not present in the moment and wander about 47% of the time1. In a world of technology and continuous sensory overload, the lines between work and home, friends and family, necessity vs. purpose, world-centric vs. Allah-centric have become blurred. We are either living in the past or ruminating about the future, and in the process, we are forgetting to live, enjoy, cherish, and make the most of our present moments.

For parents, teachers, youth leaders, and anyone in the beautiful role of guiding, teaching, coaching, or mentoring others, we can make a huge difference by modeling Mindfulness ourselves. But where do we start? The answer is to go from autopilot to becoming aware.

Autopilot to Aware

Being on autopilot is when you are distracted in the present moment, where your mind is wandering into the past or the future, and you are less aware of yourself, surroundings, or others. Autopilot can actually be pretty helpful for your regular habits. Waking up, brushing your teeth, getting ready for your day, going to school or work – many of the things we do habitually every day can be done more seamlessly without having to think, and that is a good thing. But there are times when you have to learn to turn off your autopilot to become aware. But how?

Here is a Mindfulness tool that can be done in just a minute or two for you to become more aware.

Step 1: Breath as a Tool. Say Bismillah. Focus on your breath. See where you experience the breath – the breathing in and breathing out of your body. Is your breath stemming from your nostrils, your chest, or your stomach? Just bring your attention to your breath and relax and stay with it there for a few moments.

Step 2: Body as a Tool. Relax your body. We carry so many emotions in our bodies2. Our stress from the past or anticipation for the future sometimes finds its way into our necks, other times in our chest muscles or our backs. Pay attention to what emotions and sensations do you feel, and try to relax all parts of your body.

Step 3: Intention as a Tool. As you have centered your thoughts to the present moment through your breath and your body, ask yourself: “What is most important now? In this present moment?”

Just simply being aware makes us more mindful parents, teachers, youth and professionals – being aware makes us more Mindful of Allah SWT. Mindfulness is the ability to be aware of your mind and body and bring your attention to the present moment.

Mindful

Real Life in the Present Moment

You are an on-the-go parent: It has been a long day and you have to pick up the kids from school, but work is still pending. You’re picking up the kids from school, feeding them, and then shuffling everyone to their afterschool activities, be it Qur’an, softball, soccer, swimming, or the million other things that kids seem to have these days. You squeeze pending work in between drop-offs and pick-ups, and you function by living from one task to the next.

The Autopilot Impact: You’re getting a lot done, but are so engrossed in quickly moving your children along from one thing to another that you are unable to really cherish your time together.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: You can try to go from autopilot to awareness by focusing on your breath, paying attention to your emotions, and relaxing your body. As you do so, ask yourself: “What is most important now?” Make the intention to slow down, listen to the children more mindfully, and cherish and enjoy your time together.

You are a busy teacher: Last night you had to take all the grading home and spent two hours poring over students’ work. This morning, you woke up early to pick up some classroom supplies after dropping off your own kids to school. You’ve already had two cups of coffee and are trying to think through everything you have to do today. You like the idea of Mindfulness, living life in the present moment, and enjoying every day to its fullest, but your mind is not free to even enjoy the beautiful morning sunrise as you drive to school.

The Autopilot Impact: You want to listen and pay attention to every child’s needs, and enjoy the rewards of their growth, but you can’t. What’s more, you judge yourself for just trying to get through your activities for the day. You wish you could connect with your students better.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: Whenever you are stressed with an unpleasant parent or student interaction, think about breathing, relaxing your body, and asking what you need to focus on now. Try to do one thing at a time, and relax into what you’re doing.

You are an overstretched youth director: You are a role model. You have this major weekend event you are planning with the youth. Your budget is still pending from the board, you have to call all these people, have to get the graphics and remind everyone about the event, you have to visit all these masjids and MSAs to announce and remind people about the weekend.

This weekend’s theme is Living a Life of Purpose and you are super passionate about it. However, the whole week you have had a hard time remembering to even pray one Salah with focus. Instead, your mind has been preoccupied with all the endless planning for this weekend. You love what you do but you wonder how to also be mindful in your everyday worship while you are always prepping and planning engaging activities for the youth.

