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Trees & Butterflies





With age comes the stereotype that wisdom has been attained and that one’s intellectual capacity has reached its limit. Stereotypes like these cause us to assume that the older one is, the more answers that they have, the smarter that they are, and above all, the more mature that they have become.

Stereotypes, however, have a tendency to be either an exaggerated version of the truth or untruthful altogether.

I once took a psychology course focused on aging and its affects on cognition. Based on what I learned, it’s true that we look up to older people as vessels of wisdom partly because of their experiences. You see, because they have lived longer, they have most likely had more opportunities to experience a variety of situations and issues. Most importantly, however, we presume that older adults have learned from their experiences.

One of my dear friends provided me with a spectacular analogy using trees and butterflies related to her by her psychology professor; as a result, something interesting that I have come to realize is that in terms of learning from life experiences, some people are like trees while others are like butterflies. Let me explain:

From the time of conception a person is like a seed, growing and developing into a far more complex being than its former self.

As time passes, this seed – now a tree – extends upwards, giving birth to branches and leaves that hang therefrom.

People, too, grow upwards, shifting from a phase of crawling on all fours to balancing oneself respectably on both feet.

Both trees and people, however, have a threshold: a point where vertical growth ceases and the potential for further development is lost…or is it?


For humans, it shouldn’t be.

Because our growth is not limited to the limbs that we carry. Unlike a tree, we are intellectual beings with a limitless capacity for further progression into something better and more advanced than what we used to be. Despite this, in the way that a tree has a linear growth (which at some point comes to an end), so do some people.

Regardless of the fact that they have attained growth with age, it has thus far has been limited to only the physical. Any room for intellectual and personal growth appears to be vacant or non-existent – and I’m sure we have all witnessed this calamity for ourselves.

Have you ever come across an adult who, despite their age and seeming maturity, act worse than children?

At least children can have excuses: ignorance, lack of experience, poor insight – but what about these grown adults?

I was once sitting on the train on my way home from classes when I overheard a (loud) conversation between two women. Their so called “discussion” consisted of something evil.

Something distasteful.

Something shameful – they were backbiting another woman…badly.

Now, I took a good look at these women and marveled at the fact that despite being in their 40s-50s (or maybe older!) they were resorting to something so trivial; the type of behavior we would expect from the stereotypical teen-aged girl or boy. I couldn’t help but cringe at the realization of how unbeffiting this was for two women who, according to the age stereotype, were supposed to be the epitome of poise, intellect, and sophistication.

When we look to older people, we simply expect better from them.

We know that they have gone through many experiences and so this expectation stems from our general understanding that with experience comes learning and with learning comes growth.

But like a tree, some people simply grow bigger and taller…and that’s where it ends.

Which is why we sometimes find adults acting like children – or worse – failing to use the common sense which should have accompanied their years on this earth. For instance, we find them using foul language, bickering, gossiping, attempting to appear/act youthful, arguing, and doing a number of other things that leave a wrong taste in our mouths and a skewed perception of older adults.

However, other people are like butterflies.

Did a butterfly just wake up one morning as a butterfly?628x471


Instead, it went through a process.

It started as something tiny and seemingly insignificant – a caterpillar. But sometime during its life, it came across change.

Through a magnificent process of metamorphosis, this measly caterpillar evolved into something so grand, so magnificent, so beautiful – a butterfly.

No longer does it spend its days crawling on the ground and munching on leaves.

No – for today this caterpillar has extended its wings soaring high above its earlier stages of life. It soars high into a world it has never seen and flutters from flower to flower, tree to tree, gaining experience and breadth with every place it lands. This caterpiller has lost the right to even be called a caterpillar for with that term comes the baggage of helplessness and dependancy – something that it has long ago shed.

Likewise, on the journey of being a helpless infant to a fully grown adult, some people metamorphosize.

They develop in stages, casting off the blankets of their former selves. Their age is accompanied with pure wisdom and depth and they look through eyes of understanding and maturity, seeing the world for what it truly is.

They do not waste their time engaging in the frivolous things from their youth for they have grown a growth which has extended past the phsyical realm and into the sphere of comprehension and intellectual expansion.

So I ask you to reflect: are you a tree or a butterfly?

If you answer with a tree, know that as the trunk grows vertically, the branches are cast this way and that, refusing to be confined to a linear growth. A tree, you see, is dynamic. So know that although you may have grown without truly having ever grown, you still have the potential to deviate from the norm of this current linear growth and expand your horizons.

And if you are currently identify as a butterfly, I pray that you continue to spread your wings and fly. Fly to new places. Fly to new areas of learning and expertise. And fly to understanding the purpose of your flight.

And Allah (SWT) knows best.



