One of the many challenges we’re facing as Muslims living in the West is how to bring up our children in a good Islamic manner. Meaning how do we bring our children up in a way that they become good productive Muslims, who are able to live in a Western society, but at the same time maintain a strong Islamic identity. In fact this issue is probably at the forefront of most Muslim parents’ minds. Constantly worrying about things like which schools to send our children to, which friends they should be allowed to mix with or even who are they actually talking to when they are online?
In order for us to successfully make a plan for the upbringing of good and righteous children, we have to first be aware of the dangers our children face. Naturally the most obvious concern is for our children’s physical well being, hence we lay down strict rules about when they are allowed to go out, where they are allowed to go to and with whom. However, do we pay as much attention and are we as cautious about the dangers that are posed to their Islamic wellbeing and how their characteristics as good Muslims may be harmed? Are we as Muslim parents really aware about what our children are learning at school, apart from their GCSEs and A-Levels? Schools spend a lot of time indoctrinating children with the expected norms of society. Thus our children are taught sex education strictly from the viewpoint of Western liberal culture. They will be encouraged to question their sexuality, learn about the importance of ‘safe sex’ and the permissibility of same-sex marriage. Topics Muslims would have quite different views on.
The company our children keep is another area of concern both in and outside of school. The peer group has a very strong influence on a growing child. It’s obvious that children are desperate to ‘fit in’ with their friends. In return our children will face pressures to do what their friends are doing. This is highly problematic when smoking behind the bike sheds is a thing of the past and the types of things children are doing now are smoking drugs and exchanging explicit pictures and other material taken from the Internet.
On an ideological level is the threat to our children’s identity and value system. In the past Muslims were treated as just another religious group and generally left to believe and practise whatever we wanted. Western governments now take a direct interest in the type of Islam that exists and an active role in reforming Islam to their tastes. They are determined to only allow a certain ‘brand’ of Islam. A watered down Islam; one that restricts itself to rituals and worships, stays away from questioning what is happening in society much less challenging it. Our children pay the price for this assault; subjected to spying and monitoring under the guise of schemes like Prevent.
It is clear there are many dangers facing our children while growing up in Western societies. The following are some broad guidelines that should be followed.
Be close to your children
The traditional view of a good parent is someone who is strict, firm and instils fear in their children. This is something that is contrary to Islam and actually drives children away from their parents. The Prophet (saw) taught us to be loving and close to our children. It is widely reported that the Prophet (saw) had a very close relationship with his children and grandchildren. For example on seeing the Prophet (saw) kissing his grandson, a person named Alaqr’a Ibn Habis found this behaviour strange and said, “I have ten children, but I have never kissed any of them.” The Prophet (saw) replied, “The one who has no compassion will not be treated mercifully” (Sahih Bukhari and Tirmidhi).
Closeness to your children means the parents are the first people children turn to when they face difficulties and challenges at school or elsewhere. This allows us to give them the correct Islamic advice and help them to overcome the potential dangers and pitfalls. The absence of parental advice is not no-advice, but bad advice from elsewhere.
Building strong Islamic personalities
For some, Islamic education is simply sending children to after-school madrassas where they are taught to read the Quran and learn duas by rote. This type of learning has very little connection to the societies our children are growing up in and does little to equip them to face the challenges of growing up. No doubt, reading the Quran and learning chapters from the book of Allah (swt) is important. However, along with this, our children need to be given strong Islamic ideas and understanding in order for them to withstand the intellectual assault they face when growing up in the West. At school their Islamic beliefs and norms are challenged daily with ideas ranging from Darwinism to liberalism. They need to be educated with the ideas of Islam so they see the wrong, and right, in all they are subjected to. Allah (swt) says in Surah at-Tahrim:
“O you who believe! Ward off yourselves and your families against a Fire (Hell) whose fuel is men and stones, over which are (appointed) angels stern (and) severe, who disobey not, (from executing) the commands they receive from Allah, but do that which they are commanded” [TMQ at-Tahrim (66):6].
Furthermore, in Surah Luqman, Allah (swt), gave a beautiful example of the importance of an all encompassing education a parent must give their child, it is well worth reading and reflecting on this surah of the Quran:
“And (remember) when Luqman said to his son when he was advising him: “O my son! Join not in worship others with Allah. Verily, joining others in worship with Allah is a great Zulm (wrong) indeed” [TMQ Luqman (31):13].
Choosing the right learning environment
To many Muslims this sadly just involves checking government league tables and identifying the schools their children are likely to achieve the best academic grades in. Little consideration is given to what our Muslim children would be exposed to if they attend such schools. Alternatives such as Islamic schools and homeschooling do exist. Regardless, a holistic view must be taken to ensure care is taken in what is being taught but also where it is taught so we have a better control and awareness of the environment our children are going to spend their formative years in.
The Prophet (saw) said, “The best gift to children from parents is their correct training” (Tirmidhi).
Furthermore we must not be ignorant of the relationship between the state and the education system. Every government uses its education system to ensure particular ideas and viewpoints are taught. Western states will insist on secular ideas being the cornerstone of their education systems. So all topics, from science and maths through to religion and philosophy, will be taught and understood through a secular framework. This is why governments set up a national curriculum and approved subject syllabuses, to control subject content in a way they want.
Being aware of government agendas
The Prophet (saw) described the responsibility of parents over their children like the responsibility of a shepherd who guards his flock:
“Every one of your (people) is responsible, and everyone is responsible for whatever falls under his responsibility. A man is like a shepherd of his own family, and he is responsible for them” (Bukhari and Muslim).
Just as a shepherd is aware of the dangers that could harm the animals in his flock, Muslim parents must be aware of the agendas and plots of governments aimed at our children and community. We must be aware of government agendas like Prevent, make our communities aware of such plans and hold on to our Islamic values. By ignoring such threats we are effectively burying our heads in the sand and allowing others to decide what should and shouldn’t be taught about our religion.
Khilafah would ensure the correct nurturing of children
No matter what we try, ultimately by living in the West, we can never completely remove the dangers our families face. We have discussed the importance of combating this intellectual assault. However, we must realise the best place to raise our children is in a sound Islamic society where everything from the education to the media would be geared towards developing and nurturing a wholesome Islamic environment. We must remember that parents are just one, very important, influence on a child. The society around a child is also another important influence. In fact it may be argued that the society has a stronger influence on a child than even the parents. This is why we often hear of children from good practising families going astray. So what children see from the behaviour of other children around them, to what they see on the television and other media all have a huge impact of the development of a child.
It is for this reason that only in an Islamic State, where the very foundation of the society is built upon the idea that there is no god but Allah (swt) and that Muhammad (saw) is his final Messenger, can a truly safe and conducive Islamic environment be created for children to grow in an Islamic way.