The Autopilot Impact: You enjoy shaping the youth but you are losing steam. You are always planning the next program and unable to focus on your own personal and spiritual development. It is difficult for you to pray even one salah without thinking about all the events and activities planned for that week.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: Get serious about taking some time for yourself. Know that becoming more mindful about your own prayers and self-development will also make you a better role model. Take a minute or two before every Salah to practice the simple, 3-Step Mindfulness Tool. You say Bismillah and breathe, focus your mind, and then relax your body. Empty your mind from everything else – what has past and what’s to come – and ask “What’s most important now?” to develop better focus in your Salah.

In Conclusion: Practice Simple but Solid Steps towards becoming more Mindful Muslims

Mindfulness is to open a window to let the Divine light in.

[Imam Al Ghazali]

Mindfulness gives us the ability to be aware. We can use Mindfulness tools to remember Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), refocus, renew our intentions, and engage with the present moment in a more effective and enjoyable way. Mindfulness also invites awareness of our potential negligence in being our best selves with both Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and His creation. To put it simply, being more aware of our selves can help us be better versions of our selves.

Mindfulness is both an art and a science, with brain and behavioral science research validating the importance of Mindfulness in improving our health, managing our stress, navigating our emotions, and positively impacting our lives3. In today’s modern and distracted world, let us treasure every tool that helps us center our attention on what matters the most.

  1. Bradt, Steve (2010). Wandering mind not a happy mind. Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind/
  2. Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, Jari K. Hietanen (2013). Bodily maps of emotions. National Academy of Sciences. https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/12/26/1321664111
  3. “What are the benefits of mindfulness,” American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner.aspx

To learn more about how to become mindful take the Define Course on Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence.

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#Society

A Code of Conduct To Protect Against Spiritual Abuse

Danish Qasim

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Code of Conduct for Islamic Leadership, Institutions

When there is a claim of spiritual abuse, the initial reaction of concerned Muslims is often to go to another Muslim leader and expect that leader to take care of it.  Most of the time, however, religious leaders in the community have no authority over other religious leaders who are found abusing their position. Many of these leaders feel a foreboding sense of powerlessness to exert change, leaving those who abuse, to do so freely and with impunity. 

There have been attempts by some leaders to take action against abusive religious figures. However, when this happens, it is usually followed by a public or ‘in-group’ campaign against the abusive figure, and the abusive figure and his supporters return in kind. This becomes messy, quickly. There is name-calling, mud-slinging, and threats, but in the end, it amounts to nothing, in the end, leaving everyone involved to make their own decision as to whether or not to continue support for the alleged perpetrator. Other religious leaders may know the accused is guilty, but due to friendships or programs they wish to continue doing with the accused, they will cover for them, especially when there is only a perceived low level of evidence that the public could ever discover it. 

There are several methods and excuses through which abuse is covered up.

The Wall of Silence

In cases of tightly knit groups, whether Sufi tariqas, super Salafi cliques, activist groups, or preachers who have formed a team, the abuser will be protected by a wall of silence, while the victim is targeted, maligned, and ostracized for speaking out against the leader. They, not the abuser, are held accountable, liable, and blamed. While the abuser is expected to be ‘forgiven,’ the victim is socially shamed for a crime committed against him or her. More often than not, the victim is intimidated into silence, while the perpetrator is left free to continue abusing. 

The Kafir Court Rationale

There have been countless situations when there have been legal claims made against a transgressing spiritual leader, but through coercion and pressure, the shaykh (or those close to him) will be able to convince his victim that they are not allowed to go to kafir court systems to solve issues between Muslims. Ironically, these same shaykhs see no difficulty signing legally binding contracts with other Muslims they do business with, or when they give classes, which stands to reason, they are perfectly fine accepting the same ‘kafir court’ as a source of protection when it is for themselves. 

Stop Hurting the Dawah Plea

In other cases, when the disputes are between fellow students, or representatives of the shaykh and those lower ranking students, the shaykh himself is able to get on the phone with the disgruntled victim, give him or her special attention, and convince the person to drop it and not pursue justice, as that may ‘hurt the dawah.’ Sometimes, the shaykhs will ostensibly push for Islamic mechanisms of justice and call for arbitration by other religious figures who they know will decide in his favor. It is critical not to fall victim to these arguments. 