  1. Avatar


    March 14, 2013 at 7:48 AM

    Assalam alaikum

    I like this article but I am not so sure I agree with the analogy.

    A great and mighty tree can provide refuge, solace and food for not just one catepillar, but for many creatures.

    Protection from the tree can be provided against would be predators as well.

    My analogy is that with people of age, seek out what wisdom they can give in areas that make sense to you when confining in them. Their life is like a road map and although they may have lost their way at times upon this road, they have made it this far because of their age for a reason but they have also avoided dangers in life that you may still come upon.

    Evolving to a butterfly is a good thing, but the butterfly always remembers that in the mighty tree is refuge when needed at times.


    • Avatar

      Umm Esa

      March 14, 2013 at 10:01 AM

      I like the article too. And I understand the lesson. However, the analogy of the tree itself doesn’t seem very clear to me due to the fact that even though a tree’s linear growth might stop, its planar growth continues despite odds. Its roots adapt and become firmer. A tree remains a symbol of benefit and life. Therefore, as we age, we our physical strength may continue to diminish …however, the wisdom and knowledge can continue to grow just as a tree’s whorls continue to grow.

      • Avatar

        ~ ubah

        March 14, 2013 at 4:18 PM

        The beauty of an analogy is the multitude of ways in which it can be interpreted and applied to one’s own life. What you read above is simply my own reflections and derivations of an analogy I came across. No need to agree – just pause and ponder ✌.

  2. Avatar

    Umme Hadi

    March 14, 2013 at 5:32 PM

    Masha Allah an article to reflect and ponder upon….,
    an article for “li ullil albaab / li ulil nuhaa ie for those who posses intellect”.
    There are many many ayahs in the Quran where Allah swt asks us to ponder, reflect, think, understand…use our intellect….
    There is a stage/phase in life where if rightly used transforms a person from a caterpillar to butterfly …
    May Allah make us of the Ullil albaab….

  3. Avatar

    Umm Shaharazed

    March 17, 2013 at 11:12 AM

    Assalam alaykum,

    There can be many ways to interpret this.

    You should read “When Wings Expand” by author, Mehded Maryam Sinclair. She uses the symbolism of a chrysalis transformation into a butterfly to represent the main character’s transformation after the death of her mother from cancer.

  4. Avatar

    Sheryf jannah focus

    March 17, 2013 at 7:36 PM

    Salamu alaikum wrwb!
    Well written, Good article, worth pondering, mashaaAllah!

    *i agree with you that ..analogies dont need to be disproven, bcos like opinions vary, everyone may hav different ways of putting it!
    So even if u disagree, u cud/ shud say; “well, I think we can also look at the analogy this way or that way…” then u present your thoughts!
    I guess that will be a better way of encouraging writers, speakers etc!

    *and indeed, abt the “tree”– the quran also makes an analogy with a good word being like a good tree.. See sura 14 verse 24
    Wallaahu a’lam!

    May Allah guide us all..and bless your writing efforts..til jannah! Ameen

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How Grandparents Can Be Of Invaluable Help In A Volatile ‘Me First’ Age

Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari



I grew up in a small rural village of a developing country during the 1950s and 1960s within a wider ‘extended’ family environment amidst many village aunties and uncles. I had a wonderfully happy childhood with enormous freedom but traditional boundaries. Fast forward 30 years, my wife and I raised our four children on our own in cosmopolitan London in the 1980s and 1990s. Although not always easy, we had a wonderful experience to see them grow as adults. Many years and life experiences later, as grandparents, we see how parenting has changed in the current age of confusion and technology domination.

While raising children is ever joyous for parents, external factors such as rapidly changing lifestyles, a breath-taking breakdown of values in modern life, decline of parental authority and the impacts of social media have huge impacts on modern parenting.

Recently, my wife and I decided to undertake the arduous task of looking after our three young grandchildren – a 5½-year old girl and her 2-year old sibling brother from our daughter, plus a 1½-year old girl from our eldest son – while their parents enjoyed a thoroughly deserved week-long holiday abroad. My wife, who works in a nursery, was expertly leading this trial. I made myself fully available to support her. Rather than going through our daily experiences with them for a week, I highlight here a few areas vis a vis raising children in this day and age and the role of grandparents. The weeklong experience of being full time carers brought home with new impetus some universal needs in parenting. I must mention that handling three young grandchildren for a week is not a big deal; it was indeed a sheer joy to be with these boisterous, occasionally mischievous, little kids so dear to us!

