Storytelling is a very effective method of tarbiyah. The Qur’ an includes many stories that are used as means and ways of tarbiyah for Muslims. These stories can be divided into three categories.1
The first category is that of the Stories of the Prophets. In them, Allah describes different incidents and events that Prophets have experienced throughout their lives. Examples of such stories include the stories of Prophet Ibrahim, Prophet Musa, Prophet Isa and Prophet Yusuf.
The second category is that of historical stories that present specific individuals living in certain situations. Though the Qur’an identifies who the individuals in the story are, the focus is not on the people, but is instead on the situation that they are in. These situations can apply to other individuals in different times and places. One such example is the story of Prophet Adam’s two sons.2
The third category is that of more general historical stories. Here, Allah does not identify whom the people in the story are and does not tell us the time period that the story took place in. The story could have occurred in any place or time period. The story is focused on describing the people’s situations and the consequences that result from their actions. One such example is the story of the two men, one of whom was given twogardens.3
Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) also used to tell meaningful stories to his companions and followers. He (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) used true stories about believers from earlier eras to teach Muslims that the hardships that they faced were experienced by believers across different times. These stories served to ease the Muslim’s pain of feeling oppressed and persecuted and to increase their patience and perseverance. An example of these stories is the story of the boy and the magician.4
Stories in the Qur’an and Seerah always tell the absolute truth and have many benefits for those who think and reflect as indicated in the following verses from the Qur’an:
“Indeed, in the stories of the prophets there is a lesson ‘Ibrah’ for those who are endowed with insight, with deep understanding, ‘Ulil albaab,’ This revelation could not possibly be a discourse invented by man: nay indeed, it is a divine revelation confirming the truth of whatever still remains of earlier revelations, clearly spelling out everything and offering guidance and grace unto people who will believe.” (Surah Yusuf, 12 : 111)
“Certainly, this is the true narrative (about the story of Isa) and Allah is the All-Mighty, the all Wise.” (Surah Ali Imran, 3 : 62)
“We narrate unto you their story with truth. Truly, they were young men who believed in their Lord (Allah) and We increased them in guidance.” (Surah Kahf, 18 : 13)
In the Qur’an, Allah tells us stories for many benefits. The following are a few of those benefits:
– To educate us about the nature of human beings and the social laws set by Allah the Almighty.
– To correct wrong concepts, attitudes, and behaviors.
– To teach us lessons about the consequences of our own actions and Choices.
– To encourage and inspire us when we are going through rough times so we can be strong and patient.
Why Storytelling Works
Storytelling is a wonderful tool to help parents and educators teach children concepts, values, and new behaviors.
Stories are different than direct instruction or lecturing, because listeners feel safe from criticism and so do not become defensive about being directed, allowing them to learn from the experiences of the characters.
They are effective because listeners see themselves in the stories’ characters, which makes them better able to relate to the events and feelings that are being projected through the characters. This is particularly true for young children, as they have immense imaginations.
And the best stories are …
Qur’an and Seerah are, of course, the best sources for teaching beliefs, values, and morals. Some other sources for stories that parents should make use of are listed below.
– Stories told by Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) to teach Muslims certain values. 5
– Stories about the various stages of Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam)’s life.
– Islamic history
– The lives of the companions of the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) and those who came immediately after them. 6
We should all use these sources to help us teach our children the important values that they need throughout their lives and as a source of strength and inspiration.
I would like to share this reflection of how some children viewed storytelling as a way of tarbiyah at a later stage of their life, and how they felt that storytelling had a great impact on forming their personalities:
(1) One of my fondest memories from my childhood was the story-telling “sessions”. I spent with my parents. They could happen at any time of day (or night, for that matter). They served to educate, as well as amuse, and they did this quite well.
When it comes to my knowledge of the life of the prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam), I can attribute the vast majority of it to the stories told to me as a child; likewise it is for my knowledge of all the other prophets, peace be upon them.
As for the amusement I got from the other stories, this has also had a great impact on me, even if in a more implicit manner.
When parents try to raise strong, responsible children, the latter often have to stand up in the face of opposition at a time when they are still developing and therefore are very vulnerable. The time the children spend with their parents during this period is usually the main source of support.
The storytelling, in this case, is a chance not only to bond with their parents, but also to relieve the stress of the serious situations both the children and the parents must face. It is very useful because it gives the children a chance to see their parents as a source of fun and amusement, not just as a disciplining source.
In the end, of course, it is a balance of these techniques that matter. Even now, as an adult, I still enjoy listening to stories from my parents and this shows how similar children and adults sometimes are.”
(2) Storytelling is an effective way of teaching children a lesson. Children will listen patiently and pay attention to a story and they will remember it a lot better than a lecture about behavior. Of course, a story alone will not teach them to behave. The story should act as a way of teaching them morals. Then there should be consequences to their actions if they disobey the moral taught.
No doubt that I loved the storytelling time that my parents spent with me more than anything else. I always eagerly waited for it as a highlight in my day. Whenever they were busy or didn’t have the time to tell me a story I felt that I was missing a very important part of my day, until I had the chance to spend time with them again in another storytelling session. 7
- “Program of Islamic Tarbiyah”, Dr. Muhammad Qutb
- See: Surah al-Ma’idah, 5 : 27-31
- See: Surah al-Kahf, 18 : 32-43
- See Sahih Muslim
- Check various collections of Hadith for many stories told by Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam), for example, the story of the man who killed 99 persons and was seeking repentance, etc.
- As an example, see “The Successor of the Messenger” (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) and “Men Around the Messenger” (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) by Khalid Muhammad Khalid.
- Meeting the Challenge of Parenting in the West, Dr. Ekram Beshir & Dr. Mohamed Rida Beshir, Ch. 4
Taken from the book : PARENTING THROUGH STORY TELLING