Your Vile Nafs Culpe

Far too often in these groups, particularly the more spiritually inclined ones, everyone will acknowledge the abuse, whether illicit sexual behavior, groping, financial fraud, secret temporary marriages, or bullying by a Shaykh, but steadfastly invoke the ‘only prophets are perfect, and our Shaykh is a wali–– but he can make mistakes’ refrain. Then, when those seeking recourse dare disclose these issues, even when there is no dispute about the factuality of their claims, they are browbeaten into compliance; told their focus on the negative is a sign that they are ‘veiled from the more important, positive efforts of the group, and it is they who should overcome their vile nafs.’ With such groups, leaving may be the only solution. 

Pray it Away Pretext

Sometimes, a target of abuse may go to other teachers or other people in the community to seek help, guidance, or direction. The victims hold these teachers in high regard and believe that they can trust them. However, instead of these teachers acting to protect the victims, the victims are often placated, told to pray it away. They are left with empty platitudes, but nothing concrete is ever done to protect them, nor is there any follow-up. 

The Forgive and Forget Pardon

They are told to forgive…

Forgiveness has its place and time, but at that critical moment, when a victim is in crisis and requires guidance and help, their wellbeing should remain paramount. To counsel victims that their primary job and focus at that pivotal juncture is to forgive their abuser is highly objectionable. Forgiveness is not the obligation of the victim and for any teacher or religious leader to invalidate the wrong that took place is not only counterproductive but dangerous––even if the intention behind the advice came from a wholesome place.

The Dire Need For A Code of Conduct

It is very easy to feel let down when nothing is done about teachers who abuse, but we have to understand that without a Code of Conduct, there really isn’t much that can be done when the spiritual abuse is not considered illegal. It is the duty of Islamic institutions to protect employees, attendees, and religious leaders. We also must demand that. 

Justice is a process. It is not a net result. This means that sometimes we will follow the process of justice and still come up short. The best thing we can do to hold abusers accountable for our institutions is to set up a process of accountability. A code of conduct will not eliminate spiritual abuse. Institutions that adopt this code may still cover up abuse, in which case victims will need to take action against the institution for violating the code. This code of conduct will also protect teachers who can be targetted and falsely accused.

As members of the community, we should expect more.  Here is how:

  •  Demand your Islamic institutions to have and instill a code of conduct. 
  •  If you are in a group outside of an institution, get clarity on the limits of the Shaykh.
  •  Understand that anyone, no matter their social status, is capable of doing horrible things, even the religious figures who talk about the importance of justice, accountability, and transparency. 
  • When it comes to money, expect more from your leadership than emotional appeals. Fundraising causes follow trends, and while supporting good causes is a positive thing, doing so without a proper audit or accountability is not. It lends itself to financial abuse, mistrust, and misappropriation.  

Establish a Protocol

A lot of hurt can be saved and distrust salvaged if victims are provided with honest non-judgment. Even in the event that there is a lack of concrete evidence, a protocol to handle these kinds of sensitive situations can provide a victim with a safe space to go to where they know they won’t be ignored or treated callously. We may not be able to guarantee an outcome, but we can ensure that we’ll try.

Using Contract Law to Hold Abusers Accountable – Danya Shakfeh

In cases of spiritual abuse, legal recourse (or any recourse for that matter) has been rare due to there being no standard of conduct and no legal means to hold abusers accountable.  In order to solve this problem, our Code of Conduct creates a legal mechanism of enforcement through contract law.

The reason why contract law is important and applicable is that the law does not always address unethical behavior.  You have heard the refrain “Just because it is legal, it does not mean it is ethical.” The law, for varying reasons, has its limits. Although we associate the law with justice and morality, the law and justice and morality are not always interchangeable and can even be at odds with each other.  