  1. Establish a daily routine and be consistent: Both parents are busy now-a-days earning a livelihood and maintaining their family life, especially in this time of austerity. As children grow, and they grow fast, they naturally get used to the daily parental routine, if it is consistent. This is vital for parents’ health as they need respite in their daily grind. For various practical reasons the routine may sometimes be broken, but this should be an exception rather than a norm. After a long working day parents both need their own time and rest before going to sleep. Post-natal depression amongst mums is very common in situations where there is no one to help them or if the relationship between the spouses is facing difficulty and family condition uninspiring.

In our trial case, we had some struggles in putting the kids to sleep in the first couple of nights. We also faced difficulties in the first few mornings when our grandson would wake up at 5.00am and would not go back to sleep, expecting one of us to play with him! His noise was waking up his younger cousin in another room. We divided our tasks and somehow managed this until we got used to a routine towards the end of the week.

  1. Keep children away from screens: Grandparents are generally known for their urge to spoil their grandchildren; they are more relaxed about discipline, preferring to leave that job to the parents. We tried to follow the parents’ existing rules and disciplinary measures as much as possible and build on them. Their parents only allow the children to use screens such as iPads or smartphones as and when deemed necessary. We decided not to allow the kids any exposure to these addictive gadgets at all in the whole week. So, it fell on us to find various ways to keep them busy and engaged – playing, reading, spending time in the garden, going to parks or playgrounds. The basic rule is if parents want their kids to keep away from certain habits they themselves should set an example by not doing them, especially in front of the kids.
  2. Building a loving and trusting relationship: From even before they are born, children need nurture, love, care and a safe environment for their survival and healthy growth. Parenting becomes enjoying and fulfilling when both parents are available and they complement each other’s duties in raising the kids. Mums’ relationship with their children during the traditional weaning period is vital, both for mums and babies. During our trial week we were keenly observing how each of the kids behaved with us. We also observed the evolution of interesting dynamics amongst the three; but that is a different matter. In spite of occasional hiccups with the kids, we felt our relationship was further blossoming with each of them. We made a habit of discussing and evaluating our whole day’s work at night, in order to learn things and plan for a better next day.

A grandparent, however experienced she or he may be, can be there only to lend an extra, and probably the best, pair of hands to the parents in raising good human beings and better citizens of a country. With proper understanding between parents and grandparents and their roles defined, the latter can be real assets in a family – whether they live under the same roof or nearby. Children need attention, appreciation and validation through engagement; grandparents need company and many do crave to be with their own grandchildren. Young grandchildren, with their innate innocence, do even spiritually uplift grandparents in their old age.

Through this mutual need grandparents can transfer life skills and human values by reading with them, or telling them stories or just spending time with the younger ones. On the other hand, in our age of real loneliness amidst illusory social media friends, they get love, respect and even tender support from their grandchildren. No wonder the attachment between grandparents and grandchildren is often so strong!

In modern society, swamped by individualism and other social ills, raising children in an urban setting is indeed overwhelming. We can no longer recreate ‘community parenting’ in the traditional village environment with the maxim “It needs a village to raise a child’, but we can easily create a productive and innovative role for grandparents to bring about similar benefits.

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Raising a Child between Ages 7-12

Dr. Hatem El Haj M.D Ph.D



black preteen

From a cognitive-development standpoint, this is called a concrete operational period, according to Jean Piaget.

(N.B: Some adults never progress beyond this phase, while 15% of kids may reach the following formal-operational phase at age 9!)

The child now (7-12) may factor in two dimensions of an object simultaneously. So, the longer cup may have less water because it is thinner. However, this is still hard for him/her to perform in the abstract realm, so, they are still uni-dimensional in that respect. Concepts and behaviors are still black and white. It is also hard for the kids in this stage to imagine and solve the structure of a mathematical problem. They cannot think contrary to facts. In other words, you can’t get them to use as a basis for an argument a question like what if the sky rains sugar instead of water?

Socially, Erikson felt that in this period kids develop industry or inferiority. According to his theory, from age six to puberty, children begin to develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments. If encouraged, they feel industrious and confident in their ability to achieve goals.

Based on these observations, we may recommend:

1- Using a lot of hands-on teaching, since they still have limited ability with conceptualization and abstract reasoning.

2- Continue the focus on memorization. If you want them to finish the Quran in 1-2 years, 12 and/or 13 seem to be the prime years for that. This suits some children and some families, not all. If you like a more gradual approach, you should have them start serious memorization at 7, accelerate at 10, and finish by 15-17. Not all kids are meant to memorize the whole Quran though; they can still be educated and pious. Invest in their strengths, not your dreams.

3- Use concrete props and visual aids, especially when dealing with sophisticated material. Use story problems in mathematics.

4- Use open-ended questions that will stimulate thinking and help the child reach the following stage faster. Example: “What do you think about the relationship between the brain and the mind?”; “What do you think about the relationship between prayful-ness and piety?” Make sure you know the right answers!