Ultimately, specifically in a secular society, the law is a set man-made rules and sometimes those rules are arbitrary and actually unfair. For example, there is a class of laws called ‘strict liability’ laws. These laws make a defendant liable even if the person committed the offense by accident.  One example of strict liability law is selling alcohol to a minor. In some states, even if the person tried to confirm the minor’s legal age, the seller could still be held liable for the offense. On the flip-side, there are is a lack of anti-bullying laws on the books in the United States. This allows employers to cause serious emotional damage to employees, yet the employer can get away with such offensive behavior.  Accordingly, the law does not always protect nor is it always ‘just.’

On Power, Boundaries, And The Accountability Of Imams

This is one of the reasons that victims of spiritual abuse have had little success in having their claims addressed at a legal level.  Because abuses are not legally recognized as such, there is often no associated remedy. For example, when a woman enters into a secret second marriage only to find that the husband is not giving her all her Islamic legal rights, that woman’s recourse is very limited because the law does not recognize this as abuse and does not even recognize the marriage.

Further, if a victim of spiritual abuse is abused due to religious manipulation unless the abuser engaged in a stand-alone crime or civil claim, the victim also has no legal recourse. For example, if a religious scholar exploits a congregant’s vulnerabilities in order to convince the congregant to turn over large amounts of money and the congregant later learns that the Islamic scholar did not really need the money, he or she may have no legal recourse.  This is because manipulation (as long as there is no fraud) is not illegal and depending on how clever the religious scholar was, the congregant would have no legal recourse. Our way of solving this problem is by using contract law to set and enforce the standard for ethical behavior.

Use of Institutional Handbooks

Whether people realize it or not, institutional handbooks are a type of contract. Though an attorney should be consulted in order to ensure that they these documents are binding, policies do not necessarily need to be signed by every party nor do they need to be called a “contract” in order to be legally binding.  By creating institutional handbooks and employment policies that relate to common issues of spiritual abuse, we can finally provide guidelines and remedies.

When an employee at an institution violates the institution’s policies, this is a “breach of contract” that can result in firing or even monetary damages. In other words, the policy is that document which victims and institutions can use to back their cases when there are allegations involving abuse.  Policies can also hold institutions themselves liable for not enforcing the policy and remedies as to victims’ abuse. Policies also serve the purpose of putting the community and their beneficiaries and patrons on notice as to what is expected of them.

Our Code of Conduct is the most comprehensive of created ethical guidelines for Muslims leaders and institutions for making spiritual abuse remedies actionable. We believe it will provide remedies to victims that would otherwise not be available through other legal means.  By binding the parties to a contract, victims and institutions can take these contracts, along with the abusers, to court and use the contract to fill in the gap for appropriate behavior that the law otherwise does not fill.

Download the Code of Conduct For Islamic Leadership By In Shaykh’s Clothing

Blurred Lines: Women, “Celebrity” Shaykhs, and Spiritual Abuse

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Ya Qawmi: Strengthen Civic Roots In Society To Be A Force For Good

Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari

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For believers the traditions and teachings of the Prophets (blessings on them), particularly Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), are paramount. Each Prophet of God belonged to a community which is termed as their Qawm in the Qur’an. Prophet Lut (Lot) was born in Iraq, but settled in Trans-Jordan and then became part of the people, Qawm of Lut, in his new-found home. All the Prophets addressed those around them as ‘Ya Qawmi’ (O, my people) while inviting them to the religion of submission, Islam. Those who accepted the Prophets’ message became part of their Ummah. So, individuals from any ethnicity or community could become part of the Ummah – such as the Ummah of Prophet Muhammad.

Believers thus have dual obligations: a) towards their own Qawm (country), and b) towards their Ummah (religious companions). As God’s grateful servants, Muslims should strive to give their best to both their Qawm and Ummah with their ability, time and skillset. It is imperative for practising and active Muslims to carry out Islah (improvement of character, etc) of people in their Ummah and be a witness of Islam to non-Muslims in their Qawm and beyond. This in effect is their service to humanity and to please their Creator. With this basic understanding of the concept, every Muslim should prioritise his or her activities and try their utmost to serve human beings with honesty, integrity and competence. Finding excuses or adopting escapism can bring harm in this world and a penalty in the Hereafter.

Like many other parts of the world, Britain is going through a phase lacking in ethical and competent leadership. People are confused, frustrated and worried; some are angry. Nativist (White) nationalism in many western countries, with a dislike or even hatred of minority immigrant people (particularly Muslims and Jews), is on the rise. This is exacerbated through lowering religious literacy, widespread mistrust and an increase in hateful rhetoric being spread on social media. As people’s patience and tolerance levels continue to erode, this can bring unknown adverse consequences.

The positive side is that civil society groups with a sense of justice are still robust in most developed countries. While there seem to be many Muslims who love to remain in the comfort zone of their bubbles, a growing number of Muslims, particularly the youth, are also effectively contributing towards the common good of all.

As social divisions are widening, a battle for common sense and sanity continues. The choice of Muslims (particularly those that are socially active), as to whether they would proactively engage in grass-roots civic works or social justice issues along with others, has never been more acute. Genuine steps should be taken to understand the dynamics of mainstream society and improve their social engagement skills.

From history, we learn that during better times, Muslims proactively endeavoured to be a force for good wherever they went. Their urge for interaction with their neighbours and exemplary personal characters sowed the seeds of bridge building between people of all backgrounds. No material barrier could divert their urge for service to their Qawm and their Ummah. This must be replicated and amplified.

Although Muslims are some way away from these ideals, focusing on two key areas can and should strengthen their activities in the towns and cities they have chosen as their home. This is vital to promote a tolerant society and establish civic roots. Indifference and frustration are not a solution.

Muslim individuals and families

  1. Muslims must develop a reading and thinking habit in order to prioritise their tasks in life, including the focus of their activism. They should, according to their ability and available opportunities, endeavour to contribute to the Qawm and Ummah. This should start in their neighbourhoods and workplaces. There are many sayings of the Prophet Muhammad on one’s obligations to their neighbour; one that stands out – Gabriel kept advising me to be good to my neighbour so much that I thought he would ask that he (neighbour) should inherit me) – Sahih Al-Bukhari.
  2. They must invest in their new generation and build a future leadership based on ethics and professionalism to confidently interact and engage with the mainstream society, whilst holding firm to Islamic roots and core practices.
  3. Their Islah and dawah should be professionalised, effective and amplified; their outreach should be beyond their tribal/ethnic/sectarian boundaries.
  4. They should jettison any doubts, avoid escapism and focus where and how they can contribute. If they think they can best serve the Ummah’s cause abroad, they should do this by all means. But if they focus on contributing to Britain:
    • They must develop their mindset and learn how to work with the mainstream society to normalise the Muslim presence in an often hostile environment.
    • They should work with indigenous/European Muslims or those who have already gained valuable experience here.
    • They should be better equipped with knowledge and skills, especially in political and media literacy, to address the mainstream media where needed.

Muslim bodies and institutions

  • Muslim bodies and institutions such as mosques have unique responsibilities to bring communities together, provide a positive environment for young Muslims to flourish and help the community to link, liaise and interact with the wider society.
  • By trying to replicate the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah, they should try to make mosques real hubs of social and spiritual life and not just beautiful buildings. They should invest more in young people, particularly those with professional backgrounds. They should not forget what happened to many places where the Muslim presence was thought to be deep-rooted such as Spain.
  • It is appreciated that the first generation Muslims had to establish organisations with people of their own ethnic/geographical backgrounds. While there may still be a need for this for some sections of the community, in a post-7/7 Britain Muslim institutions must open up for others qualitatively and their workers should be able to work with all. History tells that living in your own comfort zone will lead to isolation.
  • Muslim bodies, in their current situation, must have a practical 5-10 year plan, This will bring new blood and change organisational dynamics. Younger, talented, dedicated and confident leadership with deep-rooted Islamic ideals is now desperately needed.
  • Muslim bodies must also have a 5-10 year plan to encourage young Muslims within their spheres to choose careers that can take the community to the next level. Our community needs nationally recognised leaders from practising Muslims in areas such as university academia, policy making, politics, print and electronic journalism, etc.

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