5- More explanations will be needed, but keep them simple, and even though they should be more detailed than the last stage, they still need to be uni-dimensional. Examples: we obey God because he created us; if we disobey Him, we get punished, and if we obey Him, we get rewarded in this life and in the hereafter. Too early to teach him that “the brokenness of the disobedient is better than the haughtiness of the obedient.” Break it down. Humbleness and obedience are good, while haughtiness and disobedience are bad.

6- Encourage and praise their accomplishments, while making them aware that there is always room for improvement. Continue to encourage initiative-taking and leadership qualities, yet you may also set limits, and make them aware that they will have to always report to someone. Even if there are no people above them, Allah always is. They have to adapt to being leaders and followers at the same time, because that is the reality of all people.

7- This is still a stage of belonging and affiliation to the group, and the child will develop more or less attachment to Islam through his or her experience at the masjid and with the community.

Parenting: Raising a Child from Age 0 to 2 | Dr. Hatem Al Haj

Raising A Child Between Ages 2-7 | Dr Hatem Al Haj

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Raising A Child Between Ages 2-7 | Dr Hatem Al Haj

Dr. Hatem El Haj M.D Ph.D



children drawing crayons

This is called a pre-operational period by Jean Piaget who was focused on cognitive development.

Children this age have difficulty reconciling between different dimensions or seemingly contradictory concepts. One dimension will dominate and the other will be ignored. This applies in the physical and abstract realms. For example, the water in the longer cup must be more than that in the shorter one, no matter how wide each cup is. Length dominates over width in his/her mind.

Throughout most of this stage, a child’s thinking is self-centered (egocentric). This is why preschool children have a problem with sharing.

In this stage, language develops very quickly, and by two years of age, kids should be combining words, and by three years, they should be speaking in sentences.

Erik Erikson, who looked at development from a social perspective, felt that the child finishes the period of autonomy vs. shame by 3 years of age and moves on to the period of initiative vs. guilt which will dominate the psycho-social development until age 6. In this period, children assert themselves as leaders and initiative takers. They plan and initiate activities with others. If encouraged, they will become leaders and initiative takers.

Based on the above, here are some recommendations:

In this stage, faith would be more caught than taught and felt than understood. The serene, compassionate home environment and the warm and welcoming masjid environment are vital.

Recognition through association: The best way of raising your kid’s love of Allah and His Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is by association. If you buy him ice cream, take the opportunity to tell them it is Allah who provided for you; the same applies to seeing a beautiful rose that s/he likes, tell them it is Allah who made it. Tell them stories about Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Statements like: “Prophet Muhammad was kinder to kids than all of us”; “Prophet Muhammad was kind to animals”; ” Prophet Muhammad loved sweets”; ” Prophet Muhammad helped the weak and old,” etc. will increase your child’s love for our most beloved ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

Faith through affiliation: The child will think, “This is what WE do, and how WE pray, and where WE go for worship.” In other words, it is a time of connecting with a religious fraternity, which is why the more positive the child’s interactions with that fraternity are, the more attached to it and its faith he/she will become.

Teach these 2-7 kids in simple terms. You may be able to firmly insert in them non-controversial concepts of right and wrong (categorical imperatives) in simple one-dimensional language. Smoking is ḥarâm. No opinions. NO NUANCES. No “even though.” They ate not ready yet for “in them is great sin and [yet, some] benefit for people.”

Promote their language development by speaking to them a lot and reading them books, particularly such books that provoke curiosity and open discussions to enhance their expressive language. Encourage them to be bilingual as learning two languages at once does not harm a child’s cognitive abilities, rather it enhances them.

This is despite an initial stage of confusion and mixing that will resolve by 24 to 30 months of age. By 36 months of age, they will be fluent bilingual speakers. Introduce Islamic vocabulary, such as Allah, Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), masjid, Muslim, brothers, salaat, in-sha’a-Allah, al-Hamdulillah, subhana-Allah, etc. (Don’t underestimate the effect of language; it does a lot more than simply denoting and identifying things.)

In this pre-operational period, their ability of understanding problem solving and analysis is limited. They can memorize though. However, the focus on memorization should still be moderate. The better age for finishing the memorization of the Quran is 10-15.

Use illustrated books and field trips.

Encourage creativity and initiative-taking but set reasonable limits for their safety. They should also realize that their freedom is not without limits.

Between 3-6 years, kids have a focus on their private parts, according to Freud. Don’t get frustrated; tell them gently it is not appropriate to touch them in public.

Don’t get frustrated with their selfishness; help them gently to overcome this tendency, which is part of this stage.

Parenting: Raising a Child from Age 0 to 2 | Dr. Hatem Al Haj

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